LondonLife – An ancient guardian sits watch…


Marking the boundary of the City of London on Victoria Embankment is this large statue of a dragon holding a shield bearing the City’s coat-of-arms. One of a pair, these two statues were originally mounted above the entrance to the Coal Exchange in Lower Thames Street and were moved here in 1963 following the building’s demolition. They’re just two of numerous dragons which guard the City’s outer edges.

10 Historic London Markets – 3. Billingsgate Market…

Now the UK’s largest inland fish market (and located in Poplar, east London), the history of Billingsgate Market goes back centuries.

Known originally by various spellings including Blynesgate and Byllynsgate, Billingsgate may have been named for watergate on the north bank of the Thames near where the market was originally established (an alternate theory is that it was named for a man named Biling or an mythological British king, Belin).

The right to collect tolls and customs at Billingsgate, along with Cheap and Smithfield, was granted by King Henry IV in 1400.

Billingsgate only became particularly associated with fish in the 1500s and in 1699, an Act of Parliament was passed making it “a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever” (this was with the exception of eels, restricted to being sold by Dutchmen from boats in the river – a reward for the help they provided after the Great Fire of 1666).

While for much of the market’s history, fish was sold for stalls and sheds around the ‘hythe’ or dock at the site known as Billingsgate, in 1850 the first purpose-built market building was constructed in Lower Thames Street.

Deemed inadequate for the task at hand, however, it was demolished after slightly more than 20 years of service. A new building, designed by then City Architect Sir Horace Jones and constructed by John Mowlem, was opened in on the same site in 1876. In the late 19th century, it is said to have been the largest fish market in the world. The heritage listed former fish market building in Lower Thames Street (pictured above) is now used as a venue for corporate events, catwalk shows, post premiere parties and concerts (see the website for more

In 1982, the market was relocated to a 13 acre site on the Isle of Dogs, just to the north-east of Canary Wharf. The building contains a trading floor with some 98 stands and 30 shops as well as an 800 tonne freezer store. An average of 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products are sold through its merchants every year and the market has an annual turnover of around £200 million.

The role of the fish porter – who traditionally have been the only people licensed to move fish around the market – was opened up to anyone following a fiercely fought battle between the porters, traders and the City of London Corporation earlier this year.

The market is open to the general public and tours can be arranged – head to the website for details.

WHERE: Billingsgate Market, Trafalgar Way, Poplar (nearest Tube Station is Canary Wharf); WHEN: 4am to 9.30am Tuesday to Saturday (children under 12 are not permitted on the market floor and non-slip shoes are advisable); COST: Free; WEBSITE:

10 curiously named churches of London – 5. St Magnus the Martyr

St Magnus the Martyr has to be one of the most oddly dedicated churches in London. Indeed, for many years there was confusion over which St Magnus it was dedicated to – candidates including  a second and a third century martyr and a Viking who was slain in the Orkney Isles around 900 years ago.

Revived interest in the latter St Magnus in the early 20th century thanks to the discovery of his remains hidden in a pillar in the Orkney ‘capital’ of Kirkwall , however, led to a confirmation of the church’s dedication in 1924.

There is believed to have been a church on the site since Roman times (a fact which has contributed to the confusion over it’s more recent dedication) but its first known mention as that of St Magnus is shortly after the Norman Conquest.

The church’s location, on the approach to London Bridge (see the picture, right, of the church tower overlooking the Thames), meant it occupied an important place in the life of medieval London. Following the Reformation, the patronage of the church was held alternately by the Abbey of Bermondsey and the Abbot and Convent of Westminster – this later passed into the hands of the Bishop of London, Edmund Grindall, and it was he who appointed the church’s most famous rector, Miles Coverdale, best remembered today as a Bible translator (there is a large monument to him in the church).

The church had been repaired in the early 17th century but was destroyed completely in the Great Fire of 1666. It was subsequently rebuilt to the designs of the ubiquitous Sir Christopher Wren.

A fire in 1760 did considerable damage to Wren’s building but it was restored and improvements continued to be made on a sporadic basis until 1831 when Sir John Rennie’s new London Bridge was opened and the old bridge demolished, meaning St Magnus no longer occupied the ‘gateway’ position it had for centuries prior.

The church only received relatively minor damage during World War II when a bomb struck London Bridge but was later restored. Features of the church now include the exterior clock, which dates from 1700, and a piece of wood believed to have one formed part of the Roman wharf which has been placed under the porch.

Among those buried at St Magnus’ during medieval times were Henry Yevele, master mason to King Edward III and King Richard II (his monument was destroyed in 1666). The church still has connections to the Fishmonger’s Company and the Plumber’s Company.

WHERE: Lower Thames Street, London (nearest Tube stations are Monument and London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Tuesday to FridayCOST: Free; WEBSITE: