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distinguished for their chivalrous attachment to Charles the First. Worcester House, it may be remarked, formed but a small part of what had been formerly distinguished as “the great place,” namely, the princely palace of Sir Henry Colet, Lord Mayor of London.
The inhabitants of the parish of Stepney appear to have suffered frightfully during the raging of the great plague, in 1665. “Stepney parish,” says Defoe, “had a piece of ground taken in to bury their dead, close to the church-yard, and which, for that very reason, was left open, and is since, I suppose, taken into the same church-yard.” We learn, from the same authority, that, within one year, Stepney had no fewer than one hundred and sixteen sextons, grave-diggers, and their assistants; the latter consisting of bearers, bell-men, and the drivers of the carts which were employed in removing the dead.
BILLINGSGATE, COLE HARBOUR, STEEL
YARD, THE VINTRY, &c.
ETYMOLOGY OF BILLINGSGATE. PRINCIPAL PORTS OF LONDON.
FISHMONGERS' COMPANY.-SIR WILLIAM WALWORTH. - SEMINARY FOR PICKPOCKETS. GREAT FIRE OF LONDON. HUBERT'S CONFESSION. REMARKABLE EDIFICES IN AND NEAR THAMES STREET.
LET return to Tower Hill, and, skirting Thames Street from Billingsgate to Blackfriars Bridge, point out in our route the principal objects worthy of notice.
Billingsgate, one of the ancient water-gates, or ports, of the city of London, is situated close to the Custom House, between the Tower and London Bridge. Antiquaries have ingeniously derived its name from Belin, King of the Britons, who reigned about four hundred and sixty years before the Christian era, and whose bones, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, having been burned to ashes, were placed in a vessel of brass, and set on a high pinnacle over the gate. Stow, however, considers that it took its name from one Beling or Billing, “as Somer's Key, Smart's Key, Frost Wharf, and others thereby, took their names of their owners."
At all events, Billingsgate was unquestionably the principal port, or landing-place in London, as early as the time of Ethelred the Second, whose reign commenced in the tenth century. At a council held at Wantage, in Berkshire, in this reign, the toll, or custom, to be levied on merchantvessels, discharging their goods at Billingsgate, was fixed at proportionate rates. It was ordered that every small boat should pay a halfpenny; a large boat with sails, one penny; ships, four pennies : vessels laden with wood, one piece of timber; and vessels laden with fish, one halfpenny or one penny, according to their size. The two other principal ports of London, in the days of our Norman sovereigns, were Down-gate, the present Dowgate, and the Queen's Hythe, still known as Queenhithe. As late as the fifteenth century we find an enactment that if one vessel only should come up the river to London, it should discharge its cargo at the Queen's Hythe; if two should come up at the same time, that one should discharge at Billingsgate; if three, two were to proceed to the Queen's Hythe, or harbour, and the third to Billingsgate: but “always the more” to Queenhithe. The reason for the preference is evident; the customs, or tolls, received at Queenhithe having been the perquisites of the Queen of England.
Billingsgate continued to be a flourishing port, long after Dowgate had ceased to be a landingplace for merchandise, and when the harbourdues of Queenhithe had so fallen off, that they realized no more than fifteen pounds a year. In the days of Stow it stood alone, for size, convenience, and superiority of every kind. “ It is, at this present,” writes the old antiquary, “a large water-gate, port, or harbour, for ships and boats, commonly arriving there with fish, both fresh and salt, shell-fishes, salt, onions, oranges, and other fruits and roots, wheat, rye, and grain of diverse sorts, for the service of the city and the parts of this realm adjoining.” The great advantage possessed by Billingsgate consisted in its being on the east, or near, side of the bridge; thus precluding the necessity and risk of vessels passing under it; the fall of water between the arches having been, as late as our own time, an obstacle to traffic, as well as dangerous to smaller vessels.
Although, singularly enough, Billingsgate was not constituted “a free market for the sale of fish till the reign of William the Third, it was unquestionably the great landing-place for fish from the earliest times ; indeed, the very preamble to the Act of Parliament speaks of it as having been, “ time out of mind, a free market in all manner of floating and salt fish, as also for all manner of floating and shell-fish.” The very names of the streets in the vicinity of Billingsgate,—for, in the olden time, every trade congregated in its distinct district,shows how closely associated was the trade of this locality with the fish-market of Billingsgate. Fish Street Hill, Fish Yard, near Eastcheap, and Fishmongers' Hall, are all in this immediate neighbourhood, reminding us of the olden time, when“ no number of knights or strangers could enter the
city at any hour of the day or night,” without being able to supply themselves with the choicest fish in
Stow, speaking of a row of houses in Old Fish Street, observes, “ These houses, now possessed by Fishmongers, were at the first but moveable boards, or stalls, set out on market-days, to show their fish there to be sold; but, procuring licence to set up sheds, they grew to shops, and by little and little to tall houses, of three or four stories in height, and now are called Fish Street. Walter Tuck, Fishmonger and Mayor, 1349, had two shops in Old Fish Street, over against St. Nicholas Church; the one rented five shillings the year, the other four shillings.” According to Stow, Friday Street derives its name from its having been inhabited by fishmongers, who attended Friday's market; Friday, in Roman Catholic times, having been the great day for the sale of fish.
Anciently the Fishmongers were divided into two companies,—the Salt - fishmongers, incorporated in 1433, and the Stock-fishmongers, in 1509, -nor was it till 1536 that the two companies were united by Henry the Eighth. Till within the last few years the Hall of the Fishmongers, built by Sir Christopher Wren, was situated in Thames Street; but they now occupy a fine modern building, erected in 1831, close to the north approach of London Bridge. The famous Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth, who killed Wat Tyler at Smithfield, was a member of this company, his statue being still a conspicuous object in Fishimongers' Hall.