Graduate student contribution

Pedagogical Partner contribution

Fish Wharf

In early modern London, Fish Wharf was an incredibly active area of commercial industry on the north bank of the River Thames in Bridge Ward Within. John Stow indicates that the wharf was On that south side of Thames stréete Gap in transcription. Reason: (CNE)[…] in the parish of S. Magnus (Stow 1598, sig. M5r). Additionally, according to Henry Harben’s A Dictionary of London the location of wharf was specifically selected to be adjacent, on the west, to the present London Bridge Wharf, and between that wharf and Fresh Wharf east (Harben).
There exists numerous variations of the name, including different spellings for both Fish and Wharf. Per Harben, the earliest mention of the name Viswarf dates back to 1273 (Harben). The description of the wharf extends beyond nomenclature as Harben elaborates that in early times it was of considerable importance, as the Fishmongers had their shops on the wharf, and it probably took its name from this circumstance (Harben). These Fishmongers required a legal claim to sell their catch however, and Fish Wharf became the site of economic tensions a number of times in its history. Harben contends that a serious dispute arose as to their right to sell fish by retail in these shops, which required petitioning the King and many subsequent legal proceedings (Harben). Fish Wharf may be considered then to be of great import to the economic history of London in general and its fishing industry in particular.
Not surprisingly, Fish Wharf would be frequently used by the Fishmongers of London. William Herbert relates in The History of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of London that the fishmongers were originally divided into two groups of merchants (Herbert). However, they were eventually consolidated and incorporated the whole under the general name of the Fishmongers of London (Herbert 5-6). Upon merging they would be granted a charter, a system of rules and taxation, an agreed upon salary amount, and an individualized crest. Though there are few literary mentions of the wharf, one can certainly recall the Bard himself referring to fishmongers in Hamlet when the title character tells Polonius he is one. If fishmonger was indeed a seventeenth century colloquial term for pimp, one might speculate on the perceived characterization of Fish Wharf’s merchants in early modern London.
Choas Allen recounts the importance of Fish Wharf to the Company of Fishmongers in The History and Antiquitires of London Westminster Sovthwark and Parts Adjacent. According to Allen, by 1320 the fishmongers, who kept shops upon Fish-wharf, used to sell herrings and other fish brought by land and by water, to the inhabitants and to the hawkers who carried them through the streets (Allen 350). Some of the most popular kinds of fish included herrings, salmon, oysters, carp, and eel which were enjoyed by commoners and gentry alike. Moreover, the fishing industry was undoubtedly supported by Catholic observances of Lent. Allen’s analysis paints a fascinating picture of seventeenth century London, where in Fish Wharf was not only populated by a class of merchants, but by local residents and peddlers as well. Such interactions were not always peaceful, however. The rich and complex economic landscape of Fish Wharf was repeatedly the site of attempted monopolies by the fishmongers. Charles Knight’s London highlights some of the fascinating economic history of the area. According to Knight, in 1363 some of the fishmongers again endeavoured to effect a monopoly, but it was ordered that the billestres, or poor persons who cried and sold fish in the streets Gap in transcription. Reason: (CNE)[…] shall not be hindered (Knight 196). The ruling was not limited to poor persons only, but also women coming from the uplands with fish caught by them or their servants in the water of the Thames or other neighbouring streams were to be allowed to frequent the markets (Knight 196). Knight’s account identifies both class and gender distinctions that occurred in the market places of Fish Wharf, revealing the underlying systems of society in early modern London.


Cite this page

MLA citation

Etemadi, Constance N. Fish Wharf. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022, INP.

Chicago citation

Etemadi, Constance N. Fish Wharf. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022. INP.

APA citation

Etemadi, C. N. 2022. Fish Wharf. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from INP.

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - Etemadi, Constance
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Fish Wharf
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

TEI citation

<bibl type="mla"><author><name ref="#ETER2"><surname>Etemadi</surname>, <forename>Constance</forename> <forename>N.</forename></name></author> <title level="a">Fish Wharf</title>. <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>, Edition <edition>7.0</edition>, edited by <editor><name ref="#JENS1"><forename>Janelle</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></name></editor>, <publisher>U of Victoria</publisher>, <date when="2022-05-05">05 May 2022</date>, <ref target=""></ref>. INP.</bibl>




Variant spellings