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Vintage Billingsgate Porter Badge

Vintage Billingsgate Porter Badge


Billingsgate: “a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever...”

~ British Act of Parliament in 1699

It's 4:00 am. While the rest of the city of London is still sound asleep, the bell chimes down at the Old Billingsgate Market on Canary Wharf and suddenly there's an explosion of activity as porters begin delivering crates of fresh seafood to fishmongers that have come from all over the city for the day's freshest catch.

Billingsgate Market began trading exclusively in fish in 1699. During the 19th century, Billingsgate market, situated in the south-east corner of London, was the largest fish market in the world. The market was comprised of two main groups: the merchants who sold the fish and the porters, who with their small numbered enamel badges, traditionally worn on their aprons, had sole authority to transport fish within the market. The portering system was based on the merchant paying the porter a fixed retainer and the fishmonger or customer paying a bobbin (today, roughly .25¢) per stone (approximately 14 pounds) of fish delivered.

A porter’s work was one of hard manual labor, carrying heavy boxes of fresh fish (often on their heads wearing specially made hats that were designed to support the weight!) and working during the wee hours of the morning. The job of porter had often been passed down through family generations, resulting in a very tight-knit community, complete with its own humorous banter and camaraderie. The porters had long been seen as the heart and soul of Billingsgate.

In January 2012, the City of London Corporation withdrew all trading licenses from the porters, revoking a bylaw dating back to 1876. Without this protection, the porters could legally be replaced by cheap casual labour. It was definitely an end of an era that has been mourned by many and another aspect of "Old London" that is gone forever.

Found at market outside of London, a rare, vintage Billingsgate Market Fish Porter's Badge with its short button-hole leather strap that was used to attach it to the porter's apron. A sturdy, lasting memento of a now-vanished tradition, this handsome enameled metal badge with its historic provenance would make the most wonderful key fob and be a storied addition to anyone's collection.

Strictly one-of-a-kind and subject to prior sale. In very good vintage condition. Measures 5"L x 2.5"W.

Learn More About Billingsgate Market Porters

In 1876, the Corporation of London introduced a bye-law within its market regulations that required all porters working at Billingsgate to be licensed. Only licensed porters were allowed to transport fish around the market, leaving traders reliant on their services. This trade was highly coveted for over 300 years and was often passed down from father to son – porters were paid by how much fish they delivered which made this a potentially lucrative job for a few hours of work a week. Despite many protests, the bye-law licensing porters was revoked in 2012.

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