Yes, among all the different things I do to run this blog to my taste and satisfaction is waking up at 5:00 am and arriving at Canary Wharf before the brokers even wake up to go to work! May I remind you I am not a broker nor do I have any business affairs in their squeaky-clean office buildings adorned with beautiful modern sculptures and designer furniture.
Quite on the contrary, my visit to Canary Wharf in the early hours of Wednesday morning was more of a fishy kind- wet floors, boxes of crabs here and there, greasy coffee corner serving sloppy breakfast and a bunch of loud but nice fishermen traders waving fresh fish at my face. So funny that two such different establishments (proper corporate people and fishermen) coexist within the same area!
I arrived in Billingsgate market at 6:30 am and already half of the market was empty- apparently 6:30 am is too late to go to a fish market! Luckily some of the traders were still there and we managed to take a couple of great pictures. The highlight was the market café, untouched for the past 30 years, you can spot things such as vintage game machines and plastic chairs from the 80s and lots of amusing late 19th century and early 20th century photographs of the market.
The fish and seafood at the market are wide-ranging – wild fish, farmed fish, all sorts of fish products including roe and salted fish, langoustines, octopus and the list is never ending. The products are obviously fresh due to the regular daily inventory change and turnover (most of the restaurants in London supply their fish from Billingsgate). I found the traders very friendly and keen to serve their customers in the best possible way. Some of the older traders were even dressed with fishermen style hats typically worn in the markets at the time.
Billingsgate is definitely worth paying a visit- pity I arrived too late to experience the busy atmosphere and inter-exchange between buyers and traders! The best time to go is at the opening time (5: 00 am), when restaurant buyers arrive to make their orders.
By the time I left the market at 7: 30 am, a river of consultants, brokers and bankers were flooding their offices. I wonder whether any of them are aware of the contrasting ecosystem residing in the immediate outskirt of the skyscraper complex…
Have you ever visited Billingsgate? 5:00 am may be painfully early, but is great to remind ourselves of what real market trading looks like in comparison to the financial electronic trading systems (although something tells me that the fishermen and the brokers are not all that different, besides the fact that the former wear suits and the latter fishy rubber boots).
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Credit to JP Hion for the great photography featured in this article