Billingsgate was established as London’s principal fish market during the 16th century and recognised as such by a formal Act of Parliament in 1699. Pictured here is a view of ‘old’ Billingsgate Market early in the 19th century, where fresh fish were landed and sold directly on the dockside in rudimentary conditions. As the market for fresh fish expanded to over 120,000 tonnes per year by the early 1800s, a purpose built covered market was required. This was first opened in Lower Thames Street in 1850, and rebuilt just twenty-three years later.
Billingsgate earned something of a reputation for coarseness during the 18th century, partly owing to the early start to the trading that took place there. The market commenced at 4 o’clock each morning and attracted its fair share of all-night revellers. Billingsgate was also noted for the coarse language used by the women who worked there and their propensity for gossip. In this image women can be seen fighting in the foreground and examples of the drunkenness often on show there are also depicted.
Background to the Microcosm of London collection of prints
The Microcosm of London was published in three volumes between 1808 and 1810 as a result of an ongoing collaboration between publisher Rudolph Ackermann, cartoonist and illustrator Thomas Rowlandson, architectural draughtsman Auguste Charles Pugin, engravers John Bluck, Joseph Constantine Stadler, Thomas Sunderland, John Hill and Richard Bankes Harraden, anonymous hand-colourists and authors William Henry Pyne and William Combe.
The Microcosm of London tapped into the demand for highly-coloured prints of real-life subjects that proved something of a publishing sensation during the Regency period. As such, the prints stand as a fascinating historical record of London life in the early years of the 19th century. While Pugin’s fine architectural drawings capture the size and shape of the capital’s principal buildings (both externally and from within) Thomas Rowlandson’s keenly observed figures depict the sheer colour and vitality of late Georgian society, rich and poor alike.
- Full title:
- Billingsgate Market from Microcosm of London
- 1808-10, London
- Book / Illustration / Image
- Rudolph Ackermann, W H Pyne, William Combe, Augustus Pugin, Thomas Rowlandson
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- The Gentle Author
- Poverty and the working classes, Reading and print culture, London
The Gentle Author explores William Marshall Craig’s Cries of London prints, which portray the realities of life for street traders in the early 19th century.
- Article by:
- Matthew White
- Georgian society
Cities expanded rapidly in 18th-century Britain, with people flocking to them for work. Matthew White explores the impact on street life and living conditions in London and the expanding industrial cities of the north.
- Article by:
- Matthew Sangster
- Transforming topography, Town and city
Advances in print technologies, a growing consumer base and the interventions of clever entrepreneurs led to a burgeoning of prints of London in the 18th and 19th century. Matthew Sangster considers the ways in which these prints represented and organised the city, placing them onto a digital map of London to reveal the geographical and cultural patterns they trace.