Friday fish fry: From Billingsgate to WWII whalemeat

By sarah madden, blog editor on 5 Jun 2015
The Super Fried Fish Bar, Soho, at night 1964, taken by Henry Grant

The Super Fried Fish Bar, Soho, at night 1964, taken by Henry Grant

Fridays have traditionally been synonymous with fish, thanks in most part to the Christian tradition of abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, but it seems this Friday in particular has been dubbed (on Twitter at least) ‘National Fish and Chip Day’. Well, Londoners love a chippy and as a river city it’s no surprise that there are literally hundreds of fishy objects in the Museum of London’s collection. In a nod to today’s new Fish and Chip Day holiday, here are some of our favourites…

1. Bob Collins‘ photographs of Billingsgate Fish Market in 1958

2. Wooden tradesman’s sign, 1870-1930


Hanging shop, business and tavern signs were particularly popular in the 18th and early 19th century when literacy levels were low and customers were not always able to read written signs. This sign didn’t indicate the presence of a fishmonger, but rather the shop of Messrs Eaton and Deller, fishing tackle suppliers located at 6 and 7 Crooked Lane, London Bridge.

3. Tin of whalemeat steak, 1939-1945


This tin, on display in our People’s City gallery at the Museum of London, doesn’t actually contain fish but whale meat; one of many unfamiliar food products imported to the UK during World War II. The government encouraged housewives to use whale meat as a substitute for meat and fish, both of which were in short supply. This tin provides a ready-made casserole meal of whale meat, but the Ministry of Food also issued information on how to fry, stew and mince this unrationed food.

4. Fish and chip shops in London, various photos by Henry Grant.

5. Trade token, 1648-1673

William Newman issued this trade token, worth a half penny, for his business at the sign of the Anchor and Cable, on New Fish Street Hill (now Fish Street Hill). Trade tokens were issued in the 17th century, between 1648 and 1673, in response to a lack of low denomination being produced by the crown. To ease the monetary situation, boroughs and cities across the country, began producing tokens to be used within the locality; in London the situation differed, due to the scale of the population, needed to issue private tokens, rather than one accepted city wide.

Explore the Museum of London’s collections online, from fishy trade tokens to street photography, to prehistory over on our website!

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