I went with Xanthe Mosley to Billingsgate Market. She is artist in residence for some of the London markets and has asked me to do some work for a show in the City Hall in May 2014. She had given me a very good supper so I felt bouyed up and excited by the prospect of working through the night. When we arrived the place was deserted except for the market constabulary.
We had a cup of tea in one of the market cafes. The walls were lined with old black and white photographs of traders and porters.
Gradually the lights in different parts of the main hall came on as traders came in to set out their stalls. It is a very physical business. Porters in white coats haul in huge pallets of wet or frozen fish from lorries and refrigerated store rooms. The traders shake the boxes, deftly hefting fish. It is almost as if they are juggling them. They arrange them on the stalls scattering ice over them. Everyone works quickly to be ready for the customers . Everything gleams, wet fish, silver scales, the stainless steel stands, and reflections of the halogen lights in on the wet floor. You can place orders, but cannot take fish away from the market until 4.00 a.m. Soon the telephones are ringing, loud old fashioned land line bells.
I moved from stall to stall sketching the fish. I like the barracuda, the long silver ribbon fish, the beautiful mirror carp. For me this is a wonderful place. Most of the fish are familiar, sleek, bright scaled salmon, trout, hake, cod, bream, sea bass, oysters mussels from different parts of the Britain, but there are three stands with exotics from the Indian Ocean.
The traders are friendly. Some even stop for a moment to see what I’m doing. It’s fun. At 2.30 Xanthe took me to the cafe for hot sweet tea.
Billingsgate Market, 5.10 a.m.
photographs © copyright James Forshall