Evidences, 1882: Mr. W.H. Williamson

Pages 152-158

City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.

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SEVENTH DAY. Wednesday, 10th May 1882.


The Right Honourable the EARL of DERBY, Chairman.

His Grace the Duke of Bedford, K.G.

The Right Hon. Viscount Sherbrooke.

The Right Hon. Lord Coleridge.

The Right Hon. Sir Richard Assheton Cross, G.C.B., M.P.

Sir Sydney H. Waterlow, M.P.

Mr. Alderman Cotton, M.P.

Mr. Walter H. James, M.P.

Mr. Pell, M.P.

Mr. Joseph Firth, M.P.

Mr. H. D. Warr, Secretary.

Mr. William Henry Williamson was called in and examined as follows:—

Mr. W. H. Williamson.; 10 May 1882.

1134. (The Chairman.) I think you appear here as the representative of the London Fish Trade Association ?—Yes.

1135. Are you a liveryman of the Fishmongers' Company ?—I am.

1136. We understand that you are prepared to tell us something as to the relations that exist between the Fishmongers' Company and the trade which you represent?—Exactly.

1137. Will you kindly inform us whether you think the present state of things satisfactory, and if not, will you state your reasons?—The present state of things, from the point of view of the trade, is that it is very unsatisfactory indeed, and with your permission I will review our position, with the aid of a few notes that I have here, as briefly as possible.

1138. (Mr. James.) May I ask how far you may be taken to represent the fish trade ?—My object in handing in a book of the rules and a copy of our report was simply to show the authority of our Association in approaching the Commission.

1139. (The Chairman.) I understand that a correspondence has taken place between the Fishmongers' Company and the Association you represent ?—Yes, there is some correspondence, and I will read it to you presently. In referring to our rules and second annual report, I would respectfully draw the attention of the Commission to Rule 18, to the report of the past year, the balance sheet, and the list of our members. We, as a trade, complain of the neglect and abandonment of the trade by its guild. First, in having done but little for the benefit of the trade within the memory of those at present engaged in it. Second, by raising their fees to such a prohibitive scale for those engaged in the trade. Third, by the facilities given to non-fish traders of taking up their freedom and Livery by patrimony. Fourth, by totally excluding Liverymen of the Guild engaged in the trade from the Court of Assistants of the Company. Fifth, by withholding pecuniary assistance (with but few exceptions) from representative institutions connected with the trade; thus, in the opinion of the trade, diverting the beneficence of the original founders into a channel entirely at variance with their intentions. This Association having become the fully acknowledged representative organization of the London fish trade, its committee considered it within their province to approach the trade guild with a view of restoring the trade to its former position in connexion with the guild, and in doing so I will refer to the first action the Association took in approaching the guild. On January 12th 1881, a letter was addressed to the Prime Warden and Honourable Court of Assistants of the Worshipful the Fishmongers' Company, to the following effect:— Gentlemen,—I am directed by the members of this Association to respectfully request as a favour that your honourable court will consent to receive a deputation from this Association for the purpose of setting forth to the court the advantages and desirability of apointing a liveryman of the Company, who shall also be a member of this Association, as a member of your honourable court with a view to the trade being represented thereon. I shall be glad to hear that your honourable court will consent to receive this deputation, when, and the number of gentlemen that should comprise the same. I am, gentlemen, your most obedient servant, W. H. Williamson, Honorary Secretary." To which the following reply was received:—"Fishmongers' Hall, London, E.C., 17th February 1881. W. H. Williamson, Jr., Esq., Secretary, London Fish Salesmen's Association, 4, Lower Thames Street, E.C.— Sir,—Your favour of the 12th ultimo has been laid before the court of this Company. In reply to it I am directed to assure you that the court is always anxious to promote for the benefit of the public the important interests of the trade with which your Association is so extensively connected, and will be happy at all times to receive any deputation or communication with regard to those interests and to give them its prompt and most careful consideration. But the court at the same time desires me to state that it is unable to recognise that the particular request conveyed in your letter falls within the class of cases which your Association, composed of subscribers to your funds for the time being, is entitled by its constitution, or otherwise, to discuss with it, and therefore regrets its inability to comply with the request. I am, sir, your obedient servant, W. B. Towse."—On July 13th 1881, another communication was addressed to the "Prime Warden and Court of Assistants of the Worshipful the Fishmongers' Company." The Fishmongers' Company had granted to our Association on its organisation a sum of 50 guineas, and by this letter we approach them a second time upon that particular subject Gentlemen—I am directed by my committee respectfully to request of your honourable court a renewal of the donation they were kind enough to grant to us last year. It is with much satisfaction that I beg to draw the attention of your court to the alteration in our title, and further to state that a large number of the leading fishmongers of the trade have now become members of our Association. Trusting that your honourable court will respond in the affirmative to this application, I am, gentlemen, your obedient servant, W. H. Williamson, Honorary Secretary." In reply to that letter they say "The Court have had your letter of the 13th inst. under their consideration requesting a renewal of the donation made last year, and I am directed to inform you that the Company cannot accede thereto." That letter is dated 22nd July.

1140. What is the alteration of title referred to in that letter?—From that of "London Fish Salesmen's Association," to that of the "London Fish Trade Association."

1141. Does that alteration of title mean an alteration of the actual position of the members ?—Yes; at first it was confined to the salesmen, and then it was thrown open to the trade. On May 11th, 1881, the trade approached the guild upon a very important subject, and that had reference to the appointment of a superintendent fish inspector. Upon the direction of my committee I wrote the following letter addressed to the Chief Clerk: "W. B. Towse. Esq., Fishmongers' Hall, E.C. Sir,—I am instructed by my committee to respectfully request whether you will kindly inform them upon what grounds Mr. Johnson has received the appointment of superintendent fish inspector of our market. By so doing you will greatly oblige your obedient servant, W. H. Williamson, Honorary Secretary." That application was made because Mr. Johnson was a man quite unknown, or I may say nearly unknown, to all engaged in our trade. We were of opinion that he was in no way experienced to occupy such an important position as that of superintendent fish inspector, and we have since learned that he did know but little or nothing of the trade; he had to take his instructions from his juniors with the view of teaching him his business. At the same time, or a few days previously, we had also addressed the Fishmongers' Company upon an important matter that had reference to a certain piece of land which they had to let in Lower Thames Street known as the Customhouse and Wool Quays, with the object of ascertaining whether it was possible for that piece of land to be in any way turned into a market with a view of supplementing Billingsgate:—"Fishmongers' Hall, London, E.C., 12th May 1881. W. H. Williamson, Esq., Honorary Secretary to the London Fish Trade Association, 4, Lower Thames Street, E.C. Dear Sir,—I am desired by the court holden this day to acknowledge the receipt of your two letters of yesterday, the one inquiring the grounds on which Mr. Johnson has received the appointment of superintendent fish inspector of your market, and the other, to know whether the site of the Customhouse and Wool Quays could be let for the purpose of being appropriated for the relief of the traffic to and from your market. In reply I enclose a copy of the printed particulars for letting the said property." In no way giving a response to the application of the Association as to the appointof Mr. Johnson. Whereupon the committee immediately addressed another letter to the Company as follows:—"W. B. Towse, Esq., Fishmongers' Hall, London Bridge, E.C." (it is dated 16th May 1881). Sir,—At a special meeting of our committee held this day for the purpose of taking into consideration the reply of your honourable court to the two communications from our Association of the 11th instant, I was directed by my committee to convey their thanks to your court for the prospectus (of the property now being offered for public tender) inclosed therein. My committee further instruct me to convey to your court, their regret, that the request upon what grounds Mr. Johnson has been recently appointed superintendent fish inspector was not answered. Seeing that we are the fully recognised representative Association of the trade and the appointment of a superintendent fish inspector is one of the utmost importance, not only to the trade but to the public, I am instructed to convey to your court the protest of my committee against the course your court have adopted in this inquiry in thus ignoring their right to take cognizance of the subject. Further my committee desire me to convey to your court, that this inquiry was not made from idle curiosity, but from a desire to promote the interest of the trade and the public generally. I am, dear Sir, your obedient servant, W. H. Williamson, Honorary Secretary." This question with regard to the fish inspectors of the market has been for a very long time in an exceedingly unsatisfactory state; fish is such a peculiar article, not even inspectors of experience are always correct in judging as to its condition, and our Association have felt very keenly upon this matter. We feel that the Company have not treated us upon this particular question as they should have done. It is not to the interest of anyone in our trade to sell fish unless it is perfectly sweet and good, but when fish comes to our market if it is in a saleable condition, and fit to be offered to the public, it certainly is within the right of the salesmen, in the market, to sell it for the benefit of their consignors. This question being one of such great importance we again approached the Company upon the subject on the 20th of February of this year; at that time there had been a dispute with regard to the condemnation of a quantity of American oysters, the condemners had made a great mistake in taking them away, saying that they were unfit for food. A very large number of the trade were called at the time that the goods were condemned, and after they had actually been removed by the Company, placed in barges and covered with acid, many of the oysters were found by them to be perfectly good and sweet. The committee of my Association then thought it was high time to again approach the Company upon the subject with a view to settle all disputes in case the condemners should make any error, that is, between the buyer and the salesmen, and this letter was addressed to them on February 20th, 1882. "To the Prime Warden and Court of Assistants of the Worshipful Fishmongers' Company. Gentlemen,—I am directed by my committee to respectfully request your Honourable Court to receive a deputation from the trade for the purpose of setting forth the desirability of a jury of gentlemen, engaged in the trade, being appointed to arbitrate in cases of dispute that might arise between your inspectors and the salesmen. I am gentlemen, your obedient servant, W. H. Williamson, Honorary Secretary." A reply was made to the Association on the 10th March, addressed to myself, and is as follows:—"Sir, — Your letter of the 20th ultimo was submitted to and considered by my Court yesterday. In reply the Court begs me to state that having appointed meters to act for the Company under the charter, in nominating other parties would, it is considered, interfere with the duties devolving upon its representatives, and, therefore, the Court regrets it cannot accede to the request contained in your letter. I am, dear Sir, yours truly, W. B. Towse." There have been so many matters arise in connexion with this question of condemned fish that many members of our Committee are seriously considering whether it would not be the right thing for our association to apply to the Board of Trade to appoint public inspectors. That ends the correspondence. I am then requested by my committee to submit a few remarks. This Association, therefore, in the name of the trade protests against the neglectful treatment it has experienced from its guild, and is of opinion that had the guild extended its support, control, and influence to the trade as it should have done the difficult questions now agitating the public mind upon the London fish supply would never have arisen. And this Association is further of opinion that the Fishmongers' Company should be compelled to take up an active connexion with the trade, and to this end recommends, first, the abolition of patrimonial rights to any person outside the fish trade. Second, the reduction of the fees to a reasonable scale to all actually engaged in the fish trade. Third, that it should be made compulsory to the guild, that the trade should be fully represented upon the Court of Assistants. Fourth, that the court should not be selfconstitued, but elected by the livery. Then, with your lordship's permission, I should like to make a few remarks in my individual capacity as a liveryman of the Company. I have in many ways indirectly received no small amount of censure in consequence of my having taken this matter up, because I may say that perhaps I have done more in the matter than many others. My object has been no other than that of endeavouring to improve the position of my trade in relation to the public generally. We have for a series of years been most cruelly and and wrongfully vilified by the public as a trade for no other reason than simply this; that the public do not seriously understand the question of the fish supply to the metropolis, and we had hoped that the Fishmongers' Company would if they had been closely united or affiliated with the trade have thoroughly exonerated the traders from those imputations which have been wrongfully cast upon them. The great object of our Association also has been to bring the matter before various authorities, in which I think we have succeeded; we have approached the Corporation, we have approached the Government upoh this important question, and we have endeavoured to establish a true opinion of the case; but we say that had the Fishmongers' Company done their duty, had they been closely affiliated with our trade, then the whole of this question would not have arisen, for the simple reason that if the trade had been properly represented upon the Court of the Company, instead of the trade being ousted from the Company, it would have been then the duty of the Company, and within their province, to represent to Government and other authorities the real position of the fish trade and its supply to London. As an independent liveryman I must protest against certain remarks that have been made about myself, because, as I said just now, I have had no other wish than to stand up for the dignity of my calling. Remarks have been made to the effect that if I am not very careful the probability is that I shall be scratched from the guild. Well, I do not know what power they have to scratch me, and I am indifferent as to whether they do so or not while I can stand up for the interests and well-being of my calling, and I should not care if I were scratched from the whole of the 39 guilds if I were a liveryman of them. As a liveryman of the Company I certainly do protest against the relative position of our trade with this guild. I also protest, as I feel I have the right to, against the court of our Company being self-constituted, and against there being no one whatever upon the court to stand up for the trade or to speak for the trade at the proper time. I also think, as an individual liveryman of the Company, that the court surely should, if it is for the livery only that they work, have rendered to them a fair and proper account of the financial status of the Company, its receipts, and in fact an account of their whole work. Having made those few remarks, I say again my object has been none other than to endeavour to exonerate my trade (and it is the wish of our Association that I should do so) from those imputations that have been wrongly cast upon it from time to time.

1142. (The Chairman.) Let me ask you to what extent does the Association to which you belong represent the trade as a whole ?—We have now 75 members, wholesale and retail. We might have a large number more in the Association were it not for Rule 18.

1143. That is the rule requiring members to be solvent and to pay a certain fee ?—The great point in the rule is that people shall be solvent and in no way have compounded with their creditors or have been bankrupt.

1144. Do you say that your numbers would be largely increased if you had admitted those who had compounded with their creditors ?—We think they might, but after all there are only 87 bonâ fide salesmen in our market; that is those who are really salesmen.

1145. (Mr. Pell.) How many of them have you got in your Association?—We have very nearly all of them. There are some, of course, that are not with us.

1146. (The Chairman.) I understand that you object to the appointment of fish inspectors by the Fishmongers' Company?—We do not object to their appointment, because they do it as their right, but we think it would have been proper in the interests of the Company, and of the trade, and of the public, were a jury of gentlemen appointed to settle all disputes, fish being such a peculiar thing that it is really difficult to definitely decide at times whether it is good or bad. A large quantity of fish very often arrives at the market; the gut of the fish is not good, it is absolutely impure, but the fish itself is good, when that part is removed.

1147. Reverting to the question of appointment of inspectors, I understand you to say now you do not object to the appointment being made by the Company, but am I to interpret what you say as meaning that you think your Association ought to have been consulted in his selection ?—No, we think that it was within our province as an Association to draw the attention of the Company to the appointment, because we considered the man appointed altogether an incompetent man.

1148. That was after the appointment had been made ?—That was after the appointment had been made; it was made so suddenly.

1149. Was your request to be allowed a voice in the matter with a view to the removal of that inspector from his office?—Decidedly, we considered that he had no right there unless he was thoroughly acquainted with the business.

1150. I understand that you do not question the right exercised under the charter to appoint to this office ?—No.

1151. But if the appointment is to rest with the Company, I do not see in what way your Association can have a voice in the matter ?—Only to the effect that we should have men who can carry out their functions in a proper manner so as to avoid any disputes.

1152. Then I understand all the right you claim is the right to complain of an inspector, if you think he is an unfit person ?—That is all.

1153. Is not that a right which every individual may exercise ?—Precisely, we admit that.

1154. Then I understand that you object to the right of admission by patrimony into the Fishmongers' Company ?—That is the whole sum and substance of this important question, I think.

1155. You wish admission to be confined practically to those who are actually concerned in the trade ?— We do; we felt that that was our original position.

1156. Are you aware that that has never been the state of affairs for the last 300 years ?—Not to such a serious extent as it is at the present time, and as it has been for some period.

1157. I think I also understood that you wish the internal constitution of the Company altered, so that the members of the livery should have more power ? —We wish the internal arrangement to be altered so that we as a trade may have some voice in the Company, which we know owes its very existence and title to our trade.

1158. Is there anything to prevent any member of the trade from becoming a member of the Company ?— Only the costs.

1159. What is the cost ?—To a person engaged in the trade who takes his freedom up by redemption the livery would cost 150l., or rather better than that.

1160. (Mr. Alderman Cotton.) That is by redemption; and what is the cost by patrimony ?—The cost by patrimony would be something under 40l.

1161. The freedom and livery ?—The freedom and livery.

1162. (Mr. Firth.) And what would be the cost by servitude ?—About the same. Mine was taken up by servitude, it cost somewhere near that.

1163. (The Chairman.) You do not desire, as I understand, to diminish the control which the company exercise over the trade?—They exercise no control at all at the present time, only so far as regards their charter in relation to the condemning of fish; they have no other control at present.

1164. They exercise a control by naming an inspector, do they not? — That comes within their charter, that is their power.

1165. And he has the power of condemning fish, has he not ?—His powers are everything that could be desired. If he thought there was any fish stored away in a place he has the power to force the doors open and take it away. I believe his powers are very strong.

1166. Then I assume you admit the Company has certain powers over the trade ?—We admit the full extent of the charter.

1167. (Mr. Pell.) Those powers do not go beyond Billingsgate Market, do they ?—I think they do. If the market is built at Shadwell the probability is that they will have a representative there.

1168. (Mr. James.) Do their powers extend to private fishmongers' shops ?—That I am not aware of, but I believe so; I believe their powers are very large.

1169. (The Chairman.) Then you do not desire that the trade should be left free and unfettered from such control as is now exercised, but you wish to have more control over the appointment of the persons who exercise that power ?—Exactly; we wish, as it were, to be able to express our approval of any appointment; provided that the individual is a competent man, there would be no remark to make.

1170. You say you wish to be able to express your approval of any appointment, do you mean by that that you wish to have a veto upon the appointment ? —Certainly not, unless it is given to an incompetent man, as it was, in our opinion, in this case, and matters have occurred since his appointmont that are very unsatisfactory. Fish have been condemned, and the Fishmongers' Company has had to return money to the salesmen for the fish being condemned in that way.

1171. What I want to get at is the nature of the power that you desire to exercise in regard to these appointments. You say you do not want to make the appointment yourselves, you are content that it should rest with the Company ?—Exactly.

1172. You say you do not want a veto upon the appointment ?—Not unless it is given to an incompetent person.

1173. That is to say unless you think it is desirable to exercise a veto ?—It amounts to that, I presume.

1174. Then you do want a veto ?—We wish to have a voice in the matter, if the appointment is given to an incompetent person.

1175. You do want a veto upon the appointment ? —Only to that extent.

1176. (Mr. James.) Have you ever seen the accounts of the Fishmongers' Company ?—No.

1177. Have you ever expressed any wish to see them?—I never did express such a wish, I think it would be all the same if I did.

1178. Can you tell me what the Fishmongers' Company have done for the benefit of your trade from the funds of the Company ?—Upon our inauguration they gave us 50 guineas. In addition to that they give two Home pensions of 15l. a year to the Fishmongers' and Poulterers' Institution. They are giving their support as a Company to the proposed great International Fisheries Exhibition of 1883. I know of nothing else outside of their livery in which they have in any way assisted the trade.

1179. Are the fish inspectors at Billingsgate paid by the Company ?—They are paid by the Company.

1180. You mark no contribution yourselves ?—No, not in any way.

1181. (Mr. Firth.) I see they expend something like 6,000l. a year on weekly pensioners; can you say whether those weekly pensioners are or are not connected with the trade ?—They are not in any way connected with the trade that I am aware of; unless I see their names I cannot tell.

1182. But the amount being so large, something like 6,000l., a year, it must be a matter that you have some knowledge of as a liveryman ?—There may be one or two, but there are only 41 liverymen upon the whole guild who are engaged in our trade.

1183. That I understand; what is the number of the livery of your Company ?—Somewhere about 430.

1184. Do you know whether the inmates of the almshouses belong to the trade ?—There may be one or so, but of course he would be there in his capacity as a freeman.

1185. Of the 14,000l. or 15,000l. a year that is spent upon the whole of the management, have the livery any control over that ?—None whatever.

1186. Have they any control over any part of the expenditure;—We have no voice in anything.

1187. With respect to the election of the Court of Assistants, of which I understand you complain, you are aware of course that the election is by charter ?— I was not aware of it.

1188. You are not aware that under the charter of the Company, the election to any vacancy on the Court of Assistants is by the Court of Assistants ?—I am aware that it is by the Court of Assistants, but I was not aware until now that they had any charter which gave them that power.

1189. I think that is so by the charter of James I.; but you consider that that works an injustice ?—A great injustice to our trade.

1190. Can you tell me how many members of your committee are on the Court of Assistants?—Not one, and with your permission I will hand in a list of the Court of Assistants.

1191. We have a list of them. The Court of Assistants are the governing body in every respect of the Company, I think, are they not ?—In every respect.

1192. I suppose the number will be 28, is that so? thirty-four.

1193. In that number you include the six wardens ? —Yes, I include the six wardens.

1194. Do I understand you to say that of those 34 men having complete control over the property and management of the Fishmongers' Company not one is connected with your trade ?—Not one single individual.

1195. I think the charter duties of the Company are to inquire into and regulate and manage the fish trade throughout London, and the liberties and suburbs ?— That is the first I have ever heard of it.

1196. This is the charter I was speaking of, 2 James I.:—"This charter grants to the wardens and commonalty and their successors with the city of London, the liberties and suburbs of the same, and Southwark, the full and entire survey, search, governance, and correction of all persons, of whatsoever art or mistery, selling or having, possessing, or keeping to sell, any salted fish, salted herrings, fresh fish of the sea, salmon, stockfish, or any other fishes whatsoever, with power of entering any house, shop, ship, cellar, wharf, and other place where any such fish shall be laid or housed, and to view, search, and survey whether the same be wholesome for man's body, and fit to be sold or no; and if found unwholesome, corrupt, or unfit to be sold, it is declared lawful to the said wardens, or any of them, the said bad, unwholesome, and corrupt fish from the owners thereof to seize, and thereof to dispose according to the laws of England and customs of the said city of London and borough aforesaid."—They in no way exercise such a control at the present time.

1197. The only control I understand they exercise now is a control over the destruction of bad fish ?— Precisely.

1198. (Sir R. Cross.) Within what limit of area ? —That I could not say.

1199. (Mr. Firth.) The fact, I suppose, of Billingsgate having been the only fish market precludes you from saying by absolute knowledge whether they do or do not claim this control right over the whole of London and the suburbs ?—That is it, but I am of opinion that their control is large and will cover a large area.

1200. They will attempt to exercise it over the new market in Shadwell, you think ?—I feel sure they will.

1201. With respect to their action in Hungerford Market, have you any memory or knowledge of that? —I was not in the trade at the time.

1202. (Mr. James.) May I ask you about Columbia Market; do you know whether they did anything there ?—I believe they did in Columbia Market.

1203. (Mr. Firth.) Has there been in recent times, to your knowledge, any control over the trade other than this ?—Not to my knowledge.

1204. Are you acquainted with the apprenticeship system as it obtains in the Fishmongers' Company ?— I was an apprentice myself.

1205. I see something like an average of three apprentices are bound every year; are those genuine apprenticeships ?—They should be, according to the oaths that are taken.

1206. So far as you know they are ?—As far as I know they are.

1207. But during the term of servitude do the Court of Assistants exercise any control or guard over the apprentices ?—None whatever. I would refer to my own case. The nature of my father's business, to whom I was apprenticed, was such that the business was at an end shortly after 9 o'clock, and while I was his apprentice and working with him very early in the morning from 5 o'clock till 9 it came within my knowledge that it was possible for me to get a situation in the city. I carried on the situation in a ship broker's office for four years while carrying on the trade. I left there and I held a situation in Messrs. Glyn's bank for nine years, and five years out of that I was engaged in the Clearing House as their representative in Lombard Street.

1208. During seven years, which included part of those periods you are speaking of, you were nominally a fishmonger's apprentice ?—I was an apprentice, and carried out my duties faithfully to my senior, and it was with his permission that I sought situations in which to occupy the remainder of my time.

1209. Do you know whether any claim has ever been made by a fishmonger for admission to the Fishmongers' Company which has not been entertained ? —That I am not aware of. I have no instance within my knowledge

1210. Are you aware of any attempt having been made by fishmongers to bring themselves into communication with those people, to protect the trade over London and the suburbs ?—No. My opinion is that they studiously avoid it.

1211. What is your explanation of what I understand to be with you an admitted fact—that no complaint or representation has ever been made with respect to the administration of those funds of 60,000l. a year ?—With regard to any of the funds of the Company, the whole of the livery are kept in a perfect state of ignorance.

1212. I want to know how it was that they calmly consent to so remain in ignorance?—It is mere apathy on their part.

1213. Have none of the livery ever made any claim or expressed any wish to take part in the control of the Company ?—I believe there is a general feeling throughout the whole of the livery that a reform of some description should take place, and I believe also that if we were to appeal to the livery they would express a hearty desire that the guild should co-operate and affiliate itself with our trade, while at present there exists a breach more than anything else between us.

1214. In addition to the municipal and parliamentary franchise what are the advantages in your experience and judgment of being upon the livery ? —The Court of Assistants provide certain exhibitions for education for which liverymen can make application. The greater the support they obtain upon the court the more likelihood of success.

1215. For their children ?—For their children, precisely. I think that the position the widow of a deceased liveryman would occupy if she applied for help to the Company at his decease would be this : I have been given to understand that they would immediately return to her the cost of his livery. She is then in virtually the same position as the widow of an ordinary freeman and has to take her turn either for an almshouse or for other relief in succession.

1216. What is the number of freemen?—That I am not cognizant of.

1217. Can you tell me whether you know of any principle of selection that obtains when a vacancy exists at the Court of Assistants by death or resignation; on what principle is the appointment made of a successor ?—I assure you that that is a perfect mystery.

1218. That is a matter closely affecting the livery, is it not ?—There happened to be at the time when we made the application that I have read to the Commission a vacancy, and the appointment was made of William Graham, Esq., Trigg Wharf, Upper Thames Street. The prior appointment to that upon the court was his Excellency Major-General Sir Evelyn Wood. (fn. 1)

1219. How they came to be chosen you do not know ?—We know in no way.

1220. Then the practice of selecting the senior liverymen does not obtain in the Fishmongers' Company ?—It is not in any way carried out.

1221. I see you suggest that patrimony should be abolished; are you willing to retain redemption?— No, I think that redemption should also be abolished, to any outside of our trade, and that we should be placed upon a fair scale.

1222. If you abolish patrimony and redemption you would only have servitude remaining ?—That would be better for our trade in the existing scheme.

1223. I see that only an average of three have been received ?—We do not advocate the total abolition of patrimony. We advocate patrimony as regards those not engaged in our trade.

1224. Your proposal is that there should remain in connexion with the Company only those who through patrimony are connected with the trade, and by servitude ?—We should have no objection to redemption in the case of a few others under special circumstances.

1225. Suppose a person following your trade had three sons, of whom only one followed it, would you allow the system of patrimony to obtain as to all three or only the one ?—Only the one.

1226. Leaving those questions, just tell me in what manner you consider in connexion with your trade these funds or any part of them may be usefully and properly applied by such a reconstituted company as you are speaking of ?—We, as a trade, are of opinion that had we been closely affiliated to the guild that a very large amount of those funds could have been well appropriated by the company establishing themselves (by Act of Parliament if necessary) as the market authority of the metropolis; on the one hand you would have had the company, if the trade were properly represented in the court of direction by those engaged in the trade, and who understand the practical management of our trade, doing all that was possible to satisfy the public wish, with regard to the important market question,—with regard to the all desirable legislation to prevent the destruction of immature fish, and it would have been within their province to approach Government with regard to the most important question of the prohibitory railway rates that are put upon our goods, and any other matters connected with the trade. That is what we contend should have been the position of the Fishmongers' Company at the present day, but they simply exist, exercising their authority to condemn fish, while on the other hand we have the Corporation of London, our market authority, making a large and huge profit, or I will say a large profit out of the market, which they do. They will not give us proper accommodation, and will not provide us with proper approaches to our market, which is so absolutely imperative in the interest of our trade and in the interest of the public.

1227. Setting aside the market authority question, which will probaby not be solved in that way, what control or functions would you give to a new company of the kind you have suggested over the trade?—Do you mean to say the new guild ?

1228. Yes; or a company formed, as you have said, with patrimony abolished ?—Do you mean particularly over their funds ?

1229. Yes, over the funds and over the administration of them; do you think it could usefully continue to exist at all?—Only as the market authority of our trade; we do not see any other way.

1230. I should like to ask you why you became a liveryman?—I became a liveryman at the express wish of my senior. At the time I knew but little as to what benefit I might derive from it other than that if at some future period I married and had a family, in case of necessity, I might obtain an exhibition for them. I believed at the time that it was important that I should be enrolled in the franchise, but I certainly had no idea that the relative position of our trade with its guild was so bad as it is at the present moment. I thought that the Fishmongers' Company was literally the parent of the trade.

1231. (Mr. Alderman Cotton.) Are you a fishmonger by trade?—I am a shell-fish and salmon merchant.

1232. Are you still in the banking house?—I left the bank two and a half years ago, when my father retired from business.

1233. You took to his business as a fishmonger?— Solely.

1234. As to the age of this Association, this is the second annual report, I see, of the fish trade; how long was the other in existence ?—Rather better than two years. They tried to get an association of this description up for ten years previously. It was not until I left the bank and volunteered to take the office of honorary secretary that we really inaugurated the concern.

1235. Then you, as a young institution of two years old, take upon yourselves to advocate re-union with the Fishmongers' Company, which had been established for some hundreds of years, and thought that they ought to take you entirely into their confidence and assist you as if you were an institution of some standing and of worth ?—Our opinion, when this Association was inaugurated, was that the very work we were going to set about and do, or endeavour to carry out, was the duty of the Company. We asked early for the hearty co-operation of the Company in the work which we had before us.

1236. The first response to that was a donation of 50 guineas, was it not ?—After receiving the deputation from the trade upon the subject.

1237. That was at your starting almost, was it not ? —That was at our starting.

1238. Did they give any reason why they did not make you a second donation when you applied to them ?—None whatever.

1239. You yourself, I suppose, are almost this Association, are you not ?—Not in any way; Mr. Alderman and Sheriff Hanson is our President, Deputy James Bell is our Chairman, Mr. Edward Jex, Common Councillor, is our Vice-President, and we have another Common Councillor on the committee.

1240. I have a list of your names, but lists are nought. It is really those who are most active who govern the Association. How many of you would meet in committee when you summon your Association together ?—I should like to inform the Commission that this subject has been very seriously discussed in committee. At the first meeting out of 19 members, I think we had 16; to-day owing to the sudden notice I had to give them to consider the evidence prior to my submitting it we only had 12. Others who were absent expressed their desire to heartily co-operate with the members of the committee in advocating this case.

1241. You have spoken of the fees of the Fishmongers' Company as being prohibitive of the entrance of the trade into the Company, and then you said that your own Association could have a much larger number of members if it were not in consequence of Rule 18. Rule 18, of course, alludes to insolvency, but at the same time it also says that an entrar ce fee of three guineas shall be paid, and in another rule it says that an annual fee of one guinea shall be paid ?—Yes.

1242. Is that fee in any way prohibitory to a larger introduction of the trade into your Association ?—Not in any way. Every individual member of our Association looks upon it as the best investment they have made for a long time.

1243. You are small in numbers compared with the largeness of your trade, the same as the Fishmongers' Company may be ?—We are small in numbers, but we are important in work.

1244. Have the Fishmongers' Company ever found fault with the way in which you approached them ? Did they think you were acting with an inimical feeling towards them ?—No, we always endeavoured to approach them legitimately, and in every way friendly. We expressed ourselves as very desirous of being affiliated with the Company.

1245. You yourself, I suppose, are a young liveryman of the Company and a long way down in the list ?—I am a liveryman of eight years' standing.

1246. Of course there would be many much higher up who would be entitled to take their seats upon the court by seniority long before you ?—My claim is a mere nothing. I stand simply advocating the claims of my trade.

1247. I thought you did express some little disappointment that you were not put on the court of the Company, and that some fishmongers were not upon it ?—Not myself. I expressed my disappointment that we have no liveryman of the Company engaged in the trade upon the court.

1248. You know that seniority, as a rule, gives entrance to the court of the Company, do you not ?— Not in our Company.

1249. Not in the Fishmongers' Company?—No; there are instances which I can point to.

1250. It would not always be the case, would it ?— I was not aware that it was a rule that was ever in any way followed.

1251. You say that Major-General Sir Evelyn Wood was put upon the court; was it not the honorary freedom that he received ?—Here is a list of the court. He was put upon the court on the 9th of October 1879, and, as our trade remarked, he may be a very excellent soldier, but a very bad fishmonger.

1252. You thought that you ought to have had a voice in the appointment of the superintendent, Mr. Johnson, and that Mr. Johnson was an incompetent man at the time of his appointment ?—We thought so at the time. In our opinion he was an incompetent man, hence we approached the Company upon the subject.

1253. Is he an incompetent man ?—In my opinion he is undoubtedly a most incompetent man.

1254. Up to this date ?—Up to this date.

1255. Is there no improvement ?—I think it is impossible for him to improve. He may be a very nice gentleman; I do not wish to say anything against him as an individual, but his capabilities as a fish inspector in our trade are not such as should recommend him to the notice of the guild or such as to give satisfaction to the public.

1256. How many years has he been superintendent? —He was appointed just about the time we sent the letter that I have read upon the subject.

1257. Two years ago ?—No, a few months ago.

1258. There you speak of meters; a meter is a kind of inspector, I suppose?—That is their title; they are called meters.

1259. There are meters appointed independently of Mr. Johnson, are there not ?—They call Mr. Johnson a superintendent fish inspector; they call the other two condemners, who really do the actual work I suppose, the inspectors.

1260. How many meters are there?—Two.

1261. And they take the control of Billingsgate and any other market than Billingsgate ?—There is no other market, of course, as a fish market. They walk about the market during the whole of market hours, and they inspect the whole of the fish that is being sold, and if they have any reason to believe that any fish is being exposed for sale that should not be, they immediately walk to the place and demand an inspection, and if necessary remove it, for which they give note with the crest of the Company upon it, with directions for filling in, stating that the fish has been seized, which they sign and give to the salesman, for the purpose of his sending it to the consignor.

1262. (Sir Richard Cross.) Have you any notion of how much a year is condemned ?—The statistics can be found. They are furnished weekly to the Commissioners of Sewers by the Company.

1263. (Mr. Alderman Cotton.) The quantity is very large, is it not ?—In the summer months it is very large. If I might respectfully refer to the report of Mr. Spencer Walpole upon the subject, he states that there is an immense quantity of shell fish that we get which is in a bad state when we receive it in the summer time, but he points out the important fact that it is not actually fish that is condemned, but a very very large per-centage of shells.

1264. With respect to the market, you said in reply to a question of Mr. Firth's that the Fishmongers' Company might have been the market authority and by that means they would have been the market authority of the whole metropolis. You are aware that the corporation of the city of London is the market authority for Billingsgate ?—I am aware that at present they have a seven mile radius clause, but when we take into consideration that a limited liability company can approach the House of Commons and overthrow to some extent their rights (of course it is not yet actually settled), we believe the corporation of London would in all probability have waived that right in favour of the company, precisely in the same way that they did in favour of the Columbia Market.

1265. That limited liability company approached the House of Commons on account of the fault that was found with the fish-market of Billingsgate and the high prices there charged for the fish and the way in which it was supplied; was not that the cause of the agitation?—The limited liability company is seeking powers to establish the market at Shadwell for no other reason than the ill-treatment they have received at the hands of the corporation.

1266. Was it not in consequence of the bad odour that the salesmen were in with the public generally, and a correspondence which took place in the press, that the fish question arose; and is it not the fact that a deputation went to the Home Secretary, that representations were made to him, and that upon those representations the limited liability company was founded ?—No, the whole sum and substance of the matter is as I have stated it; and the promoters of that limited liability company are none other than Messrs. Hewitt & Co., who are members of this Association.

1267. Do you think it is the business of the Fishmongers' Company to defend the trade ?—Most decidedly. They should, I think, have defended the trade from the imputations which have been most unjustly cast upon it.

1268. How could they do it? —They were not affiliated with our trade, but had we been represented as we ought to have been upon the court of the Company the whole thing would have been properly carried out.

1269. (Lord Coleridge.) Just let me see if I apprehend your evidence, put shortly. This Company has, roughly speaking, 60,000l. a year, has it not ?—I am not aware of their receipts.

1270. Someone said so; call it roughly 60,000l. a year; and it is called the "Fishmongers' Company"? —Exactly.

1271. Are you aware of anything, great or small, which it does for the benefit of the trade ?—Nothing whatever.

1272. Either for the trade or for the public, except appointing fish meters?—No; in fact I am compelled to admit that where poor people, widows of fishmongers, have in some cases applied for relief to the Company they have positively refused to listen to them in any shape or form, let their circumstances be ever so bad, unless they were freemen or unless their relatives were freemen or liverymen of the Company. We had a serious instance of that not long ago in the case of a woman named Mrs. Palmer. Her husband had been engaged in the trade for something like 45 years.

1273. My question did not point to particular grievances as to particular people, but to the trade as a trade, and the public as a public. Has the Fishmongers' Company, so far as you know, done anything for the good of the trade or for the good of the public, excepting the appointment of the fish inspectors ?— The first step they have taken in that direction is the support they are about to give to the fish exhibition; and that is the only thing that I know of.

1274. (Sir Richard Cross.) The Company have been asked what reforms could be made in their Company. At page 117 you will see the words beginning "In respect, however," just read that through (handing the document to the witness) ?— In respect, however, to the powers which the Company exercises in connexion with the trade which is associated with its name, the Company, without at present submitting any specific suggestions, would be glad to see its powers extended so as to enable it, without undue interference with trade, to give material aid to any measures adapted to secure for the inhabitants of the metropolis a more abundant supply of fish, and to render this important article of food more accessible to the people."

1275. I only want to know whether you have any suggestion to make which would carry out such reforms as are referred to there ?—We have this suggestion to make, viz., that members of the trade should be elected on the Court of Assistants. Had we persons engaged in our trade upon the court of the Company, the Company would soon become closely affiliated with the trade, and they, acting as it were as a portion of the trade, could then approach the Government (and any other authority) in such a way that whatever they brought before them would receive attention, and that would be of immense importance to the interests of the public with regard to the fish supply of the metropolis.


  • 1. See Fishmongers' Statement, p. 324.