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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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 ?—
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
1200. They will attempt to exercise it over the new
market in Shadwell, you think ?—I feel sure they
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
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
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
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
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?—
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
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
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
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
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
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"?
1271. Are you aware of anything, great or small,
which it does for the benefit of the trade ?—Nothing
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
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.