The Barter Archive aims to preserve the stories and collective memories of the people working at the Billingsgate Fish Market at Canary Wharf, London. The archive begins as a series of observational drawings which are gradually exchanged for the fishmongers’ stories, memories and personal objects.
My name is Simon, 60 now, I’ve been here 32 years. I come from Essex and this is my third job. I used to work with my uncle in a smoked salmon factory. And then before that, I used to tile roofs and stuff like that. So that’s my three jobs. This is the best job easily. Because, you know everyone, you got a lot of friends here, there’s a lot of joking, laughing, messing around, and you don’t get in other places now. The other places are too, too P.C. (politically correct) really.
I started this job 32 years ago. It was just one little stand. That’s my favorite day really. November the 13th. So a weird day to start, but it was a good day. My shop is Bard Shellfish. I own it with my brother, Ben. He works over there and we’ve got, I think, seven others who work with us, but they’re good people. We all work hard and get home when the job’s done and we go home.
A lot of messing around, a lot of laughing here.
I like this area where we are now, a lot of messing around, a lot of laughing here. Some people say my favourite area’s the cafe, cause I’m in there quite a lot. So some people tell you it’s the cafe, but I actually like this area where we are. The first day we started, we didn’t have any customers, we only had a little space and it was a nervous day and we took two hundred pounds. So it’s a very early time, but it was a good and exciting day. We’ve got lots of nice customers, lots of funny customers, good customers. Some of them have been with us right from the beginning. It has been 30 years. Some have retired now, but there’s a lot of good memories.
There’s a lot more diversity now, a lot more different fish, a lot more different shellfish. I think there’s 800 types being sold here now, so there’s a lot more diversity in the market. People are good, most of the people here are nice. When we first came here, this was all that was here. There were no buildings over in Canary Wharf or anything like that. It was just this. So it was a strange place, but it is good.
The market here needs a lot of work, so it’s probably good to go to a new modern place. It’s going to be very modern. All the markets are going to be together, which is a good thing. But we’ll be sad to leave here as well. You know, it’s mixed feelings, really. You know, it’s closer to my house, which is good. I think it’s a long way for people to come from North London.
It’s a different way of living.
And if you’re coming from Hammersmith that way, it’s a much longer journey. So we’ll see how it goes. But they should be able to do it quicker. A lot of them are Chinese especially, and go to all three markets. So they should be able to get it done quicker. It’s all under one roof, literally, so it should be good.
The oyster challenge happens a lot of times. There’s always been messing around in the market. A lot of laughing, joking. Not always. Sometimes, but it’s a good place to work generally. It’s a happy place to work because you get up so early in the morning, it’s a different community. You know, we’re going home when everyone’s going to work, we’re going to bed when everyone’s going out. It’s a different way of living.
I will give you that wooden knife, the oyster knife, because we sell lots of oysters. We’re a shellfish company and they’re from our good friends in Ireland who gave us that knife. And so I think it’d be a good way to remember our firm, with that knife.
I gave Sammy the Seal someone else’s fish.
Sammy the seal was a seal that we had outside that people used to feed. He just turned up one day. Actually, it was a she seal, female, so that people used to feed it. It’d turn up one day and it had been there for about 12 years. I haven’t seen her lately, so I don’t know if she’s still around or not, but she’s been here for about 12 years.
I gave her the fish. Someone else’s fish, not my own. I never gave her your own fish. The fish is from all different places. I can’t give names. Haha.
When we first came to Canary Wharf. It was derelict. The fish market was the only thing here. There were no big buildings over there or anything like that. I think they filmed one of the war films over there. That’s how derelict it was. And then they put up the HSBC building. That was the first building to go up and it’s grown from there, but there was nothing there at all when we came. I think it’s just a natural progression now. London’s expanding, they have to build places. We’re only two-storey high here, so they need the room. So that’s why we’re being moved. I would like to retire as soon as I can, haha. I don’t know really, we’ll just see.