Piecing together a picture

On 30th April this year, the ITV News website carried a video report by ITV Meridian reporter Richard Slee on how the nation is turning to jigsaws in the crisis, accompanied by this text:

“Jigsaw factories across the Meridian region have seen a huge increase in orders since people were told to stay at home during the Coronavirus lockdown.

JHG Jigsaws in Dorset, Wentworth Wooden Puzzles in Wiltshire and The Oxford Puzzle Company are among those reporting unprecedented demand.

Some are even saying their current order levels are on a par with Christmas, as more and more people turn to indoor past-times.

Since the lockdown business has been booming.

Sales are up nearly 10 fold at jigsaw makers across the country.

“I do think it’s important that people have something that they feel they belong too and especially now they can’t go down to their club or the pub and sit with their friends in cafes. It’s really nice to feel part of something.”

– ALISTAIR FRY, THE OXFORD PUZZLE COMPANY”

Browsing online today turned up a curiosity for the London historian: a “Jigsaw Puzzle of Billingsgate Market ‘ Fish Harvest Festival. A market porter calling at St Magnus” (artprintsforpleasure.com).

For another historic image, go to:

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/st-dunstan-in-the-east-idol-lane-city-of-london-11368

(Caption: Dr F C Oliver receiving harvest presents of fish from Billingsgate fish porters inside St Dunstan in the East Church. It was a wealthy and prosperous parish church, which had been built some time during the second half of the 13th century. The City of London used to have two churches dedicated to the Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, St Dunstan. The church was gutted in World War II, but the tower was restored.)

On 6th October last year, @thegentleauthor wrote on Spitalfields Life a preview of the annual Fish Harvest Festival which would be held at St Mary-at-Hill the following Sunday:

“Thomas à Becket was the first rector of St Mary-at-Hill in the City of London, the ancient church upon a rise above the old Billingsgate Market, where each year at this season the Harvest Festival of the Sea is celebrated – to give thanks for the fish of the deep that we (all) delight to eat, and which sustained a culture of porters and fishmongers here for centuries.

The market itself may have moved out to the Isle of Dogs in 1982, but that does not stop the senior porters and fishmongers making an annual pilgrimage back up the cobbled hill where, as young men, they once wheeled barrows of fish in the dawn. For one day a year, this glorious church designed by Sir Christopher Wren is recast as a fishmongers, with an artful display of gleaming fish and other exotic ocean creatures spilling out of the porch, causing the worn marble tombstones to glisten like slabs in a fish shop, and imparting an unmistakeably fishy aroma to the entire building. Yet it all serves to make the men from Billingsgate feel at home, in their chosen watery element – as I discovered when I went along to join the congregation…

Proudly attending the  spectacular display of fish in the porch, I met Eddie Hill, a fishmonger who started his career in 1948. He recalled the good times after the war when fish was cheap and you could walk across Lowestoft harbour stepping from one herring boat to the next. “My father said, ‘We’re fishing the ocean dry and one day it’ll be a luxury item,’” he told me, lowering his voice, “And he was right, now it has come to pass.” Charlie Caisey, a fishmonger who once ran the fish shop opposite Harrods, employing thirty-five staff, showed me his daybook from 1967 when he was trading in the old Billingsgate market. “No-one would believe it now!” he exclaimed, wondering at the low prices evidenced by his own handwriting, “We had four people then who made living out of  just selling parsley and two who made a living out of just washing fishboxes.”…”

Just today, @walkeastlondon featured pictures of the St Dunstan in the East Church Garden, where, in 1967, the City of London Corporation decided to turn the bombed out shell of the church into a public garden, which remains to this day.

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