- This name has been variously used to designate : one of the City gates, a port or quay on the Thames, one of the principal City markets.It seems probable, and recent discoveries tend to confirm the view, that in early times the City was enclosed by a wall on its southern side as well as on its northern, eastern and western sides, and if so there may well have been in this southern wall a City gate designated Billingsgate. Fitz Stephen writing about 1174 refers to this southern wall, which he says was washed away and destroyed in course of time by the encroachments of the River Thames. If this be true, the original position of the gate is not readily ascertainable.In later times it formed a watergate to the river on the south side of Thames Street, opposite St. Mary Hill.The tradition is that the City gate was erected by a British king named Belinus or Belin, but as Geoffrey of Monmouth's statement to this effect is unsupported by any other writer, it seems more probable, as Stow suggests, that the name was derived from some early owner, whether of a gate or quay, named Beling or Biling (S. 44), for the word "portus" would be used in either sense, and might be equally well translated "gate" or "quay."In any case, whether originally a City gate in the wall or merely a port, or quay on the river, it has been in existence from early times, for in the "De Institutes Lundonie" in the Laws of King Ethelred (Thorpe, I. p. 300), provision is made for the payment of tolls and customs by vessels arriving at "Billingesgate."Other forms of the names are : "Bilingkesgate," 12th cent. (H. MSS. Com. 9th Rep. p. 68). "Billynggesgate," temp. John (Anc. Deeds, A. 2445).It maintained its importance as a port or quay for the lading and unlading of goods, so that in 1279 it was provided that all vessels should be moored at night either at Queenhithe or at Billingsgate and not elsewhere (Cal. L. Bk. B. p. 241).The Customs of Billingsgate, temp. Ed. III., fixed the tolls that the several vessels were to pay according to their size and also the dues on their various cargoes of corn, coal, etc. (Lib. Albus, I. 237). In Stow's time it was even more frequented than it had been in earlier days, owing to the decline of Queenhithe (S. 207), which being situated above London Bridge was not as convenient of access as the port of Billingsgate.In Agas' map there are several vessels shown in the dock which is clearly indicated in Leake's map adjoining the site of the present Custom House on the west, and in O. and M. 1677, this harbour is designated "Billingsgate Dock." This name continued in use as late as 1848-51 (O.S.), until the dock was filled up at that time, and the quay rebuilt in accordance with modern requirements.The existence of the harbour or dock made the situation a suitable one for the establishment of a market there in early times. It is mentioned in the Liber Albus, I. p. 356, and is frequently alluded to in the Letter Books. In these days it seems to have been a general market and its trade unrestricted, but in 1 Eliz. an Act was passed restricting the nature of the goods to be sold there, and it was further regulated by a statute 11 William III. making it a free and open market for fish.In Rocque's map, 1746, the market seems to be shown north of the dock, but in O.S. 1848-51 it is placed on the west side adjoining the dock. In 1849-53 the market sheds were rebuilt by J. R. Bunning, the City architect, on a more extensive scale, and being further enlarged in 1874, the market now occupies the whole site of the old dock and Darkhouse Lane, while the rents bring in a considerable revenue to the City every year.
A Dictionary of London. Henry A Harben. 1918.