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Two favourite things and one I detest.

Channeling the spirit of Maria from the sound of music, I’d like to share a couple of favourites things with you.

I’m very partial to the odd oyster, mainly as nature intended, but cooked in their shells with a little Pernod are very nice. Also on a hot summers day I do enjoy a glass of Pimms, it’s very refreshing.

The reason for bringing these two together, and together is the operative word here, is a fact that I recently came across while researching a tour. I’ve never indulged of these two items at the same time and writing this first thing in the morning my taste buds are really struggling to conjure up the flavour combination. In fact all they’re doing is screaming bacon sandwich at me, so I think I’ll break here, satiate the craving and return later.

OK that’s better although the tang of HP sauce is still lingering. As I was saying, the combination and I can only imagine it, having neither in the house at the moment is a rather strange one. The ozone laden sweet salty seawater taste of the oyster, maybe combined with your chosen additions of red wine vinegar, tabasco, or lemon juice, alongside the sweet fruity aromatic almost musky herbal flavour of the Pimms seems a little at odds with each other. I also have a nugget of wisdom in my head from many years ago when I was told that oysters and strawberries shouldn’t be eaten together, apparently they don’t like each other.

Most people will have heard about Billingsgate on the banks of the Thames, the name and the market that once stood there is synonymous with the sale of fish. I’ve recently been researching the area known as Cheapside, which from medieval times was the market area in London selling “Flesh and Fowl” and as I found out apparently fish.

The Stocks Market

The Fishmongers and also their counterparts Shell Fishmongers tended to congregate at the bottom of Cheapside in a small section known as (The) Poultry. From the 13th century a large market was created here known as the Stocks Market. It was situated on the site now occupied by the Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London. Located as it is just an oyster shell throw away from the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange, it left me wondering if there’s any correlation between the medieval market and the modern name Stock Market? The market acquired its name as the site was home to the only fixed set of stocks within the City, all others apparently being portable, and moved to the location of the public humiliation as needed.

Fishmongers came and went over the centuries, fish was a relatively cheap commodity, but by the beginning of the 19th century some Fishmongers had made enough money to move away from the market to establish themselves in warehouses and offices close by. One such was James Pimm who established a premises at number three, Poultry at some time before 1838.

In June 1822, Pimm acquired the freedom of the City through the Company of Loriners by a method known as redemption. The Loriners Company is a guild who’s members are makers of metal parts for bridles, harnesses, spurs and other horse apparel. The method known as redemption is paying the guild a fine for not following the usual route of a 7-year apprenticeship or by inheriting the position from a parent, so in essence James just bought his position in the guild and also the freedom of the City without I suspect knowing the first thing about the making of such equine articles.

James Pimm

On the admission paper it is already stated that he was a fishmonger and you would surmise a fairly wealthy one to have bought his way in, the estimate for the cost would be in the region of £10,000 in todays money. Why he didn’t pursue a position with the Company of Fishmongers is a bit of a mystery. As a Freeman of the City James would have been invited to a full programme of social events, ranging from events of historical interest, dinners and receptions. He would also have been on the guest list at the Annual Banquet with the Lord Mayor at the Guildhall, and an Annual Service in the church of St Lawrence Jewry. So his aims are pretty clear, networking. James gradually builds his business and by the 1840s he has established himself as a purveyor and wholesaler of the finest quality oysters in the capital. The premises at number three also contain an oyster bar and James decides around 1850 to apply for a licence to supply alcohol as an aid to his customers digestion. The application is apposed by sixteen licensed victuallers of the area; one of the reasons given was that James does not have the requisite amount of seats within his establishment.

The magistrate was obviously in the pay of the tavern landlords and dismissed the application. A year later he tried again after gaining local support with a hundred and twenty signatures. This time his application was met, but with the proviso that the shop must not be turned into a Gin or Ale shop. Possibly mindful of the resentment felt by the local licensees James looks around for an alternative libation to aid the digestion of the oyster guzzling clientele. He takes the most readily available and cheap spirit of the time, Gin, and adds various herbs and spices. Each recipe attempt is recorded and is known as a cup. One such attempt has a blend of caramelised oranges and a mixture of herbs including Borage, and hey presto, it’s Pimms O’clock!

There is a little bit of doubt as to if James actually concocted the Gin based drink himself, some sources say that a Samuel Morey who was employed by Pimm is the creator, but the facts about Samuel are a little shaky. He did take the business over from Pimm some years later and perhaps bigged himself up as the drinks creator.

Mappin & Webb circa 1970

And what of the thing I detest?

The redevelopment of Poultry following the damage caused during the Second World War was pretty extensive. I can find no record of what happened to the building that Pimm and latterly Morey traded from, but the jewel in the crown as far as the block it inhabited was Mappin & Webb, suppliers of jewelry to the Royal Family. Apparently the block had been damaged but was considered to have been in repairable condition. As with any London historic building there are always a myriad of ideas about what should be done with it and in this case as in so many others the arguments raged for nearly fifteen years. A scheme in the 1970s to develop a plaza and office blocks on the site fell at the final hurdle and the plan was dropped. It looked as if the building would be saved until a scheme was approved in the early 1990s and in 1994 work was started on what is known as No 1 Poultry.

Is this some type of Postmodernist joke that architects snigger about when they get together? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Noddy in his little yellow car come Toot Tooting down the street, so much does the building look like something out of Toy Town. It is probably the worst building within the whole of central London. I find it as appealing as a bad oyster!

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