Weymouth’s historic Old Fish Market has been a harbourside landmark for over 150 years. It’s played host to a variety of uses, but today the Grade II listed building has been restored to its intended role, at the commercial heart of the fishing community.
Constructed in 1855, the market was originally part of a programme of civic modernisation that reflected Weymouth’s popularity for sea bathing. The Portland stone building, originally a large, single space below a slate clerestory roof, was designed by renown architect Thomas Talbot Bury, who collaborated with Pugin on the Houses of Parliament.
Locally caught, sustainable seafood
The clear waters of the Dorset coast are home to some of Britain’s finest seafood, over 40 local species. The daily catch brings in delicious Portland crab and lobster, magnificent line-caught sea bass, mackerel and pollack, netted sole, turbot, brill and plaice, as well as wonderful oysters, mussels and hand-dived scallops.
Weyfish is a community business, proud of our produce and its provenance, with strong ties to local fishing fleet. The majority are small day boats, fishing the inshore waters with lines, nets and pots - the most sustainable fishing methods, producing very little by-catch or discards. Most boats are owner-operated, single handed, landing their catch daily to Weyfish. And Weyfish is part of that community too: the Weyfish Boat Company operates two inshore boats for bass and shellfish.
Delivering to your home
This year has brought challenging times for all small businesses, but throughout the pandemic we’ve kept our doors open. Weyfish has been an important lifeline for the Weymouth fishing community, guaranteeing a market for the local fleet
It was thanks to the award of a UK Government Domestic Seafood Supply Scheme grant to help small seafood businesses reach a wider market, that we’ve been able to introduce online ordering and safe, contactless home deliveries, and we now offer the fresh Dorset seafood we’re so proud of nationwide.We’re very grateful for your support in this venture.
Meanwhile, if you happen to be visiting Weymouth, you’ll find Weyfish at 1 Custom House Quay, on the harbourside. The fishmonger is open 7 days a week, Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm, and Sundays from 10am to 4pm.
The Old Fish Market was built to provide a permanent home for the town’s outdoor fish market. It was a step up from previous arrangements, containing an ice room for refrigeration and marble stands with a sophisticated piped water system. A local guidebook noted, “It is very tastefully finished. The whole is an immense improvement upon the old open-air proceedings where sometimes under a burning sun, the fish, as well as the dealers, are much injured. ”The building fulfilled its purpose for several decades, but in the later nineteenth century the commercial market was transferred to nearby St Mary Street Market House and the Old Fish Market was sadly relegated to a local coal store.
The building was used as a warehouse for coal, grain and after that as a council store for fertiliser and then beach equipment, up to the 1980s. Its architectural merits went largely unappreciated. Fishmonger Steve Abbot, who’s worked in the building since 1985 recalls, “The roof had large holes in it and it was a standing joke that council employees taking a tea break in there would need to move their chairs to avoid the rain.”
Restoring a time-honoured landmark
Thankfully, recognition of urban heritage led in 1984 to a grant scheme to repair historic buildings in the town. The Old Fish Market’s ashlar walls were cleaned and repaired, the roof was recovered and eaves refurbished, gutters and leadwork remade and new windows and doors installed.
In 1985, the renovated building was leased to the founders of Weyfish, who undertook a fitting out exercise allied to the needs of the business, but not always, it’s fair to say, in the interests of the building.
Weyfish’s new owners have a different plan. We see The Old Fish Market not just as a convenient harbourside location but as a community asset we have a responsibility to maintain. We’ve now completed the first phase of a significant refurbishment, intended to help restore the landmark building to its former glory. This first phase has included removing storage and processing equipment to create a much larger ground floor retail area, reminiscent of the original market space, reconstructing the upper floor and clerestory, and refurbishing, with the guidance of conservation specialists, many original features.The second phase, including the development of the second floor into a restaurant, is scheduled to begin in 2021.