Perfect pitch

Wally Herberts 760 x 400

“I was here selling fish when a naked man walked past,” says Carol Wallace, without batting an eyelid. “He just wandered up the street. People didn’t notice until they passed him, and then you could see them turn around, and do a double-take.” She breaks into a grin. “We told the police what was going on, and they just said, ‘well, it’s a hot day…’”

The owner of fishmonger Wally Herbert’s, Carol has been trading on the street corner outside Hackney Central Station for 22 years: nothing shocks her anymore. In many ways, hers is a traditional fishmonger: it has fresh cod, skate, salmon and mullet, bought from Billingsgate Market every morning, and its central Hackney location is reflected in the tubs of jellied eels sitting alongside trays of rollmops and crab meat.

What makes Wally Herbert’s unique is that the “shop” is an open-sided, concrete edifice built on to the pavement. “You see that line?” Sally asks, pointing to a stripe of darker-coloured bricks in the street. “Well, that side is council-owned pavement, and this side is owned by the railway,” she says, flicking her head backwards in the direction of the station, which is just behind us.

Wally Herbert fish 760 px

When Sally’s grandfather, the original Wally Herbert, founded the business in 1940, he ran it from a traditional East End barrow: a wooden cart on wheels. By 1975, Sally’s father had taken over, and times had changed: barrows were out of favour, and British Rail didn’t want the fish stand there anymore.

“Dad got solicitors involved,” say Sally. “They noticed the grooves in the pavement which our cart had made because it had been there for so long – and they claimed ‘squatters rights’. As soon as they said that, British Rail relented.”

And so, almost 40 years ago now, the barrow morphed into a crescent-shaped, brick counter, from which Sally still runs the business with her husband Martyn.

Will her children maintain the tradition and take on the family business? “It’s a bit hard now,” she says. “It’s not an easy life, you know. I’m at Billingsgate by 4:45 most mornings, which messes up your social life. The margins are getting smaller and smaller, and when it’s cold here, it’s freezing.” But today, thankfully, it’s sunny and warm.

Does she have lots of regulars? “Oh yes, lots of locals,” she says. “After 22 years, you get to know a lot of names. People stop and chat: you hear all the gossip.” And almost on cue, a woman, leaning heavily on a trolley bag, comes along and picks up a tub of jellied eels from the dwindling stocks. “I’d better serve this customer,” she says, turning round and putting the pot in a plastic bag. A train rattles overhead, and a man walks past, spilling beer from an upside-down can. And colourful, changeable, unpredictable Hackney life continues to unfold around the constant that is Wally Herbert’s.

Wally Herbert’s
Near Hackney Central Railway Station,
Amhurst Rd, London E8 1LL

Open: Wednesday to Saturday (9am-3:30pm)

Wally Herbert Pint of Prawns 760x507

Share this article

    Related posts


  • Upcoming events: May 2019

    Enjoy these fantastic seafood events while the sun shines! Field to Fork Festival, Harper Adams University Newport 4 May – A celebration of food,  where it comes from and how it gets to our plates.  An amazing family day out and it’s free!  Swansea Street Food Festival, 4, 5, 6 May – There will be an outstanding array of different foods on offer from all over the world.  Another free family friendly event not  […]

    read more

  • Fish is the dish

    Fancy having an alternative Christmas dinner this year? Then checkout out this alternative recipe from Seafish. Your starter – Prawns in Blankets Prep time: 30 minutes; Cooking time: 10 minutes; Serves: 4; Skill level: Easy Peasy Ingredients 2 slices prosciutto 16 raw, peeled, jumbo prawns, deveined 8 sticks rosemary, leaves removed from all but the […]

    read more

  • Seafish’s new film – ‘Seafood is the Way Forward’

    Seafish, the public body that supports the £10bn UK seafood industry, have produced a new film celebrating the entire seafood industry entitled ‘Seafood is the Way Forward’.  The film, launched at this year’s UK Seafood Summit, showcases the whole seafood industry from catch to plate; celebrating the many heroes of the seafood industry and the […]

    read more