The most famous fishmonger in London was Sir William Walworth twice Lord Mayor of London but best known for killing Walter (Wat) Tyler. His family came from Durham and he was one of twin sons. (That twin Thomas becoming a Canon at York). He had two sisters.
William Walworth worked for a time in the Customs House under Geoffrey Chaucer. However he was apprenticed to John Lovekyn, a member of the Fishmonger’s Guild and clearly did well. By the late 1360s, Walworth himself had become one of London’s most wealthy and respected merchants, dabbling in salt fish, corn and, especially, the wool trade, (as Fishmongers owned ships),and fighting for the rights of merchants. This was important, as this was a bad time in the era of the 100 years war with France and taxes to prosecute this war were severe. Walworth was able to remain influential in London’s government.
He had succeeded his master as Alderman of the Bridge Ward in 1368, becoming sheriff in 1370; MP for the City in 1371 and Lord Mayor in 1374. Walworth first lived in the parish of St. Mary-at-Hill, in the house that probably belonged to his master, John Lovekyn and to whom he later seemed likely to have become a partner. He afterwards moved to a large mansion in Thames Street in the parish of St. Michael, Crooked Lane, (off King William Street and demolished in 1831). This house later became the property of the Fishmongers’ Company in 1413, and their hall occupied its site up to the time of the great fire of 1666
In 1377 Walworth and Philipot (a future Lord Mayor) were appointed treasurers to collect the taxes that had been granted for war in the young King Richard 11’s minority and were granted a hundred marks each a year for their labour. Walworth was one of three to put into a loan of £10,000 to the King with the City itself putting in £5,000. The Duke of Lancaster, (John of Gaunt), whose growing power made him resent the traders power, soon procured the dismissal of Walworth and his colleague from their position of confidence, although no complaint was made against them for any breach of trust The city was now divided into two parties—one which supported the Duke of Lancaster; the other which opposed him. (Philpot & Brembre, another future Lord Mayor, were in the Grocery Fraternity). A great time of Livery Company hostility! (Indeed later Fishmonger/Alderman were alleged to have opened the gates of the City to let in Tyler and the mob!)
On 2 March 1380 Walworth is once more associated with Philipot as a city representative on a commission to inquire into the financial state of the realm. In1380 it was proposed to build two towers, one on either side of the Thames, from which an iron chain was to extend across the river for the protection of shipping. The warlike John Philipot undertook the erection of one tower at his own cost, and Walworth and three other aldermen were appointed a committee to receive and expend a tax of sixpence in the pound on city rentals for the erection of the other. Another Poll Tax! Still popular at this time in 1380 Walworth was asked to look into the destitution of people and a year later elected by the German Merchants to look after their interests (Hanseatic League).
In 1381, when Walworth was serving a second term as mayor, a series of poll taxes caused a rebellion amongst the commons of Kent and Essex. As Mayor of London Walworth claimed a certain amount of responsibility when the rebels, under Wat Tyler’s came into the City.
Walworth was at Mile End but his moment came when the rebel leaders and the young King Richard II were discussing terms of ending the rebellion at Smithfield. The story is somewhat blurred, but its reported that, unhappy with the way Tyler was speaking and acting towards the king, Walworth dealt the rebel leader a blow with his sword, which another knight aggravated wounding him fatally. The King took control and Walworth dashed back to the City and call out the loyal forces. It is alleged that Walworth then went into Bart’s hospital and dragged a dying Tyler out of the hospital to be executed. With Tyler’s death, the rebellion swiftly ended and peace was returned to London, with Walworth being knighted for his services with Philpot and Brembre. Walworth helped to restore order in London, Middlesex and Kent.
It was said that it was Walworth’s dagger in the left-hand corner of St George’s cross, which is the emblem for London City.(not true) Stow relates that during his mayoralty Walworth effectually used his authority for suppressing usury within the city, and that the House of Commons followed up his action by petitioning the king ‘that the order that was made in London against the horrible vice of usury might be observed throughout the whole realm;’ to which the king answered that the old law should continue
The Fishmongers’ Company possess a dagger which is traditionally supposed to be the weapon with which Walworth killed the rebel leader; and a statue of Walworth, carved in wood by E. Pierce, is at the head of the great staircase in their hall. Beneath the statue is a poor rhyme which asserts that Richard gave the dagger as an addition to the city arms to commemorate Walworth’s valiant service. The same erroneous statement was engraved on Walworth’s monument in St. Michael’s, Crooked Lane, which was restored by the Fishmongers’ Company after its defacement in the reign of Edward VI. (see below). From these two sources probably arose the widely spread belief that Walworth’s dagger was added to the city arms. The charge in question is not a dagger but the sword of St. Paul which existed as part of the city arms in 1380, and probably long before
Walworth died in 1385, and was buried at St. Michael’s in his newly built north chapel which was known as the ‘Fishmongers’ aisle.’ His handsome tomb was destroyed ‘by the axes and hammers of the reformers,’ and all record of its inscription is lost. In 1562 the Fishmongers’ Company set up a new tomb for him with his effigy in armour gilt. Walworth left large estates in the City of London to his wife for life and for the maintenance of his charities, and certain tenements to the Carthusian priory of the Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, near London. The sponsored cell in the Charterhouse!
His second will, dated the same day, gave directions for his burial, and made various bequests in money. The bequest of law-books to his brother Thomas is very interesting; his possession of so complete and valuable a collection implies more than ordinary proficiency in that branch of study. His effects also included many choice service books and other religious works..
He had acquired property in London which he bequeathed to his wife Margaret in her lifetime. They had no surviving children and she died 9 years after her husband.