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End of an era as door-to-door fishmonger 'Jon the Fish' retires

By Mark Andrews | Dudley | News | Published:

The strange thing is, Jonathan Spencer wasn't particularly fond of fish before he went into business 31 years ago.

Jonathan 'Jon the Fish' Spencer celebrates his retirement with customers in Kinver. Picture: Graham Gough

“This elderly gentleman, who had a small fish round, invited us to his house for dinner,” he says.

“I didn’t particularly like fish, but when I tried his I couldn’t believe it."

And, in the words of Victor Kayem, he liked it so much he bought the company. When the elderly man retired, 24-year-old Jon bought his round.

He gave up his steady job at Marks & Spencer, and swapped it for 4am starts at the fishmarket and life on the delivering fresh fish door to door.

Now, after 31 years in the business, 'Jon the Fish' as he is invariably known, is retiring himself.

The 55-year-old has hung up his white coat and handed over the reins to old friend John Perry, who he knows from the fish markets, and will this week be starting his 'gap year' on the Irish coast.

Jon, from the Merry Hill area of Wolverhampton, has been a familiar sight around the West Midlands over the past three decades.

His rounds have expanded over the years, taking in Dudley, Stourbridge, Kinver and Enville, as well as Wolverhampton, Albrighton and Bridgnorth.

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He says he has loved his time in the trade, but admits it is not the job for everybody.

“I can spend eight months of the year getting up in the dark and going home in the dark,” he says.

For the past 31 years this has meant getting up at 4am and, rain, shine or snow, heading out to the Wolverhampton fish market at Monmore Green.

Jonathan Spencer has been a regular sight on his rounds including here in Kinver. Picture: Graham Gough

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Selecting the best fish can be quite an art.

“You have got to look for a shiny skin and a fresh smell, but sometimes it depends on where it has come from,” he says. “For example, the Icelandic cod has beautiful white flesh, but it is not as good as the English cod. The English cod doesn’t look as good, but it has the better taste.

“Sea bass comes from Turkey or Cornwall, but there are different grades of quality, and the Manx kippers are very nice.”

Despite the early starts and long days on the road, Jon says he has loved every minute of it.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed it, I have really had a good time," he says.

"I have met some great people, and made some great friends."

There has been the odd mishap along the way. He particularly remembers going to a large country house, where one of his customers asked for 'three eels'.

"What he meant was three pieces of jellied eels, but I got him three conger eels, and they are massive, the size of salmon," he recalls.

"I took them round to the house, and the owner wasn't in and the maid opened the door, she said 'bring it in'.

"When their little girl came home from school she fainted because she thought there was a snake in the oven.

"Whenever I have spoken to the customer since, he always joked that he was still eating those eels, they are so big."

Where its city roads or rolling countryside, Jonathan Spencer's rounds have taken him across the Midlands. Picture: Graham Gough

Jon says he plans to spend a year living in a small coastal resort between Westport and Galway on the Wild Atlantic Way in County Mayo.

"Our family and friends are in Ireland, so we thought we would try renting for a year to see if we like living in the rain," he says.

"A lot of young people go on gap years these days, so we thought why don't we do that ourselves?"

Jon will use some of his new-found spare time by testing his carpentry skills.

"I have packed some wooden beams, about 8ft long, and hopefully I will make some bespoke furniture," he says.

Jon says while the fluctuating price of fish can make it a tough trade to operate in – "prices have gone up dramatically over the past few months, as has the price of everything" – he does believe there is a strong market for people who want to have fish delivered to their door.

"I think it's the way forward, going to people's homes," he says.

"People don't have the time to go to different shops."

And while he won't miss the early starts, he says his successor won't have too many complaints.

"John's been in the trade for longer than I have," he says.

"He's been working on the markets from 2am, so he's well used to it ."

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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