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So Long, Nathan’s Pies & Eels

May 27, 2018
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Andrew Baker visited Nathan’s Pies & Eels in Barking Rd to record the drama of West Ham’s last home game of the season, when – as they have done every Saturday for more than forty years – fans piled in for a hearty meal before the match. Yet this was a poignant occasion because Nathan’s closed for good yesterday, shut down by excessive rent increases that have rendered this thriving business untenable.

Nathan’s was an East End cultural landmark, a community centre and a culinary destination, cherished for its delicious pies cooked freshly each day to the same recipe by generations of the Nathan family. At this moment of the passing of an era, I sat down with Richard Nathan in his beautiful sparkling pie shop to record his family’s story and celebrate their incredible achievement and service to their beloved customers in Newham through the decades.

“We opened this shop in November 1974, my great-aunt Dorrie and her husband Roy. Although he was a Minchin, they put her maiden name ‘Nathan’ on the shop. My grandparents had been in the business of pies before that, it had always been in the family. My parents Christine & David took over in 1983 and they still help out in their late seventies. Finally, I am the fourth generation.

It has always been an Eel & Pie house and we have never changed the recipes. Even though we have been through thick and thin, we have retained a high level of quality. You get a full pie full of meat without any gristle. At other places, you might cut into pie and find it full of gravy but not here!

I am the owner-proprietor which means I do everything from unblocking the toilets to making the pies. I had a good teacher, my father. From the age of five, I would be in the bakehouse standing on a chair with an apron trailing down to my feet, cutting bits of dough off the pies. So I have always helped. I worked as a Saturday boy for a number of years and when I left school at sixteen I decided to come into the business. That was thirty years ago next month. Quite some time even though I am still young.

I work ten to twelve hours a day, five days a week. It has not made me rich but it has provided a comfortable living, through sheer hard work. Everybody that works here has made Nathan’s Pie & Mash shop what it is today.

We are closing now after more than eighty years of our family in the business. There are lots of factors that have led to shutting the shop – the closure of Upton Park football ground, the imposition of strict new parking regulations so our customers cannot park, the new business rates and a threatened 100% rent increase. Rent is a hard fought battle these days. It used to be like a gentlemen’s agreement that every five years it would increase by perhaps a thousand, but all of a sudden a new regime came in. The council is the landlord but they appointed a property management company. It took me four years of court battles to bring their proposed rent of £22,000 per annum down to reasonable £14, 500, from an original rent of £11,000. Meanwhile the business rates have increased and increased. The rent and rates here are over £25,000 a year but I cannot put the prices of my pies to match these increases.

When I look back, it has been fun running this shop. On a football day, it was part of a big social routine – buying your programme, coming in here and having pie and mash, enjoying a pint at the Boleyn Tavern or the Working Men’s Club and then going round the back to the stadium. Unfortunately, all that has now gone and the eight hundred and sixty-six dwellings in the new development that replace the stadium will not be affordable for local people.”

Richard & David Nathan, piemakers

Pamela Balder, Brenda Rice and Shirley Frankland

Brenda Rice – “I started in 1976. I had just lost my daughter so I need to do something and I came to work here. I walked by one day and saw the advert. I said to my husband, ‘There’s a job going down the Boleyn,’ and he said ‘Would you like me to drive you down there in the car?’ and I have been here ever since. Some of our customers have been coming in for years and we all know each other, we are like family. Even if you wake up in the morning and don’t feel like coming in, by the time you come here and get talking to everyone you feel better.”

Shirley Frankland – “I came to work here in 1993. It is walking distance from my home and I enjoy the social life. We go out together and meet up at different places. We have already got three evenings booked ahead including the Brick Lane Music Hall. We cannot tell you what we get up to!”

Pamela Balder – “Like Shirley, I started in 1993. I had been married a little while and we bought a house when prices were sky-high so I needed to look for a job. At the time, my mum Pam worked here and she said, ‘There’s a vacancy.’ Before that, I was a Saturday girl from the age of fourteen.”

Photographs copyright © Andrew Baker

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. May 27, 2018

    Always the old locals who are squeezed out. Sad to read this.

  2. Robin permalink
    May 27, 2018

    Gentrification is probably behind that rent and parking issues, the old East End will soon be completely gone. Sad.

  3. Judi Jones permalink
    May 27, 2018

    What an unfair ending for a wonderful tradition.
    With a ‘Property Management’ company employed by the Council – says it all really.
    All the very best to the staff at Nathan’s.

  4. May 27, 2018

    So long Nathan’s , you will be missed. So many changes in this area.

  5. Patricia Taylor permalink
    May 27, 2018

    F. Cooke’s in Kingsland Road was my “local” . Loved it and still do even though I’ve moved on.
    I went with some friends to their last night which was very emotional. I took a bottle of wine
    with me thinking I’d be thought a right toff for doing so but the champagne corks were popping,
    the press were there and I had no need to worry. I was at school with Fred and it was lovely
    seeing him again and was warmly welcolmed with a huge hug. I’m planning to go down to
    Broadway Market – I now live in F. Hill south of the river – but no problem on the Overground
    to Dalston Junction station. That part of London has certainly changed since I lived in Burder
    Road but I still like going back and remember the old days with fondness, warts an’ all !!

  6. Karen Rennie permalink
    May 27, 2018

    Great photos. This will surely be missed by the local community.

  7. May 27, 2018

    A sad day. I feel the Council are entirely to blame.

  8. Barbara Hague permalink
    May 27, 2018

    Pie an’ mash and liquor used to be an occasional childhood treat.
    Is the liquor recipe still a secret?

  9. Paul Loften permalink
    May 27, 2018

    A very sad day. I live ten minutes from the old ground and am still 10 minutes from the new one. But the move should should never have happened. The Hammers were so closely associated with the town centre . They should have regarded it as a stroke of luck still being there. Instead like many soulless businessmen they moved heir stadium into the wilderness and believe” it will be good for the club. A load of cobblers is not just an association of old bootmakers

  10. Helen Breen permalink
    May 27, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for another human story of a family business being forced out because of changes in the economy and life styles. The premises look so pristine – great pics of the staff, happy customers, and great food.

    Wishing all at Nathan’s well …

  11. frank hadley permalink
    May 27, 2018

    So sad to see one of the east end pie ‘ mash shops closing down
    the real reason is that the old east enders have moved away and only drop by when visiting
    the area for various reasons like seeing Nan and Grandad or football.
    the majority of the new locals would not eat in one of the pie n ‘ mash shops.
    lucky for some the pie ‘n mash shops have also moved out to other towns.

  12. Patricia permalink
    May 27, 2018

    It’s the same this side of the Atlantic…..businesses pushed out of the city with high rents and high taxes, only to be replaced by venues that don’t last 5 minutes. It’s a shame that real community is lost under the conditions imposed by governments that are supposed be there for the communities they govern. However, I love reading all about London as my mother worked there at 16 for a family as a nanny ….she met all manner of people like Noel Coward for one. and she had many stories to tell us. The big house where she worked was turned into flats and could be gone now….I don’t know really.

  13. Nancy permalink
    May 27, 2018

    He should now publish a cookbook. Lot’s
    of money. Especially since they are well
    known. People would love it. Ina Garten
    said she makes more money on her
    books then being on Food Network.

  14. May 28, 2018

    WHAT A PITY! I AM SO ANGRY WITH THE COUNCIL FOR CREATING UNEMPLOYMENT AND DESTROYING A LONDON INSTITUTION THAT SPREADS HAPPINESS IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.

  15. Steven Burr permalink
    May 28, 2018

    I wouldn’t eat EEL. but I’d love to try pie an’ mash it looks so good!

  16. richard ince permalink
    May 28, 2018

    Hi Richard.

    Sorry to read the news. A shame when cornerstone community businesses are not respected.
    Baby and bathwater thinking it seems from all those with influence and control.

    Wishing you all the best for the future. trust you’re smiling and whistling under all of this!! dyb dyb

    Best regards

    Richard

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