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The Englishman & The Eel

February 3, 2018
by the gentle author

I am delighted to announce that Stuart Freedman’s magnificent photographic survey of the culture of pie, mash and eels, THE ENGLISHMAN & THE EEL is published by Dewi Lewis Books. Click here to order a copy

At Manze’s Tower Bridge Rd, London’s oldest Pie & Mash Shop, which opened in 1897

In days like these, we all need steaming-hot pie & mash & eels to fortify us, as we face the vicissitudes of life and the weather. It gave photographer Stuart Freedman the excuse to visit some favourite culinary destinations and serve up these tasty pictures for us, accompanied by this brief historical introduction as an appetiser.

“Eels have long been a staple part of London food and were once synonymous with the city and its people. Lear’s Fool in his ramblings to the King, witters – “Cry to it, nuncle, as the Cockney did to the eels when she put ‘em i’ the paste alive, she knapped ‘em o’ the coxcombs with a stick, and cried ‘Down, wantons, down!’”

In a city bisected by the Thames, the eel’s popularity was that it was plentiful, cheap and, when most meat or fish had to be preserved in salt, eels could be kept alive in puddles of water. Reverend David Badham reports in his ‘Prose Halieutics Or Ancient & Modern Fish Tattle’ in 1854 – “London steams and teems with eels alive and stewed. For one halfpenny, a man of the million may fill his stomach with six or seven long pieces and wash them down with a sip of the glutinous liquid they are stewed in.”

Such was the demand that eels were brought over from The Netherlands in great quantities by Dutch eel schuyts, commended for helping feed London during the Great Fire. Although they were seen as inferior to domestic eels, the British government rewarded the Dutch for their charity by Act of Parliament in 1699, granting them exclusive rights to sell eels from their barges on the Thames.

When the Thames became increasingly polluted and could no longer sustain a significant eel population during the nineteenth century, the Dutch ships had to stop further upstream to prevent their cargo being spoiled and the rise of the Pie & Mash Shops was a direct result of the adulteration of eels and pies sold on the streets.”

A delivery of live eels at F. Cooke in Hoxton

Joe Cooke kills and guts the eels freshly at the rear of his shop in Hoxton Market

A dish of jellied eels served up in Hoxton

Paddy makes the pie lids at F. Cooke in Broadway Market

Tasty pies awaiting their destiny in Broadway Market

Joe strains the golden potatoes in Hoxton

Joe fills a bucket of creamy mash behind the counter in Hoxton

Kelly dishes up pies & mash with liquor at Manze’s in Tower Bridge Rd

Tucking in at Manze’s in Tower Bridge Rd

Manze’s, Walthamstow

Manze’s, Tower Bridge Rd

Sawdust at Manze’s in Walthamstow

Victorian tiling at Manze’s in Tower Bridge Rd

Original 1897 interior at Manze’s in Tower Bridge Rd

Lisa at Manze’s in Walthamstow

Miss Emily McKay enjoying pie & mash as an eighty-eighth birthday treat in Broadway Market

Clock of 1911 at F. Cooke in Broadway Market

Interior of F. Cooke in Broadway Market

F.Cooke – “trading from this premises since 1900”

Enjoying eels in Hoxton Market

Interior of Manze’s in Walthamstow

Art Nouveau tiles in Walthamstow

Vinegar, salt & pepper on marble tables at F.Cooke in Hoxton Market

Wolfing it down at Manze’s in Tower Bridge Rd

Glass teacups at Manze’s in Walthamstow

Wooden benches and tables of marble and wrought iron at Manze’s in Tower Bridge Rd

Bob Cooke, fourth generation piemaker, at F.Cooke in Broadway Market

Photographs copyright © Stuart Freedman

You may also like to read about

Boiling the Eels at Barney’s Seafood

Some Favourite Pie & Mash Shops

More Favourite Pie & Mash Shops

Tubby Isaac’s Jellied Eels Stall

13 Responses leave one →
  1. February 3, 2018

    As someone who hails from black pudding Land I understand the lure of a food that might turn a weaker stomach. I’m startled, however, to discover that Pie and Mash shops are frequented by such a high proportion of Ross Kemp lookalikes.

  2. Georgina Briody permalink
    February 3, 2018

    Oh this article was good to see, I lived near Tower Bridge Road as a child and remember buying the odd plate of pie and mash. I know families who now live in Kent come up to town especially to buy pie and mash as a treat!

    I have passed this article onto old school mates (we are all retired now) and one has already replied delighted to read it and sending it onto her brother! Her husband lived in the Borough and was a regular visitor.

    Thank you GA for bringing back good memories.

  3. February 3, 2018

    Lovely to see these old establishments still with their original interiors. I remember watching live eels swimming in tubs in the window of an eel, pie and mash shop on Well Street in Hackney, but never went in or ate anything there. Valerie

  4. Jamie Surman permalink
    February 3, 2018

    Wonderful feature… In these times of being told we are to celebrate all cultures and diversity etc etc… It’s a shame our original indigenous culture of working class London – stretching back hundreds of years, is sidelined. More features like this in outlets like The Guardian, would be very welcome…

  5. February 3, 2018

    Pie and mash really should be eaten at Kelly’s in either Bethnal Green Road or Roman Road.
    Being resident in Essex now, we eat ours in Southend but whenever we return to Bethnal Green, pie and mash is our repast of choice. Of course, it must be seasoned with copious amounts of chili vinegar.

  6. February 3, 2018

    Lovely photographic essay.

  7. February 3, 2018

    Pie and Mash is a southern delicacy. It never caught on in the North.

    We were discussing in an adult English class the other day, after looking at a cartoon about Victorian foods. Eating eels was met by squeals from some.

    One day I will pluck up the courage to try. A good excuse for a visit to London. Last time I was there, I spotted Manzies in Tower Bridge Road on my way back from Greenwich. Wonder if they have mini portions in case I hate it?

  8. February 3, 2018

    A lovely article and some nice photos of the shops in action.

    I did a blog entry about the history of these shops including how the Cooke’s and Manze’s are connected:

    Thanks as ever for your wonderful site.

  9. Connie Unangst permalink
    February 3, 2018

    As a food historian, I enjoy your articles on food in history. I always share the information with my fellow foodies.

  10. February 3, 2018

    Bear with an American, as I say (in the most loving way possible……)
    However: Whether or not I would ever be tempted to sample the food, I am totally captivated
    by this presentation of local customs, nuances, the unique eateries, the tile work (wow!) and
    the preservation of recipes and condiments. Surely this is what makes London such a special
    place, among zillions of other reasons.
    What a town!? Hats off to YOU.

  11. Greg Tingey permalink
    February 4, 2018

    Londoner through & through that I am … I’ve never liked eels, in the serving-style shown here.
    There is also Smoked Eeel, which is a real delicacy & to be earnestly sought out if possible

  12. jacqui newling permalink
    February 5, 2018

    Hi, thank you for this wonderful story, and superb photographs. I made a point of visiting some eel, pie and mash shops when in London last year. Sadly I didn’t get to Manze’s and was disappointed to see tubby Isaac’s is now a kebab and burger stand. But I did get to F. Cooke’s (and their gorgeous old premises now the Shanghai), and another in Greenwich. I’m glad to see the eels being cooked on site at Hoxton – at Greenwich they were bought in, ready-to-serve in jelly from Holland and I wondered if Cooke’s does the same.

  13. Mary K permalink
    February 6, 2018

    Worked as a Biology teacher in Walthamstow in the early 70’s.
    I remember the very busy pie and mash shop well.
    We used to take the students down Walthamstow Market where
    lots of them used to work on the stalls….either legally or legally!
    I remember passing an eel stall on the corner of the market and
    a small eel had been rejected .
    The students insisted we took it back to the Biology Lab and we
    kept it as a ‘pet ‘ in a tank , fed it and called it ‘Eleva.’ The students
    developed quite an attachment to this eel…
    Not sure what happened to it eventually but look back on those days
    fondly as it was a great community to work in.

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