London Food History: Eel, Pie And Mash Shops

Ben Norum
By Ben Norum Last edited 18 months ago
London Food History: Eel, Pie And Mash Shops
Pie, mash and liquor at M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road | Photo by Matt From London from the Londonist Flickr pool
Pie, mash and liquor at M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road | Photo by Matt From London from the Londonist Flickr pool
M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road back in the day (we're not sure of the date)...
M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road back in the day (we're not sure of the date)...
....and M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road now
....and M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road now
F. Cooke on Broadway Market | Photo by Myrto Lazopoulou from the Londonist Flickr pool
F. Cooke on Broadway Market | Photo by Myrto Lazopoulou from the Londonist Flickr pool
M. Manze's blue plaque | Photo by  Matt From London from the Londonist Flickr pool
M. Manze's blue plaque | Photo by Matt From London from the Londonist Flickr pool
F. Cooke on Hoxton Street | Photo by  Amanda Vincent-Rous from the Londonist Flickr pool
F. Cooke on Hoxton Street | Photo by Amanda Vincent-Rous from the Londonist Flickr pool

We've decided to take a closer look at pies, a food so closely linked to London, and at the eel, pie and mash shops which have become institutions in the capital — and also comprise several of the oldest and most historic surviving eateries.

A potted history of pie

The earliest pies are thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt circa 2500 BC, made from ground oats or wheat wrapped around a honey filling — perhaps the food that sustained them through the building of the pyramids. But it was the Greeks who first developed a recognisable pastry made with flour and water, and then the Romans — circa the second century BC — who started to play with a range of fillings and create the meat pies that are common today. It’s with the Roman conquest of Britain, beginning in 43 AD, that pies made it to our shores.

London street food

Fast-forward to the Victorian era and pies have become popular street food — there were no burgers or ‘dogs back then. Lacking the funds for premises, several hundred so-called piemen would walk the streets selling their wares, particularly in east and south-east London. They came with a number of different fillings including meat and fruit but most commonly eels.

Eels were particularly common (and thus cheap) in London at the time. They were one of very few fish that could survive in the heavily-polluted Thames and other London rivers. And more arrived from Europe into Billingsgate fish market, which started on the banks of the Thames (close to modern day Monument Station) in the 16th century.

Pie and mash shops

Gradually, pie and mash moved off the streets and into premises, giving birth to the ornate Victorian shops which we still see today. It’s thought that the first shop opened in 1850 — though it isn’t named — and before long were commonplace.

These shops would also sell the Cockney classic jellied eels, and usually come with stalls outside selling live eels to be cooked at home. Inside they would have marble floors and counters — typical for the time, but unmistakably grand when viewed today. The walls would usually be covered in paintings and later photographs, with floors strewn with sawdust to gather up the eel bones that were spat out.

It was in these shops that the offering was tweaked and modernised. Minced beef or lamb with onions became a more popular — and still affordable — pie filling than eels, while mash quickly gained popularity as an accompaniment to bulk out the dish. Eels still played a crucial part though — the water used for stewing them was flavoured with parsley to create eel liquor, which tends to be a lurid green colour and is served with the pies in place of gravy.

Keeping it in the family

While pie and mash shops at their height were as popular as burger restaurants or curry houses are now, there are two key families which have been particularly influential over the years: the Manzes and the Cookes. Together they run London’s oldest existing pie and mash shops.

The Manze family
London’s oldest existing pie, mash and eel shop is M. Manze, which opened on Tower Bridge Road in 1891. It was founded by Michele Manze, whose family moved to London from southern Italy in 1878, and began selling pies after dabbling less successfully in ice-cream and ice-cream makers. For Manze, this Tower Bridge site was the first of a mini pie empire. He opened a second shop on nearby Southwark Park Road in 1908, followed by two more in Poplar and a fifth in Peckham in 1927. Three were either destroyed or closed during the war but the original, and his Peckham outlet, remain open today.

Several of Michele's brothers followed his lead, opening up their own shops bearing the family name and by 1930 there were a total of 14 of them. This includes L. Manze in Walthamstow which received listed status in 2013.

In 1998 the business, now run by Michele’s grandsons, opened another shop in Sutton, giving the family the unique claim at the time to opening both London’s oldest and newest traditional pie, mash and eel shop.

The Cooke family
Fred Cooke opened his first pie, mash and eel shop in Clerkenwell in 1862, and before long ran a popular chain with branches across east London. A Broadway Market branch opened in 1900, with Fred’s grandson Bob (who was born above the shop) at the helm. There is also a surviving F. Cooke on Hoxton Street, while a new generation of the business has been kicked off by Bob’s daughter who has opened a pie and mash shop not far out of London in Harold Hill in Essex.

Compounding the family connection, a daughter of the Cooke family married a son of the Manze family — it is now this couple’s grandson that runs the capital’s oldest pie and mash shop, M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road.

There are other families of note:

G. Kelly, which has been serving pie and mash in the same spot on Roman Road Market since 1937 — at their peak the family had six shops in the area.

Goddards Pies in Greenwich is a new outlet for a very old business — the family have been making traditional pies since 1890 when they launched in Deptford.

Arments opened their first pie and mash shop on Walworth Road in 1914, and expanded with two more shops in the area. Their shop on Westmoreland Road is still open today and regarded as one of London’s finest.

East is eels

You’ll notice that all of these pie and mash shops are in east or south-east London, and that the dish has a particularly strong connection with east London. The reason is simply that this started out as cheap food and the east is where the poorer working classes lived. A prevailing westerly wind was a key factor in this, as it meant industrial pollution was blown that way making for smellier and altogether less pleasant living conditions.

Last Updated 06 October 2016

Jeff Cotton

According to my Mum and Dad 'pie mash' was also the stodgy post-pub meal of choice in the East End in the 40s and 50s, like kebabs now

Greg Tingey

L Manze's pies now available in "The Nag's Head" walthamstow (Over the railway tunnel of the same name) on Monday evenings - or so the flyer in the pub said, last night.

BJD

Decent pie & mash at Manze's in Chapel Market which turns into gourmet The Seagrass Wed - Fri evenings.

Michael Jennings

The meat pie is the number one snack food in Australia, of course. We eat them at sporting events the way Americans eat hot dogs, and on a great many other occasions as well. Is this because so many Australians in the 19th century came from east London? I suspect it probably is, although I haven't seen it documented for sure.

Mark Stone

where's Castles Pie Shop in Camden?

AGT

You've left out Harringtons in Tooting which is the best I've had. The shop is not as nice to look at but I would rate as better than Manze's food. Incidentally, the best combo is pie (suet based pastry), mash, liquor and a ladleful of stewed eels. Add vinegar and white pepper to taste. Awesome.

Worzel Gummidge

I'm very proud to say that as the proud wife of a good old Cockney lad, I've managed to master the art of pie and mash, made all the more special as we live in Australia. I've made it for a number of our friends and family (I'm a working class lass originally from Manchester, UK) and not one of them hasn't liked it, even the White pepper and malt vinegar, to which some have given a curious stare. So According to hubby mine is the best pie and mash in the Southern Hemisphere 😊

Laurence Scales

The gastro eel has been around on the continent, notably Holland, for a long time and can sometimes be found here in sushi places and the more authentic Chinese restaurants. Smoked or roast eel are particularly delicious but (only my opinion) jellied eels and liquor give the eel a bad name. Unfortunately, the eel is a mysterious species and the future health and abundance of stocks is in doubt.

Guest

Harold Hill is in London, not Essex.

Michael Holland

The second photo of the old Manze pie shop is 250 Southwark Park Road, not Tower Bridge Road, and is not there any more. Probably bombed in the war.

Lucis Ferre

There's a very good traditional Pie and Mash shop opened in Wanstead High Street East London a couple of years or so back.. Can't remember the name. The pies are on the smaller side but they are traditional and not beef and onion type pies some people try to pass off.. Very tasty,,

Terry Gibson

There was an Eel and Pie shop round the corner from Manzes Chapel Market, chopping eels on a block outside. Maybe White Conduit Street, or a nearby road taken over by Sainsburys car park?

Vivien

There was also Dawson's in Rochester Row it was there a long time they even sold live eels with the window up and the
Owner weighing them. Can't find no reference to the shop now it was across the road from The Artillery Pub. Does anyone else remember it. When the man died his wife took over it was still running in the 70s.

firstname lastname

calling mashed potatoes "mash" make you sound like a twat

Katy Widdop

Thanks so much for this fascinating article, which completely elucidates the mystery of why I've found a lot of references to hot eel pies in old London street cries but only mention of eels (jellied or not), pie and mash in other sources including Wikipedia.

Peter Cope

"Liquor is served in place of gravy", really? is the writer of this piece from London? let's have it right, proper London pie n mash is ALWAYS with liquor. Gravy is what northerners have with their differently made pies, works well on theirs, but on ours? NO.
Even if shops do serve gravy instead of liquor, it's usually the rank instant type, right too, why would or should they spend time making proper gravy, any type is wrong.