Pie and mash shops sprang up in the early Victorian period. They sold value-for-money tasty stodge and took hold in the working class East End. The first recorded shop was Henry Blanchard’s at 101 Union Street in Southwark, which opened in 1844 and was described as an “Eel Pie House.” As you might guess from this description, the pies were made from eels, which were cheap and plentiful, and could be fished in the Thames or imported via Billingsgate Market. There were scores of these shops by the turn of the twentieth century.
In time, eels became less available and more expensive and the pies in turn were filled with meat rather than eel. They continued and continue to be served with mashed potato that is smeared neatly against the edge of the plate and topped with a parsley flavoured gravy which is known as “liquor” in the local parlance. The main ingredients can be a bit bland and so vinegar and salt, which are left out on the tables of pie and mash shop, are added to spice things up. A few of the remaining shops – and there are estimated to be only 30 or so left in and around London – still sell eels but these tend to be jellied or stewed rather than baked in pies these days. A traditional drink to accompany the meal is Sarsaparilla which is non-alcoholic and is a remnant from the temperance movement of the nineteenth century.
This one in Deptford High Street is famous in London and has been going over 100 years. Its run by the grandson of the man who started it. I popped in for a plate of pie and mash recently. I doubt it has changed in fifty years.
It turns out Manze family have a thing about pie and mash. There have been a lot of other pie and mash shop in south London that have the Manze name. A few remain today.
London’s oldest existing pie, mash and eel shop is M. Manze which was founded in 1891 by Michele Manze, a recent Italian immigrant. The shop, in Tower Bridge Road, was the first of several of his, including one in Peckham, which is also still trading and a more recent addition to the chain in Sutton.
Other members of the extended Manze family also got in on the act and by 1930 there were fourteen Manze shops. One of them, L. Manze in Walthamstow is still going and received listed status in 2013. Another one is at 204 Deptford High Street, which is featured in these pictures.
Michele must have come up with the idea of opening a shop from his father-in-law, whose own family – the Cookes – were already veterans in 1891. Fred Cooke had his own popular chain of pie and mash shops and one of these still exists on Hoxton Street. Fred’s son, Robert, was Michele’s father-in-law. Generations of Manze’s and Cooke’s continue to work in the business.
Many of the original pie and mash shops have left the East End, closed down from the onslaught of other fast foods, such as McDonalds and KFC. The ones that are still with us remain a taste of the old East End. If you have never tried this food, I recommend that you do so before it is too late.