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Arments: Celebrating our 108th Birthday on April 14th
No, we can’t quite believe it either, but Arments Pie and Mash shop is 108 years old! As you may know, Arments actually started life as an “Eel and Pie House” in 1914, at 386 Walworth Road. The shop, like many at the time, featured glazed tiled walls, marble table tops and sash windows, and had a floor covered in sawdust. Our sawdust-covered floors are long gone, but we’re still serving delicious, traditional pie and mash to customers – 108 years later – both locally and further afield.
Eel pies were a staple of the London diet
Over a hundred years ago, many eel and pie shops grew up around the river. Eels were a plentiful, affordable and nutritious source of food for hungry Londoners, and they were largely fished from the River Thames. Now, like the majority of London’s pie and mash shops, eels have largely disappeared from the Thames – and eel pies have long been a rarity.
Arments, however, along with our pies, continue to cook delicious stewed and jellied eels to age-old recipes for our discerning customers – though we must admit the short supply of fresh eels at the moment is a little frustrating. To commemorate our birthday, we decided to kick off Arment’s 108th birthday celebrations with a post about a small part of London with strong connections to eels – and to the humble eel pie. However, it’s a place many Londoners will remember not for its food, but for its music: Eel Pie Island.
Eel Pie Island’s colourful history
Eel Pie Island is a small island to the south west of London in the River Thames, accessible by boat, or, from the north bank, by footbridge. Formerly called “Twickenham Ait” or “the Parish Ayte” it’s the largest island in the Thames between Twickenham and Ham riverside. The island is rumoured to have been the site of a monastery, and later a courting place, where Henry VIII took his many mistresses.
While we can’t be sure of its exact origins, we do know that during the 17th century day trippers came to picnic and fish here – and during the 18th century the island become famous for its inn, where travellers on river excursions could stop off and purchase locally caught eel pies. Charles Dickens even visited the island via paddle steamer and immortalised his trip in the novel Nicholas Nickelby. The island’s eel pies continued to provide Londoners with a tasty and rich nutritious meal throughout the 19th century.
Eel Pie Island Hotel
In the 1920’s the island started to become less well-known for its pies, and more famous as a jazz and blues music venue. Then, during the 1960s, it started to be known as the hippest place for rock bands to hang out and perform.
The place ‘where the sixties began’
During the 1960s Eel Pie Island hotel attracted many leading rock bands and R&B groups who performed here up until 1967. Acts included Acker Bilk, George Melly, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds and Pink Floyd, amongst many others.
The hotel closed in 1967 because the owners couldn’t afford the high costs of repairs to the property, opening once again briefly in 1969 with bands like Black Sabbath, Genesis and Hawkwind taking centre stage. Deep Purple, King Crimson, and Mott The Hoople also performed on the island around this time.
By 1970 the island’s role as a music venue had declined, and for a short time the hotel played host to the UK’s largest hippy commune. In 1971 the building was devastated by fire, and by 1996 the centre of Eel Pie Island had also burned down.
Eel Pie Island today
Nowadays the island has around 50 private residences and 120 inhabitants, plus a few boatyards, small businesses and artists’ studios. The island is only open to the public a few times a year, on Eel Pie Island open days, where it’s possible to cross the bridge and wander around the studios and chat to local artists.
In 2018 the Eel Pie Island Museum opened, allowing visitors a glimpse into this fascinating corner of London’s past, with photos and memorabilia from the swinging sixties and before.
Arments pies are made from premium minced beef, some with kidney, and of course our new vegan soya mince pie, all served with liquor. At one time the liquor was made using the juice from the cooked eels but today this no longer happens. Eels are high on the allergen list and also the quantities of eels sold today is much less than it used to be years ago. However, we’re one of the few places that have continued to cook traditional jellied and stewed eels. The eels no longer come from the Thames, but from further afield, and they’re often farmed, rather than wild. With Brexit, the supplies have been short and erratic at times. We have had the opportunity to purchase frozen eels, but we don’t buy these as, in our opinion, they don’t cook up as well as the fresh ones and we only want to offer our customers the best. We are hoping to have the fresh eels back on our menu again in a few weeks’ time.
We hope you enjoyed our trip down memory lane – and if you’re interested why not pay a visit to Eel Pie Island on one of its open days?
Celebrate with us – get a 15% Discount!
Even better – come and help us celebrate our 108th birthday – we’d love to see you in the shop. We have in-store goodies on Thursday, April 14th, and a special online order discount code – just add BIRTHDAY10815 to obtain 15% off of your online order. Hurry because it is only valid for the 14th and 15th April!
As always, Roy and Cheryl would like to thank you all for your loyal and valued custom – without you, we wouldn’t be here celebrating yet another year!
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