Posted on December 24th, 2020
With our roots firmly set in London, we are possibly the oldest running pie shop. Recent discoveries by local historian, Neil Crossfield, has revealed some interesting facts about the Arments lineage.
It doesn’t claim to be the first pie and mash shop in London, but it’s possibly the oldest one still trading with a heritage spanning back nearly 140 years (1881- 2021!)
Londoners are well known for their long-time love of pie, mash, and jellied eels. It’s a food tradition that goes way back to the latter part of the 19th century when eel pies were a popular Victorian street food. As pies started to move off the streets ‘pie ‘n’ mash’ houses sprung up across South London and pies filled with beef mince became more popular than those filled with eels.
Pie and mash shops are no longer a common sight on London’s streets. However a few have stood the test of time, all vying for the accolade of oldest pie shop in the capital. Recent research now indicates Arment’s original pie and mash shop on Walworth Road could be a contender for that title.
Marking the centenary
Arment’s pedigree as one of the oldest pie shops in London has, in any case, never been in doubt. The restaurant marked its centenary in 2014 with the unveiling of a prestigious blue plaque at the front of its shop at 7 and 9 Westmoreland Road. But it’s now come to light that Arment’s name could be linked to one of the oldest pie and mash shops still trading in London today, with a lineage that’s traceable back to at least 1885 – possibly even as far back as 1881.
Arment’s first started trading at 386 Walworth Road during the first half of the 20th century. This address, however, is now known to be connected to pie and eels far earlier than this. The property’s connection to the stewed eel business appears in a notice in the Liverpool Mercury dated Saturday 24 December 1881. This shows Sarah Elizabeth Bellew petitioning for the liquidation of her stewed eel business – at 386 Walworth Road.
Eels and pies?
A year later the 1882 Post Office Street Directory reveals that an Edward Bellew (possibly Sarah’s son) is running a soup house here. Whether he sold eels and pies isn’t recorded. What we do know however is that by 1885 number 386 Walworth Road is a pie house run by Thomas Robert Porter. Trade directories show that Thomas Porter continues to run his shop until at least 1906.
The 1907 Directory shows that the shop at 386 Walworth Road changed hands and was now managed by George Albert Harding. By 1909 according the Post Office London Directory the shop was in the hands of his wife Annie. The Harding’s brief tenure ended after just three years because in 1910 the directory shows us that Richard Evans took over the running of 386 Walworth Road whilst continuing to manage his other shop in Chrisp Street. Evans had already been running a pie house further along Walworth Road at number 367, along with his other shop situated in Poplar.
William and Emily Arment came into the picture in 1914 taking over the shop at number 386 Walworth Road.
William Arment, like his father before him, was a true East Ender. He was born in Shadwell, an area of East London previously known as Ratcliffe, in 1886. Orphaned at just 14 years old William and his siblings were taken in by the Hoods, census records recording his addr:tiness as 79 Giraud Street, Poplar. The head of the household, John Hood, was possibly his uncle.
William first found work at the docks then set up his own tobacconist, before marrying waitress Emily Louise Slater in 1911. Emily was part of a large family from Poplar meaning the couple both had traditional East End backgrounds. In 1914 William and Emily moved into 386 Walworth Road to take over management of Evans Pie and Eel shop.
All about Walworth
Walworth at that time was the most densely populated half square mile in London, and many of its inhabitants were living in slum like conditions. Arment’s eel, mash and pie shop provided local people with meals that were relatively cheap and nutritious. For this reason they, along with many other pie shops in the area played an important role in the local community. The 1914 Post Office Directory lists an eel and pie shop run by Miss Harriet Fooks at 29 Westmoreland Road, another run by Alfred Hilliers at 2 Elephant Road, and two others – one at 42 East Street run by William Plummers and another at 22 Draper Street run by Harry Woods.
By the time The Great War broke out in 1914 William and Emily Arment had two young daughters. In 1917 William went off to war, serving as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. After being injured in action, he was demobbed, and returned home to his family in 1919. Two more daughters, then a son, William James (known Bill), arrived in 1923.
After William’s death in 1931 Emily and her children continued to keep the business running right through the Second World War. This was quite an accomplishment due to the scarcity of food. It is said that Emily made up for the shortfall by selling nutritious soup to hungry, rationed Londoners – and she was known for offering free meals for those in dire need especially the children from the Workhouse – later known as Newington Lodge Public Assistance Institution – in Walworth Road. Upon Emily’s Death in 1945, her son Bill took over Number 386 Walworth Road and it continued as a pie, mash and stewed eel shop until the 1960s. Arments also had another shop at this time at 278 Walworth Road and further premises at 10-12 Westmoreland Road. Arment’s moved to their current location at 7 & 9 Westmoreland Road in 1979.
Various members of the family have worked in the business over the years. Many customers will remember Glad (Bill’s sister) and her husband Vic, who were full time until 1983 when Roy and Cheryl married and Cheryl joined the family business. Roy had started learning the ropes of the family trade in 1976 and in 1983 he took over the day to day running of the pie shop with the help of Cheryl. They took over the business upon Bill’s death in 1993.
Roy and Cheryl are now assisted by a fourth generation of the family, their nephew Paul. Arment’s pie and mash shop continues to serve local Londoners with pie, mash, and eels, their shop having played a huge part in Walworth and South London’s history. Their online delivery service has also been a success and with the recent engagement of Justeat, these have helped locals and those of their customers who have moved away, continue to enjoy their favourite pie and mash across the UK, especially throughout the recent pandemic.