Pie & Mash

Though I can claim to be a Londoner, I’ve never been a fan of pie and mash shops, perhaps because I’ve never lived close to one. I do have a memory of being rather scared by live eels swimming in a tank in front of a shop somewhere when young, but I don’t think it’s that which puts me off them; more likely its the rather lurid green liquor (which these days may have had no contact with eels.)

Pie & mash were the cheap food of the nineteenth century for Londoners, but have since come under increasing competition, first from fish and chips (the first chippie opened in London in 1860) and later from burgers and kebabs, but some pie shops remain and have enjoyed something of a revival in the last few years, and some of the best known remain in business. When they began, eels where cheap – they were about the only fish that could live in the polluted Thames, but most came from the continent, and the pies were eel pies, but eels got scarce and became expensive. You can still get jellied eels and stewed eels, but the pies went over to minced beef, but the eel liquor with parsley to add colour and flavour remained.

I first came across Stuart Freedman‘s pictures of Pie & Mash shops in a feature on Spitalfields Life in 2014. It’s one of those subjects that many photographers have tackled, something of a London cliché, but his pictures stood out from the heap. And for the book he has gone much further with the project.

In 2015, Freedman brought out his ‘Palaces of Memory – Tales from the Indian Coffee House‘ a fine work celebrating these institutions, with the aid of crowd-funding, and I was pleased to be one of those who supported the venture, receiving a signed copy of the book in return.

He is now crowd-funding for a new book, ‘The Englishman and the Eel‘ which he describes as “a journey into the culture of that most London of institutions, the Eel, Pie and Mash shop.” He grew up in East London in the 1970’s, which, as he writes, was:

then a byword for poverty now a metaphor for gentrification. I fled Hackney to photograph the world but this book, two years in the making, is not only a tribute to these cultural icons but a re-examination of my own past.

Rather than read more from me, take a look at the Kickstarter page. As well as the video and text about the project you can also read there about the rewards available. For a signed copy of the book you need to pledge £30 or more (plus a shipping cost – £4 for the UK), but there are some generous rewards in terms of signed prints and tuition for some of the larger amounts. Your pledge will only be taken up if the project goal of £9,000 is reached by May 15, 2017.

I’m looking forward to receiving my copy – the estimated delivery date is December 2017 and it will be a nice Christmas present to myself.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.