The History of Fish & Chips
Fish and Chips has been around for longer than any of us can remember. How many of us have childhood memories of Fish and Chips be it eating them out of newspaper on a rainy holiday by the sea or as a treat on a Friday night, it feels like a dish that means more than just food, it is part of our lives and our society and was for our parents, our parents parents and for generation before them.
But where does this wonderful dish that dedicated my life to come from? It seems that, like many great partnerships, Fish and Chips started life apart. Fried fish is thought to have been brought over to Great Britain by Jewish immigrants in 17th Centaury but who invented the chip is disputed with both France and Belgium claiming they thought of it first so to keep them both happy we will say that the friend potato was definitely invented in Western Europe.
The next disputed claim is who first sold them as a dish. In the 1860’s both Joseph Malin from London and a Mr Lees from Mossley opened shops selling Fish and Chips together. I am not sure we will ever know for sure exactly who was first but what we do know is that it was an instant success. Britain was in the middle of the industrial revolution when working class diets were bleak and boring but appetites were big so fish and chips proved a tasty, hot meal and a break from the normal diet.
The demand for fish coincided with development of trawler fishing in the North Sea bringing with it unprecedented supplies of fish which, thanks to the new railways that were connecting the ports, were still fresh when they reached the big cities.
This was food for the working class and to keep prices down and to keep the food hot Fish and Chips were wrapped in newspaper. This habit was normal until 1984 when it was deemed unsafe for food to come into contact with newspaper ink but many of us still remember eating our Fish and Chips out of yesterday’s news.
Popularity grew and grew, outlets quickly sprung up across the county and became very much a part of the British way of life, they are even mentioned in a Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. By the 20th century it was deemed such an important part of British society and vital to moral that in both World War 1 and World War 2 governments bent over backwards to ensure that Fish & Chips were still easily available and in World War 2 they were one of the few foods that were not rationed.
At their peak in 1927 it is estimated there were around 35,000 Fish & chips shops across the country and it is probably safe to say there was a fish and chip shop on almost every street. The number is estimated to be around 10,500 today but because of busses, cars and other forms of transport we still consume as a nation a similar volume today as in the 1920s.
My first memory of fish and chips was in 1987 I was standing outside the fish and chip shop where I holidayed as a child and I remember the smell of beef dripping to this day! I have been hooked on Fish and Chips ever since. Do you remember when Fish and Chips were wrapped in newspaper? Do you have a special Fish and Chip memory? We would love to hear your stories and memories of fish & Chips. Share them below or post them on our facebook page.
Kelly Barnes July 2018