Why is Eel Pie Island so Called?

Map of Eel Pie Island
(Image:Eel Pie Island by Van Der Vat and Whitby, "Map of Eel Pie Island River Thames")

We’re proud to reside on Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, famous for its “Eel Pie” music venue and lively, creative atmosphere. It was originally referred to as the “Twickenham Ait” but has since held a name that contributes to its fascinating history.

Our island is a small community, measuring in at only 550 metres long and 135 metres at its widest area. It’s accessed by a small foot bridge (or on a rowing boat at high tide!) and is home to our friend and neighbor, Trevor Baylis, pioneer and inventor of the world’s first wind up radio. This great heritage helps inspire us to think outside of the box, providing ground-breaking products to protect the technology you love.

The island was home to the “Eel Pie” music venue which saw early performances of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd amongst other big names. It also held a young person’s social and education program as well as a small cinema studio and the Eel Pie Island Hotel. But where did it get its unusual name from?

The "Eel Pie" Legend

Apart from being shaped like a pie, complete with a River Thames puff pastry crust, legend has it that whilst travelling up the Thames from London to Hampton Court Palace, King Henry VIII was so hungry that he asked the royal barge to stop at the island. He ordered an eel pie from the famous stall run by “Mistress Mayo”. The King absolutely loved it and since then frequently stopped at the stall to enjoy the pies.

"Eel Pie Island", by Dan Van Der Vat and Michele Whitby, argues that this tale is somewhat suspicious.

It’s recorded that the Eel Pie Island Hotel was built by the Mayo family when they resided there in 1830, rather than in King Henry’s time. We also know that the real Mistress Mayo died aged 95 in 1895.

Having said that, Van der Vat explains that newspapers from 1923 report the celebration of a 400 year old tradition during which the world champion sculler, Ernest Berry, dressed as a Tudor and gave an eel pie to a guy dressed as Henry VIII, accompanied by a Queen Catherine. The papers state that the ancient ceremony of “landing the pie”, founded during the reign of Henry VIII “has not been observed for over a century”(p.24).

Historians have not found any evidence to suggest that the “Eel Pie” name existed before the 18th century, or that the pie tradition dating back to the Tutors, but ancient maps of the island do show a kiosk which is thought to be the famous pie stall the King once visited.

The Traditional Eel Pie Recipe!

Attempts by locals to recreate the traditional eel pie have reportedly been rather inedible…

As published in Van Der Vat and Whitby’s Eel Pie Island, the traditional Eel Pie recipe is as follows:

1. Skin, draw and cleanse 2 good-sized Thames eels.

2. Trim off the fins, cut the eels up in to pieces of about 3 inches and put them in to a pan with 2oz of butter.

3. Add some parsley, chopped mushrooms, nutmeg, pepper, salt and a little shallot.

4. Add 2 glasses of sherry, 1 glass of Harvery sauce and enough water to just about cover the surface of the eels.

5. Bring this mixture to a boil and remove the pieces of eel, placing them carefully in to a pie dish surrounded by the sauce.

6. Knead together 2oz. of butter with 2oz. of flour and add to the sauce. Stir it over the fire to thicken.

7. Add the juice of 1 lemon, pour over the eels and place some hard egg yolks on top.

8. Cover it all with puff pastry, decorate as desired, egg all over and bake for 1 hour.

9. Serve and enjoy hot or cold!

Do you think that the Eel Pie legend has an element of truth? We'd love to hear your thoughts!