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The History of Fish & Chips

Ask anyone who is visiting the UK what kinds of food we’re known for, and they’d probably say fish and chips. This much-loved dish has become a symbol of Britishness which is world renowned. But how did it become like this?

The history of fish and chips begins in working-class London at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. It originally began as a dish made of leftovers being sold from Billingsgate fish market. It was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist which is one of the first mentions of fried fish recorded as a popular dish.
At the same time, fried ‘chipped’ potatoes appeared in Lancashire around the 1860s.

There is no information as to how both of these dishes got put together, but they first do around 1870 with shops in London, Leeds and Manchester claiming to be the first.

From the 1870s the trade spread rapidly. Fish and chips started as a late-night snack after the pubs shut. By the turn of the century, mid-day dinner time and early evening had become more important.

Much more significantly, from the 1880s into the post-war years, fish and chips sustained and provided treats that families could share, as a crucial supplement to the most basic of diets, and relief from housework for hard-pressed women. It lightened the burden of busy housewives rather than creating lazy ones as some Edwardian middle-class commentators feared. Fish and chips also became the time-saving midday meal of factory and foundry workers and a pay-day treat for families at the end of the working week.

By 1910 there were perhaps 25,000 fish and chip shops across the country, and by 1927 – when the number of shops reached its peak – there were about 35,000. Between the wars, most industrial towns boasted a fish and chip shop on almost every major street. The trade was also becoming a popular seaside holiday snack especially at resorts that were also ports, such as Whitby and Cleethorpes.

A middle-class trade was also developing in shopping areas and on popular routes for days out by car. This is how Harry Ramsden’s Guiseley shop succeeded, although he could also count on trade from nearby mills.

What also came out of the rise of fish and chips is how this dish became a huge supporter of British agriculture, fisheries and industry in general. By the inter-war years the trade consumed about two-thirds of the British wet fish catch. The trade’s contribution to agriculture was less spectacular, accounting for 15 per cent of the inter-war potato crop. The agricultural side also benefitted from the large volume of animal fats and vegetable oils that went into the frying industry, together with eggs and flour for batter and peas as accompaniment.

The History of Fish and Chips video

Did you know?

 

  • 90% of UK consumers eat fish and chips from a fish and chip shop.
  • Over a third (35%) eat fish and chips more than once a month.
  • Men eat fish and chips more often than women, with 41% consuming crispy battered fish.
  • People in the UK prefer to eat their fish and chips beside the sea (31%), followed by at home on the sofa (29%).

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