Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island is a 8.935-acre (3.6 ha) island in the River Thames at Twickenham in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. It is on the maintained minimum head of water above the only lock on the Tideway and is accessible by boat or from the left (generally north) bank by footbridge. The island had a club that was a major venue for jazz and blues in the 1960s.
Name and former names
The name comes from eel pies which were served by the inn on the island in the 19th century. Its earlier names chronologically were the Parish Ait and Twickenham Ait, the latter co-existing until at least the 1880s. Before the 19th century it was for many centuries three parts distinguished by their proudness above the ordinary mean high water mark.
Eel Pie House
An inn was on the Ait by 1743 and in the 19th century it was a popular stopping point for steamer excursions. When a new inn was built in 1830 to replace it, the former venue was alternatively called a "dingy wooden cottage" or an "unassuming but popular little barn".
Samuel Lewis's national gazetteer of 1848 devotes a large minority of the text covering Twickenham to the island; saying it is:
called Twickenham Ait. This island comprises about eight acres, chiefly pleasure-grounds, and in the centre is the Eel-Pie House, noted for the last two centuries as a favourite resort for refreshment and recreation to water parties, and persons repairing hither [coming here] for the amusement of fishing; the old building was taken down in 1830, and a commodious edifice, comprising a good assembly-room measuring 50 feet by 15, erected on the site.
The ait is recorded in at least two distinct parts in detailed maps until the end of the 19th century; the west part was built up in height and measured 7.160 acres (2.9 ha). Its named features were a large Boat House, the Island Hotel, a bowling green in the west and the Thames Electric & Steam Launch Works. The east end is marked with marsh plantation and liable to flood; it was in the same maps measured at 1.775 acres (0.7 ha) and together the parts form the same land as today.
A bridge was proposed to Middlesex County Council or the Metropolitan Borough of Twickenham in 1889. A set of rope pulleys operated in the early 20th century for assisting transporting light goods. It was not until 1957 that the first bridge to the ait was completed.
Eel Pie Island Hotel
The island was the site of the Eel Pie Island Hotel, a genteel, 19th-century building that hosted ballroom dancing during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1956, trumpeter Brian Rutland, who ran a local band called The Grove Jazz Band, started jazz sessions at the newly reopened hotel. Some time afterwards, Arthur Chisnall took over the running of the club and continued to promote various jazz bands and then, in the 1960s, rock and R&B groups.
Famous names who performed at the dance hall between 1957 and 1967 include:
- Long John Baldry's Hoochie Coochie Men (including Rod Stewart)
- Acker Bilk
- Ken Colyer
- Cyril Davies Rhythm & Blues All Stars
- The Downliners Sect
- John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (featuring Eric Clapton)
- George Melly
- The Rolling Stones
- Screaming Lord Sutch
- The Tridents (featuring Jeff Beck)
- The Who
- The Yardbirds
In 1967, the hotel was forced to close because the owner could not meet the £200,000 cost of repairs demanded by police. In 1969, the club briefly reopened as Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden, with bands such as Black Sabbath, The Edgar Broughton Band, Stray, Genesis, and Hawkwind (then known as Hawkwind Zoo) performing there.
Caldwell Smythe (entrepreneur, vocalist, ex-Riot Squad and, briefly, The Honeycombs) said: "I approached the owner Mr Snapper who lived in Kingston and we agreed a rental deal. I called it Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden and plastered west London with quad crown posters." Smythe booked bands such as Edgar Broughton, Free, Deep Purple, King Crimson, Genesis, Wishbone Ash and Mott The Hoople. Smythe said: "There were two stages: the headliner was on the big stage and the support on the small stage with the light show projectionist above it. We had a bar doing tea, soft drinks, hot dogs and hamburgers. We then did Colonel Barefoot's Killer Punch (cider, cooking brandy and cinnamon) and we gave it away along with beer in half pint plastic disposable cups. I had rows with the fire department as the emergency exits were chained shut to stop people bunking in. Eventually, after a raid by the Fire Chief, I closed down and walked. I was living in Chiswick at this time."
In 1971, the Eel Pie Island Hotel burned down in a mysterious fire. The centre of the island was devastated by fire in 1996, and a year later, the footbridge was damaged by a utilities contractor. A new footbridge opened in August 1998.
Description and uses
The island has about 50 homes, 120 inhabitants and two or three boatyards, as well as some other small businesses and artists' studios. It has nature reserves at both ends, protected from public access. All plots and walkways are privately owned. The public can access the island's main pathway from the bridge, which does not skirt or overlook any of its shore.
For brief periods each year, usually in June and December, 26 studios in and around a working boatyard, collectively known as Eel Pie Island Art Studios, open to the public, enabling them to enjoy and buy the artists' works.
The island is home to Twickenham Rowing Club, one of the oldest rowing clubs on the Thames, and Richmond Yacht Club.
In media, the arts and literature
- David Frome, The Eel Pie Murders (1933; repub. 1960), in the "Mr Pinkerton" series, features amateur sleuth Evan Pinkerton, a Welsh widower, and his friend, Chief Inspector J. Humphrey Bull of Scotland Yard.
- Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London (2011), novel
- Ayize Jama-Everett, The Liminal War (2015), second novel in the "Liminal World" trilogy, multiple scenes
- Ransom Riggs, "The Pigeons of Saint Paul's", in Tales of the Peculiar (2016), short stories
- Absolutely Fabulous: (1990s) Funny Fashion: Edina's mother inquires whether she has gone to Eel Pie Island again.
- How To Start Your Own Country (2005) presenter Danny Wallace claims to be "Leader" of the island after invading it via the footbridge. After a few hours, the Metropolitan Police Service forced him to give the island back peacefully to Queen Elizabeth II.
- Eel Pie Island Hotel, a 30 minute slot shown frequently on the TV channel Together
- Sherlock Holmes, June 6, 1948: The Complicated Poisoning At Eel Pie Island. Sherlock Holmes and Watson arrive on Eel Pie Island for a glass of rum and find a poisoning murder.
The Eel Pie Studios, also known as the Oceanic Studios, occupies The Boathouse, Twickenham on the mainland nearby. When owned by Pete Townshend it was adapted and used for international top 100-charting pop and rock recordings. Townshend's publishing company, Eel Pie Publishing, is also named after the ait.
The Eel Pie pub-restaurant in Church Street, Twickenham is named after the former hotel on the island.
The consumer electronics accessory company Tech21 has its headquarters on the island.
Despite its small size, Eel Pie Island has a wide variety of building styles.
Notable residents and former residents
- 'Archaeology: The Mesolithic Age', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century, ed. J S Cockburn, H P F King and K G T McDonnell (London, 1969), pp. 21-28. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol1/pp21-28
- 'Twickenham: Economic and social history', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, ed. Susan Reynolds (London, 1962), pp. 151-155. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol3/pp151-155 [accessed 14 December 2017]
- 'Tweedmouth - Twywell', in A Topographical Dictionary of England, ed. Samuel Lewis (London, 1848), pp. 404-407. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-dict/england/pp404-407b [accessed 14 December 2017].
- OS 25-inch map of 1894, Surrey sheet VI.7 revised 1893–94, published 1898.
- Tony Lamond (12 December 2006). "1950s pics – The Grove Jazz Band / Eel Pie". eelpie.org. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
- Meek, Jo (30 January 2007). "Eel Pie's place in rock history". BBC News. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
- Van Der Vat, Dan; Whitby, Michele (2009). Eel Pie Island. Frances Lincoln Ltd. ISBN 0-7112-3053-6.
- "Eel Pie Hotel". Places. Twickenham Museum. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
- Membery, York (20 April 2009). "Rock legends of Eel Pie". Daily Express. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
- Taylor, Alex (19 June 2018). "The Rolling Stones' rock'n'roll pilgrimage". BBC News.
- Faiers, Chris (1990). Eel Pie Dharma. Unfinished Monument Press. ISBN 0-920976-42-5.
- Kilvington, Joanna (14 September 2009). "Blaze hits Eel Pie Island". Richmond Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
- "The Eel Pie Murders (1933)". FictFact. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
- Wylie, Ian (25 July 2005). "Dictator Danny!". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 25 September 2008.
- Hasted, Nigel (16 July 2010). "Mystery Jets - From songs of innocence to grown-up experience". The Independent. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
- Cuffe, Grainne (16 March 2018). "Trevor Baylis tribute: Curator of Eel Pie Island Museum Michele Whitby pays tribute to her long-time friend". Richmond and Twickenham Times. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
- Planer, Nigel (9 September 2000). "Walk tall, think small". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
- The Twickenham Museum – Eel Pie Island
- Eel Pie Island Museum
- A diary of Danny Wallace's invasion on his Citizens Required website
- Eel Pie Island – collection of hippie memoirs & pics from the 1960s
- Mystery Jets official website
- Official website of LBC 97.3 presenter Steve Allen
- YouTube video of an open day on the island
- The Eel Pie Club
- History piece on NPR
- Eel Pie Island TV
- Site dedicated to the musical legacy of Eel Pie Island
|Next island upstream||River Thames||Next island downstream|
|Swan Island||Eel Pie Island||Glover's Island|
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