UK’s fish-and-chip shops embrace sustainability
There’s nothing more British than the fish-and-chip supper: paper-wrapped parcels of freshly fried fish and chips soused in vinegar and given a generous sprinkling of salt.
This humble dish has been with the U.K. population through many troublesome times. The National Federation of Fish Fryers claims fish and chips enabled factories to keep going throughout World War I. And in World War II, the dish was seen as so essential to the British way of life that it was one of the few foods never to be rationed.
Considering its role in society, it’s surprising that no one is quite sure how this pairing came to be, or who was first inspired to cook fish together with fried “chipped” potatoes but it’s widely agreed they have been joined for more than 150 years.
Professor John Walton of the Department of Historical and Critical Studies at the University of Central Lancashire says fried fish began in working-class London at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign (Charles Dickens wrote about fried fish warehouses in Oliver Twist in 1838), while chips appeared in Lancashire around the 1860s.
Both regions claim to have opened the first fish-and-chip shop, referred to as a “chippy,” around this time: Jewish immigrant Joseph Malin opened his in London’s East End, while John Lees opened his in Manchester. Nevertheless, from the 1870s the phenomenon spread rapidly, especially in London and the textiles manufacturing towns of the Pennines where fish and chips became a filling and affordable alternative to the bland diets of the working-class.
“Nobody actually lived on fish and chips. But it did become almost universal in working-class Britain. 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,” says Walton. “A middle-class trade was also developing in shopping areas and on popular routes for days out by car.”
The later idea of turning this working-class takeaway into a restaurant meal was the brainchild of Harry Ramsden, who built up his empire from a small hut in Leeds in 1928. Today, 35 chippies bear his name.