The history of fish and chips: a timeline

The origins of fish and chips is not entirely clear. Fried fish was first introduced and sold by East End Jews, while chips first took off in Lancashire and Yorkshire. But we may never know who was the first to bring the magical combination together.

Fried fish

Originally, Western Sephardic Jews settling in England in the 17th century would have prepared fried fish in a manner similar to ‘Pescado frito’, which is coated in flour. Battered fish is coated in flour and dipped into a batter consisting of flour mixed with liquid, usually water but sometimes beer. Some newer modifications to the recipe may add cornflour, and sometimes use soda water instead of beer.

Image of people enjoying fish and chips
Harbour Lights fish and chip shop in Falmouth

Chips

The potato came to the British Isles in the sixteenth century. While there is an ongoing dispute between France and Belgium about where ‘fries’ were invented, fried potato chips have long been popular in England. William Kitchiner's cookbook The Cook's Oracle, first published in 1817, includes the earliest known recipe for something similar to today's potato chips.

A timeline

1860? -  According to some the first fish and chip shop was opened in London by Joseph Malin who sold "fish fried in the Jewish fashion"

1863? - Alternatively, it is believed that entrepreneur John Lees was selling fish and chips out of a wooden hut at Mossley market in industrial Lancashire, near Oldham.

1875-77 - The earliest purpose built fishing vessels were designed and made by David Allan in Leith in March 1875, when he converted a drifter to steam power. In 1877, he built the first screw propelled steam trawler in the world.

1899 - Alfred Hitchcock was born. As a boy he lived above a fish and chip shop in London, which was the family business.

1937 - In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell wrote about fish and chips as the first among the home comforts that helped keep the masses happy and "averted revolution".

1939 – 1945 - During World War II, ministers made sure fish and chips were one of the few foods that were never rationed.

1980s - Portions were often wrapped in old newspaper to keep prices down. This practice survived as late as the 1980s when it was ruled unsafe for food to come into contact with newspaper ink without grease-proof paper in between.

These days, burgers, fried chicken, pizza, Indian and Chinese dishes all now compete with fried fish. However, the dish is still highly popular - especially at the seaside.

Image of Oldham plaque: first fish and chip shop
Oldham plaque: first fish and chip shop. Credit: D. McClure

Banner image: West Bay, Dorset, 1996 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos 

 

Discover more

Professor Panikos Panayi is talking on the history of fish and chips on 28 June 2018 as part of the Maritime Lecture Series