An Oral History of Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island is the largest island in the London section of the Thames and until 1957 it could be reached only by boat. Originally called Paryshe Aite, some historians argue that it was once the site of a monastery and there are rumours that Henry VIII used it as a courting ground. In the 17th century it was used by day trippers and became well known for the eel pies made from locally caught eels.
In 1860 Twickenham Rowing club was established and runs to this day, one of the largest and oldest rowing clubs in London. From the early 20th century ramshackle huts and yards were built on the island and many of these structures exist today as do two of the boatyards built to construct and repair working boats on the Thames. The boatyards are also home to workshops for artists and craftspeople and moorings for houseboats.
From the 1920s the Eel Pie Island Hotel hosted ballroom dances and from the 1950s and 60s a bohemian crowd began to move to the island and it became a venue for jazz and rock musicians including the Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd - some say that the island is where the 1960s began in the UK. The Eel Pie Island Hotel that hosted many gigs became a hippy commune after concerts stopped in 1967 and it then burned down in 1971.
This little hidden part of London never lost its allure to artists and musicians who continued to move in during the 1970s, many of whom remain to this day and comprise a number of its residents. Today there are 50 houses and 120 residents.
Funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Civic Pride Fund Richmond