What Food was Commercially Available to Buy in East London between 1848 – 1913? – Chapter 5: Conclusion.

Chapter Five: Conclusion

Manby Smith’s rationale for their popularity of these shops was about the workers, who had finished for the day chose these places for several reasons. Firstly, they would not need to cook or prepare anything to eat. Given the erratic cooking standards of the day, buying a meal by an experienced cook guaranteed a quality. Secondly, the ‘portable-ness’ of the cooked meal meant they could eat anywhere, on the move, at work, or take it to their lodgings with them.[154] For people who worked twelve to nineteen hours a day in factories and warehouses, this was a convenience that was hard to pass up sometimes.

Predominantly, what we can see is a clear format of migrants making a home for themselves in East London and using their knowledge of their indigenous food to sell them for commercial ventures. This had the knock-on effect of making the East End of London a melting pot; a hybrid of cultures and different groups living in harmony and disharmony. A lot of this was to do with periods of migration, seizing opportunity and using what they knew as a template to make a living. By doing so, they help start the commercialised food industry in Britain and made ‘fast food’ an established column of society. While they are not wholly responsible for the entirety of British food, there is evidence to say that understating their contribution would be erroneous.

But furthermore, through this necessity, a ‘fast food’ scene of East London was born, and the cultural imprint of this is still being felt. Jewish bakeries in Brick Lane are still going and thriving, fish and chips has become synonymous with national culture, as well as pies and mash and eels. Some of these shops, like Beigel Bites (est. 1854.), Goddard’s, or Manze’s written about are still going. Our collective culinary history owes a great deal to waves of immigration and business acumen, as well as the prosperity of free trade. Whatever commentary could be found through research can add to the neo-Victorian re-examination of this incredibly exciting period of history. From the beginning of the period in the 1850s, we can see a very primitive set up; pie men roaming the streets and a burgeoning migration trying to make do. By the end of the era, ovens and shops had grown more sophisticated, the prices were higher, and the food’s quality had increased. This happened right in the middle of the most impoverished area of Britain. And still, mobility did happen, through the innovative usage of food commerce. Without this food ‘scene’ happening, the culinary makeup of our culture would look quite different. For example, fish and chips, which would later go on to not be rationed during the second world war, became a symbol of a small freedom that citizens of Britain had during their darkest hour.[155] But without the supposition, can we truly not be thankful or respective of this little area of land and its contribution towards culinary and business history? Jerry White remarks on how ‘bustling capitalist economies marked by poverty and exploitation’ existed side by side.[156] While poverty was rife, it could also not be ignored that a burgeoning, working-class trade was starting to grow. This industry, while embryonic to begin with, became its very own beast in time, and the imprint it left on the culinary side is still echoing today. In a wider scope, the cultural contributions of pie and mash, or the first fish and chips restaurants provided social places for East Londoners that became a corner of this world. And it would not have happened if the food were not impactfully enjoyable.

The question is, does this contribute to our national identity? Panayi speculates that migrant groups and food are a perfect recipe for contribution to the national voice.[157] And with all of us needing to eat, we can all find that this topic connects us to the past. In historian Keir Waddington’s opinion: food was equally used to confer identities on different national and immigrant groups—from the German sausage and the Spanish onion [added] to the Roast Beef of Old England—in a form of culinary and “gastro-nationalism”[158] As John Walton notes simply on the cooking oils of fish and chip shops as from ‘English haricots, French haricots, English butters, Dutch butters and Rangoons.’[159]

By tracing and exploring what and how food was prepared in this area, we can start to map out what resources were available, and how they became so popular and well known in British food. We can learn culinary skills and resources, such as what spices were popular, or where these foods came from. This adds colour to the past, this brings a face to the names and the facts, learning about their lives and their existences, and humanises them in greater detail. In comparison to other approaches, the sheer number of people or the facts and statistics can get in the way of addressing a more qualitative, anecdotal way of viewing the past. While it is important to focus on such things as how high the death count was in a certain battle, or the cost of a Queen’s funeral, there is space to talk about the past in more unsophisticated tones, that fleshes out the life and times of the average worker. This is important to depict the past as a living, breathing ‘character’, rather than ‘forgetting the human’ behind statistics. What they liked, what parts of their life were like and what they did with their time. This dissertation is a contribution to that niche.


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