The Englishman & the Eel is a journey into that most London of institutions, the Eel, Pie and Mash shop. Today, these simple spaces hold within them the memories of a rich, largely undocumented cultural heritage of generations of working-class Londoners in a city whose only constant is change.
Stuart Freedman grew up in East London in the 1970s, then a byword for poverty now a metaphor for gentrification. The streets were navigated by pubs, rough, cheap cafés and Eel, Pie and Mash shops. Often elaborately decorated with ornate Victorian tiling, many sold live eels in metal trays that faced out onto the street to the fascination (and sometimes horror) of passersby. Inside, warmth and comfort. Steam. Tea. Laughter. Families.
Now few in number, the shops are havens for what the East End once was – but this is no rosy description of the Cockney – that music hall, heart-of-gold caricature but an affectionate and serious look at what that culture and its people have evolved into. The Englishman and the Eel is not an encyclopaedic record of every shop. Rather, a document of the most interesting and significant ones to make a book that is a tribute to a timeless institution. For Stuart Freedman the eel and its decline is a metaphor of the cultural change that has enveloped the East End. What remains is a tenacious and rare creature – endangered – but still surviving.
A photographer and writer, Stuart Freedman is based between London and New Delhi. A member of Panos Pictures, he has, over more than two decades, covered stories from Albania to Zambia and his work has featured internationally in amongst others, Life, Geo, Time, Der Spiegel, Newsweek, The Sunday Times Magazine, Paris Match, Smithsonian and Condé Nast Traveller. His last book, the critically acclaimed The Palaces of Memory, looked at the Indian Coffee Houses, a co-operatively run network which stretches throughout the sub-continent.
Michael Collins is a writer and broadcaster. He has written on television, film, new media, politics and history for numerous publications, including the Observer, Guardian, Independent, TLS, Sunday Telegraph, Prospect, New Statesman, French Vogue and the Sunday Times. His book The Likes Of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class won the George Orwell Prize in 2005. The book was serialised in The Guardian and became the Channel 4 documentary The British Working Class, which was written and presented by the author.
224 pages, 80 colour plates
220mm x 165mm