“Excuse me, but do you know where the F Cooke’s Pie and Mash shop is from here?” I asked a couple of people outside Hoxton station if they could help us. They hadn’t heard of it so out came the map and we realised we were nowhere near it. It was getting dark and I could feel myself getting really agitated. We asked again at the Hackney Community College but they had no idea either. Just as we were making our way back to Hoxton station, my tendency to rant and rave saved our day!!
“I might be able to help you if you tell me where you’re looking for”. A lady in front of us had stopped and said my voice “carried” and she’d like to help if she could.
This is how we met Yewande. She explained that she lived in the area and had heard of the pie and mash shop but had never eaten there. So we walked together. On the way my son explained to Yewande how we’d ended up in Hoxton and why we wanted to find the pie and mash shop. A few years ago, the lead singer of Madness, Suggs, made a TV programme called Disappearing London. He showed shops, cafes and historical sites in London which were in danger of being lost forever. It was a fascinating programme and gave us new ideas for places to visit on our annual trip to London. On previous trips to London we found a couple of places which were featured on Disappearing London including Bar Italia, Soho and Dublin Castle, Camden where Madness first played to a live audience.
I love London; it makes me feel alive. We live in Devon now but I grew up in Carshalton, Surrey and then Crawley in Sussex. My parents came from Tooting and Camberwell and their parents were born in London too. As a child, my mum and dad showed me lots of places that were significant to them, some well-known, others more obscure. I always loved our trips to London as a child. And as my sons have grown up, I’ve taken them to London with me every year and we always find somewhere new and amazing to explore.
When Rob, my son, said he’d like to visit F Cooke Pie and Mash in Hoxton I thought it was a great idea. I remember my mum and dad saying they used to eat Pie and Mash and their parents did too. So, it was like making a pilgrimage, even though I’m not sure my family would have eaten at F Cooke’s. The important part for me was to experience this tradition with my son. Now Rob will describe F Cooke’s for you:
After Yewande walked us through Hoxton we eventually reached F. Cooke’s. The shop was dimly lit and could’ve been easily been passed without a second glance. Luckily I recognised it from watching Suggs’ programme. As we entered the shop, it felt as if we’d immediately stepped back in time. The old-fashioned tiled walls, tables and benches were practical yet comforting, along with sawdust on the floor to top off the experience. We were then greeted by the owner of the shop, Bob. He was funny and amazed that we’d come all the way from Devon to visit his pie and mash shop. After we had our pictures taken with Bob, he asked us what we’d like to eat. I stuck with the standard pie and mash as I couldn’t bring myself to try the jellied eels that Bob is also well known for.
He handed the plate over the counter. It was a fairly big beef pie filled with gravy, along with a generous amount of mash on the side and was smothered over with Bob’s tasty parsley liquor. The smell was smashing too! As I sat and ate my pie and mash, Bob showed me an old black and white picture on the wall of his family. He explained how his granddad, F. Cooke, set up the shop over a hundred years ago and how he was born above the shop. After a very interesting chat with Bob on his family and the history of the shop, I asked Bob if he had any sons or daughters who would like to keep F. Cooke’s running. Bob said that his daughter has a soft spot for the shop and would like to look after it in the future. But it did make me wonder whether the shop would still be there in 50 years’ time. With the popularity of McDonalds, KFC, Burger King and other popular restaurants in London, you can only hope that people will still want to visit pie and mash shops like F. Cooke’s.
Part of the joy of eating at Bob’s shop was the conversation. This is something that today is non-existent in many restaurants and fast food outlets. Listening to Bob it was very clear how proud he is of his family business and its rich history. Why not try it out for yourself?
Our pie and mash evening was definitely a hit for us. But another gem we found was on a walk around Chelsea. Thomas Carlyle, a Victorian philosopher, historian and writer lived at 24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea. The house is now owned by the National Trust. But what makes this house so special? The house has been a museum for well over a hundred years so everything about the house is original and wonderfully preserved. We found the staff there very friendly and welcoming. Visitors like us ring the doorbell, following in the footsteps of the many famous visitors to the Carlyles’s home, including Charles Dickens, Tennyson and Charles Darwin. There is a delightful garden with an outside lavatory for visitors. Even this is original with the maker’s name emblazoned on the china, “The Venerable Thomas Crapper”. It was truly wonderful to walk into this time warp and be enveloped in history. It was thought provoking, peaceful and our memories of this wonderful house will stay with us for a long time.
Thanks to Guest Contributors Cathy and Rob for sharing their London story. I am very proud of Rob 's passion and interest in London and writing. Rob is taking his GCSE this summer and I wish him all the best.