Eel Pie Island

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Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island is located in Greater London
Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island shown within Greater London
OS grid reference TQ164731
London borough
Ceremonial county Greater London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district TW1
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
51°26′43″N 0°19′29″W / 51.4452°N 0.3246°W / 51.4452; -0.3246Coordinates: 51°26′43″N 0°19′29″W / 51.4452°N 0.3246°W / 51.4452; -0.3246

Eel Pie Island is an island in the River Thames at Twickenham in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames, London. It is situated on the Tideway and can be reached only by footbridge or boat. The island was known as a major jazz and blues venue in the 1960s.


The name comes from the eel pies which were served by the hotel on the island in the 19th century.[citation needed] Eel Pie Island was earlier called Twickenham Ait and, before that, The Parish Ait; even earlier the island was three separate aits.


A bridge to the island was proposed in 1889, but it was not until 1957 that one was completed. Today, the island has about 50 houses with 120 inhabitants, a couple of boatyards and some small businesses and artists' studios. It has nature reserves at either end, but there is no public access to these.

The island is privately owned and the public can only access the main pathway from the bridge, passing all the doors and gates of the houses and businesses on the island. On a few weekends a year, usually in June and December and dubbed "Artists' Open Studios", the public are invited to visit the collection of art studios, known as Eel Pie Island Art Studios.

The Eel Pie Studios or Oceanic Studios at The Boathouse on the mainland nearby, formerly owned by Pete Townshend, were the location of several significant pop and rock recordings. Townshend's publishing company, Eel Pie Publishing, is also named after the ait.

Eel Pie Island Hotel[edit]

A 1900 postcard of the Eel Pie Island Hotel

The island was the site of the Eel Pie Island Hotel, a genteel nineteenth-century building that hosted ballroom dancing during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1956 trumpeter Brian Rutland, who ran a local band called The Grove Jazz Band, started jazz sessions at the newly reopened hotel.[1] Sometime afterwards Arthur Chisnall took over the running of the club and continued to promote various jazz bands and then in the 1960s rock and R&B groups.[2][3]

Famous names who performed at the dance hall between 1957 and 1967 include:

In 1967, the hotel was forced to close because the owner could not meet the £200,000 cost of repairs demanded by police.[4] In 1969, the club briefly reopened as Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden,[5] with bands such as Black Sabbath,[5] The Edgar Broughton Band,[5] Stray, Genesis, and Hawkwind[5] (then known as Hawkwind Zoo) performing there. "I approached the owner Mr. Snapper who lived in Kingston & we agreed a rental deal. I called it Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden & plastered west london with quad crown posters. I booked in bands Edgar Broughton, Free, Spooky Tooth, Deep Purple, King Crimson, Genesis (support) Wishbone Ash, Mott The Hoople (my best ever attendance), Savoy Brown plus many more. There were two stages: the headliner was on the big stage and the support on the small stage with the light show projectionist above it. We had a bar doing tea, soft drinks, hot dogs and hamburgers. We then did Colonel Barefoot's Killer Punch (cider, cooking brandy and cinnamon) and we gave it away along with beer in half pint plastic disposable cups. I had rows with the fire department as the emergency exits were chained shut to stop people bunking in. Eventually, after a raid by the Fire Chief, I closed down and walked. I was living in Chiswick at this time." – Caldwell Smythe (entrepreneur, pro vocalist, ex Riot Squad & briefly The Honeycombs).

In 1969, the Eel Pie Island Hotel was occupied by a small group of local anarchists including illustrator Clifford Harper. By 1970 the Eel Pie Island Commune had become the UK's largest hippie commune.[6]

In 1971, the Eel Pie Island Hotel burned down in a mysterious fire.[4][7] The centre of the island was devastated by fire in 1996, and a year later, the footbridge was damaged by a utilities contractor.[7] A new footbridge opened in August 1998.[7]

Water sports[edit]

Richmond Yacht Club

The island is also home to Twickenham Rowing Club, one of the oldest rowing clubs on the Thames, and Richmond Yacht Club.

Invasion of Eel Pie Island[edit]

For his 2005 television show How To Start Your Own Country, presenter Danny Wallace claimed to be "Leader" of Eel Pie Island after invading the island via the footbridge. After a few hours, the Metropolitan Police Service forced him to give the island back peacefully to Queen Elizabeth II.[8]

Image gallery[edit]

Despite its small size, Eel Pie Island has a wide variety of building styles.

Notable residents and former residents[edit]

In literature[edit]

In the funny Fashion episode of AbFab, Edina's mother inquired whether she had gone to Eel Pie Island again.

Eel Pie Island was also the setting of a murder mystery, The Eel Pie Murders by David Frome (Zenith Brown), published in 1933.[11] It was part of the Mr. Pinkerton series, featuring amateur sleuth, Evan Pinkerton, a widower Welshman, and his friend, Chief Inspector J. Humphrey Bull of Scotland Yard.

The island was also mentioned in the 2011 novel Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.

Eel Pie Island is prominently featured in Ayize Jama-Everett's second Liminal World book The Liminal War.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tony Lamond (12 December 2006). "1950s pics – The Grove Jazz Band / Eel Pie". Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  2. ^ Meek, Jo (30 January 2007). "Eel Pie's place in rock history". BBC News. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  3. ^ Van Der Vat, Dan; Whitby, Michele (2009). Eel Pie Island. Frances Lincoln Ltd. ISBN 0-7112-3053-6. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Eel Pie Hotel". Places. Twickenham Museum. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Membery, York (20 April 2009). "Rock legends of Eel Pie". Daily Express. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Faiers, Chris (1990). Eel Pie Dharma. Unfinished Monument Press. ISBN 0-920976-42-5. 
  7. ^ a b c Kilvington, Joanna (14 September 2009). "Blaze hits Eel Pie Island". Richmond Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Wylie, Ian (25 July 2005). "Dictator Danny!". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 25 September 2008. [permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Hasted, Nigel (16 July 2010). "Mystery Jets - From songs of innocence to grown-up experience". The Independent. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  10. ^ Planer, Nigel (9 September 2000). "Walk tall, think small". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  11. ^ "The Eel Pie Murders (1933)". FictFact. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Next island upstream River Thames Next island downstream
Swan Island Eel Pie Island Glover's Island