Eel Pie Island

Coordinates: 51°26′43″N 0°19′29″W / 51.4452°N 0.3246°W / 51.4452; -0.3246
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Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island is located in London Borough of Richmond upon Thames
Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island is located in Greater London
Eel Pie Island
Eel Pie Island
Location within Greater London
OS grid referenceTQ164731
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtTW1
Dialling code020
UK Parliament
List of places
51°26′43″N 0°19′29″W / 51.4452°N 0.3246°W / 51.4452; -0.3246

Eel Pie Island is an 8.935-acre (3.6 ha) island in the River Thames at Twickenham in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. It is on the maintained minimum head of water above the only lock on the Tideway and is accessible by boat or from the left (generally north) bank by footbridge. The island had a club that was a major venue for jazz and blues in the 1960s.

Name and former names[edit]

The name may have come from eel pies which were served by the inn on the island in the 19th century. Its earlier names chronologically were the Parish Ait and Twickenham Ait,[1] the latter co-existing until at least the 1880s. Before the 19th century it was for many centuries three parts – the core of each safely above high water, if not narrowly separate which a map of 1607 figures them as.[1]


In 1871 to 1882 map series (OS, 1st series at 1:10560: Surrey. Click to expand/see wider.

Early history[edit]

Some mesolithic red deer antler bone hand-made implements have been retrieved from the island's shore.[2]

Eel Pie House[edit]

An inn was on the Ait by 1743[3] and in the 19th century it was a popular stopping point for steamer excursions.[3] When a new inn was built in 1830 to replace it, the former venue was alternatively called a "dingy wooden cottage" or an "unassuming but popular little barn".[3]

Samuel Lewis's national gazetteer of 1848 devotes a large minority of the text covering Twickenham to the island; saying it is:

called Twickenham Ait. This island comprises about eight acres, chiefly pleasure-grounds, and in the centre is the Eel-Pie House, noted for the last two centuries as a favourite resort for refreshment and recreation to water parties, and persons repairing hither [coming here] for the amusement of fishing; the old building was taken down in 1830, and a commodious edifice, comprising a good assembly-room measuring 50 feet by 15, erected on the site.[4]

Extent and access[edit]

The ait is recorded in at least two distinct parts in detailed maps until the end of the 19th century; the west part was built up in height and measured 7.160 acres (2.9 ha).[5] Its named features were a large Boat House, the Island Hotel, a bowling green in the west and the Thames Electric & Steam Launch Works.[5] The east end is marked with marsh plantation and liable to flood; it was in the same maps measured at 1.775 acres (0.7 ha).[5] Together the parts form the same isle as today.[5]

A bridge was proposed to Middlesex County Council or the Metropolitan Borough of Twickenham in 1889.[6] A set of rope pulleys operated in the early 20th century for assisting transporting light goods. It was not until 1957 that the first bridge to the ait was built.[1]

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, originally a genteel 19th-century three-storey building that later hosted ballroom dancing during the 1920s and 1930s.[7] In 1956, trumpeter Brian Rutland, who ran a local band called The Grove Jazz Band, started jazz sessions at the newly reopened hotel.[8] Some time 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.[9][10]

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.[11] In 1969, the club briefly reopened as Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden,[12] with bands such as Black Sabbath,[12] The Edgar Broughton Band,[12] Stray, Genesis, and Hawkwind[12] (then known as Hawkwind Zoo) performing there.

Caldwell Smythe (entrepreneur, vocalist, ex-Riot Squad and, briefly, The Honeycombs) said: "I approached the owner, Mr Snapper, who lived in Kingston and we agreed a rental deal. I called it Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden and plastered west London with quad crown posters." Smythe booked bands such as Edgar Broughton, Free, Deep Purple, King Crimson, Genesis, Wishbone Ash and Mott The Hoople. Smythe said: "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."[citation needed]

In 1969, the 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.[15]

The building had by now fallen into disrepair and was placed under a demolition order. However, in 1971 the Eel Pie Island Hotel burned down in a mysterious fire.[11][16]

The centre of the island was devastated by fire in 1996, and a year later, the only footbridge to the island was damaged by a utilities contractor.[16] A new footbridge opened in August 1998.[16]

Description and uses[edit]

The island has about 50 homes, 120 inhabitants and two or three boatyards, as well as some other small businesses and artists' studios. It has nature reserves at both ends, protected from public access. All plots and walkways are privately owned. The public can access a foreshortened central path, blocked by fences and front gardens from any river views.


For brief periods each year, usually in June and December, 26 studios in and around a working boatyard, collectively known as Eel Pie Island Art Studios, open to the public, enabling them to enjoy and buy the artists' works.[17]


Richmond Yacht Club

The island is home to Twickenham Rowing Club, one of the oldest rowing clubs on the Thames, and Richmond Yacht Club.[18]

The island hosts the headquarters of the Parkrun organisation, which was founded in Bushy Park.[19]

In media, the arts and literature[edit]

  • Ben Aaronovitch, Midnight Riot US edition of 'Rivers of London'
  • David Frome, The Eel Pie Murders (1933; repub. 1960), in the "Mr Pinkerton" series, features amateur sleuth Evan Pinkerton, a Welsh widower, and his friend, Chief Inspector J. Humphrey Bull of Scotland Yard.[20]
  • Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London (2011), novel
  • Ayize Jama-Everett, The Liminal War (2015), second novel in the "Liminal World" trilogy, multiple scenes
  • Ian Marchant. A Hero for High Times (2018)
  • Ransom Riggs, "The Pigeons of Saint Paul's", in Tales of the Peculiar (2016), short stories
  • Sherlock Holmes, 6 June 1948: The Complicated Poisoning at Eel Pie Island. Sherlock Holmes and Watson arrive on Eel Pie Island for a glass of rum and find a poisoning murder.

Associated places[edit]

The Eel Pie Studios, also known as the Oceanic Studios, occupies The Boathouse, Twickenham on the mainland about a mile to the north. When owned by Pete Townshend it was adapted and used for international top 100-charting pop and rock recordings. Townshend's publishing company, Eel Pie Publishing, is also named after the ait.

The Eel Pie pub-restaurant in Church Street, Twickenham is named after the former hotel on the island.

Image gallery[edit]

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

Notable residents and former residents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Reynolds, Susan, ed. (1962). "Twickenham: Introduction". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3. British History Online. London. pp. 139–147.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ Cockburn, J S; King, H P F; McDonnell, K G T, eds. (1969). "Archaeology: The Mesolithic Age". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century. British History Online. London. pp. 21–28.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ a b c Reynolds, Susan, ed. (1962). "Twickenham: Economic and social history". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3. British History Online. London. pp. 151–155. Retrieved 14 December 2017.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ Lewis, Samuel, ed. (1848). "Tweedmouth - Twywell". A Topographical Dictionary of England. British History Online. London. pp. 404–407. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d OS 25-inch map of 1894, Surrey sheet VI.7 revised 1893–94, published 1898.
  6. ^ "Good news for Twickenham". Horncastle Target. 28 September 1889. Retrieved 9 September 2023.
  7. ^ "Island that rocked to Bowie and the Stones stakes claim as true home of British R&B". The Guardian. 9 July 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  8. ^ Tony Lamond (12 December 2006). "1950s pics – The Grove Jazz Band / Eel Pie". Retrieved 26 February 2011.
  9. ^ Meek, Jo (30 January 2007). "Eel Pie's place in rock history". BBC News. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  10. ^ Van Der Vat, Dan; Whitby, Michele (2009). Eel Pie Island. Frances Lincoln Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7112-3053-8.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Eel Pie Hotel". Places. Twickenham Museum. Archived from the original on 9 August 2015. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Membery, York (20 April 2009). "Rock legends of Eel Pie". Daily Express. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  13. ^ Taylor, Alex (19 June 2018). "The Rolling Stones' rock'n'roll pilgrimage". BBC News.
  14. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (9 July 2016). "Island that rocked to Bowie and the Stones stakes claim as true home of British R&B". The Observer. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  15. ^ Faiers, Chris (1990). Eel Pie Dharma. Unfinished Monument Press. ISBN 0-920976-42-5.
  16. ^ a b c Kilvington, Joanna (14 September 2009). "Blaze hits Eel Pie Island". Richmond Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  17. ^ "WELCOME". Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  18. ^ "Richmond Yacht Club". Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  19. ^ "Twickenham MP welcomes return of parkrun to Crane Park". Twickenham Nub News. 13 August 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2023.
  20. ^ "The Eel Pie Murders (1933)". FictFact. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  21. ^ Abrahams, Luke (17 November 2017). "Secret London: Why you should go and explore Eel Pie Island this weekend". Go London. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  22. ^ Hasted, Nigel (16 July 2010). "Mystery Jets - From songs of innocence to grown-up experience". The Independent. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  23. ^ Cuffe, Grainne (16 March 2018). "Trevor Baylis tribute: Curator of Eel Pie Island Museum Michele Whitby pays tribute to her long-time friend". Richmond and Twickenham Times. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  24. ^ Planer, Nigel (9 September 2000). "Walk tall, think small". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 June 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Next island upstream River Thames Next island downstream
Swan Island Eel Pie Island
Grid reference TQ164731
Glover's Island