Walthamstow’s iconic pie and mash shop — L. Manze on its High Street, once the longest outdoor market in Europe — has permanently closed, having served the traditional East End staple under the ownership of Tim Nicholls for the last 36 years.
There has been confusion surrounding the current status of the shop. Facebook members announced its permanent closure before a My London story appeared to refute the claim, citing sources from one of L.Manze’s three other branches.
While there may have been some indecision or unwillingness to concede the site’s permanent closure for some months (since its closure was initially temporary and caused by the COVID-19 lockdown, owner Nicholls told Eater on 17 March that “Walthamstow will not reopen as a pie shop.” He confirmed that the grade II listed building may reopen, but as something else, and while he has not yet relinquished the lease, he could see no viable way of continuing to sell pie, mash, liquor, and eels.
Nicholls told Eater that there were “no customers down there anymore.” signalling that his business has been affected by the effects of demographic changes and “fads.” He had plenty of feelings about what he called the “Oh ya lot,” who he characterised as fickle and fashion-minded. “One minute it’s sushi, then panini, ciabatta, pulled meat, and wood fired pizza...all this dim sum.” He was particularly perplexed by the preeminence and popularity of the “big Sunday roast.”
As Eater London’s James Hansen observed in TASTE in 2018, treating pie and mash shops as spaces of nostalgia creates “[a] wistful tribalism [that] inevitably has a negative underbelly, and the Internet spreads it wide: “Better than another curry shop” is a common abhorrence; pie and mash is one metonym for Brexit, us-versus-them, “we want our country back.” And the Englishness Nicholls equates with what he sells is, in his mind, at odds with the multiculturalism of Walthamstow market in 2022.
He said it cost him £1,100 to open the shop each week, and that he’d noticed a downward trajectory in trade for the last five years. Indeed, five years ago, he had five pie shops. Manze on Chapel Market in Islington shut in 2017. Now Walthamstow is closed, he is left with three, none of which are in London. Instead, he is operating premises in Essex and Hertfordshire, in Braintree, Hoddesdon, and Dunmow.
It’s a familiar tale for a foodstuff that a diminishing number of Londoners want to eat. A. Cooke on Goldhawk Road in west London closed in 2015, while the pandemic was the nail in the coffin for F. Cooke on Broadway Market in Hackney.
“By the end of the 1930s, there were more than 150 in the city’s East End, according to Pie ‘N’ Mash: A Guide To Londoners Traditional Eating Houses. The same publication indexed over 80 establishments still trading up to 1995. By 2020, there remained just over 20, as Jonathan Hatchman noted early on in the first COVID-19 lockdown.
Nicholls also points to a lack of investment in the area from the local council, saying that Walthamstow had been “left behind.” He spoke specifically about the difficulties customers and market traders had parking; and that the convenience of massive malls like Stratford’s Westfield had driven many away from local independent retailers that would historically serve the community.
Such a pattern is evident all over London. In 2019, when writing about Ivy’s in Poplar, Jonathan Nunn wrote, “The wholesale destruction of working class markets across the city, replaced with more chains, more homogenisation, more restaurants, and more cafes that cater to people of the same stripe and class is about more than the vicissitudes of a single business.” At play here is, more than anything else, the stratification of wealth and capital; where the price of operating is a more significant factor in determining a business’s fate than the changing demography of any locale.
“Another piece of history gone,” a resigned Nicholls said before he hung up.