Saturday morning had a foggy start, not the kind of fog that shrouds Walthamstow Marsh in the mornings, but the kind that’s caused by staying in the pub for longer than you should the night before. My morning run failed to clear my head, and standing in line at the delivery office on Church Hill did nothing to improve my mood. We stood in the drizzle, slowly shuffling closer to the counter for about twenty minutes, until finally we made it to the front and collected our parcel. By the time we left the delivery office the dull ache of hangover had thankfully passed, but it had been replaced with something equally as distracting, hunger. Walking down the market on the way home we passed Manze’s Pie & Mash shop, nothing fixes a hangover better than comfort food and nothing sounds more like comfort food than pie and mash, we changed course and headed in to the shop.
The first rule of the pie and mash shop; if you don’t want liquor you need to tell them quickly when ordering. I know that liquor is a traditional part of the dish but it’s made using the water the eels are cooked in, considering my slightly delicate state I decided to give it a miss. My other half took the plate with the liquor and we managed to stop the lady serving us before she added liquor to my plate. We took our plates and made our way to one of the booths that line each side of the shop. I tried very hard to resist the urge to sing Chas & Dave songs, but much to the annoyance of Ed, and those sat near us I couldn’t help but release a few verses of That’s What I Like. The pie and mash was just what I needed, but a trip to Manze’s is about more than the food, it’s like stepping back in time.
The Manze family set up an empire of 14 shops across London between 1902 and 1930. The Walthamstow shop dates from 1929 and was built by Luigi Manze, at least that’s what the plaque outside says. Each booth is made of dark wood benches with high backs and shallow seats with a white table in the centre. The high backs give a sense of privacy when you are eating, the shallow seats indicate that perhaps this isn’t a place to linger when you have finished eating. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with tiles, some are plain white and others are decorated, the brown tiles surrounding the mirrors looking almost like tortoise-shell. Sitting in one of the booths, surrounded by the beautiful original interior, listening to other customers chat about their day on the market, it feels like you have been transported to a different time. If the walls had ears I’m sure they would have heard the same kind of conversations in the 1920’s as they would hear today. Parents encouraging their kids to eat, people discussing which bargains are to be had on the market, plans being made and life being lived.
As we tucked in to our food, we watched as kitchen staff carried the food out to the front of the shop, endless numbers of galvanised buckets full of mash, and giant trays lined with row after row of hot pies. The ladies that had served us when we came in were busy cleaning tables, one of them looked at me and said ‘Hello darlin’ then took the mickey out of me for not having liquor. Again my head was full of Chas & Dave songs but a look from my other half told me I should resist the urge to sing this time. Surrounded by the grand tiled interior it’s easy to forget that pie & mash was the fast food of its day. Restaurants like Manze’s sprang up to provide workers and traders with quick, relatively cheap hot food. Today’s equivalent would probably be McDonald’s, but I’m not sure the laminate wood and plastic interior of McDonald’s will stand the test of time in the same way that Manze’s has.
Stepping out of the green doors and rejoining the throng of shoppers on the modern-day Walthamstow Market, with people shouting in to their hands free phones and cheap electrical equipment available on every other stall. It’s reassuring to know that this small piece of old Walthamstow has survived. And I don’t mean the old Walthamstow that people refer to when talking about how much the area has changed in recent times. I mean the old Walthamstow that had dentists working on the market, the grand old palace theatre offering nightly entertainment, and steam engines hauling carriages along the Liverpool St to Chingford line. Manze’s may only be a humble pie and mash shop but it is also a reminder of how Walthamstow used to be, serving food for the body and fuel for the imagination.
Since writing this post, the pie and mash shop has been granted grade 2 listed status. This is amazing news and should secure the future of this local gem