The Very Unlikely History of Fish and Chip Shops

As a leading business transfer agent and business broker, we stock a vast range of properties and businesses across the UK in all sectors.

One of the most popular sectors that we feature include Food and Drink and in particular, fish and chip shops.

Whether it is a thriving chippy in Doncaster that you’re looking for or a traditional fish and chip shop in Sheffield, we can help point you in the right direction whether you are buying or selling a business!

But did you know that fish and chip shops have a very interesting history? How did the crisp golden batter become such an iconic British dish, how has the industry become so vast that it requires its own National Awards, and how has it become one of our most famous fast foods?

Here is a tell-all guide about the origin of the scrumptious grub. We can’t promise you won’t get hungry reading this!

Where did it all began?

The hot fluffy chip came about in the 17th century in Belgium or France, depending on what articles you read.

When the rivers froze and nothing could be caught, housewives began cutting potatoes into fish shapes and frying them as an alternative meal. It was at the same time that fried fish was brought into Britain from Portugal and Spain, and fish were sold on the streets.

Charles Dickens referred to early chipperies in Oliver Twist in 1839 as fried fish warehouses where the fish came with bread or baked potatoes.

Who invented the pairing though?

Who came up with the fantastic idea to pair the two together? We can’t say for certain. Some credit an entrepreneur called John Lees who reportedly sold them out of a wooden hut in Lancashire.
Elsewhere it is reported that the world’s first fish and chip shop was opened in 1860 in East London, by a man called Joseph Malin.

Does it really matter who invented the classic dish? The idea caught on and spread like wildfire and the mouthwatering meal even helped us to win World War I.

How has it had such an impact on society?

The government knew it was important to keep families on the home front in good heart and unlike the German regime, who failed to keep its people well fed and content, the British made safeguarding supplies a priority.
And during World War II, ministers ensured that fish and chips were not rationed food!
Nowadays, it is no longer the daddy of takeaways however, sales are still rising and more and more research is showing that the meal isn’t actually as nutritionally bad as we originally believed. Especially in stark contrast to the likes of fried chicken, pizza, Chinese, Indian and burgers!

Fun Fish Figures

  • Annual spend on the dish is a whopping £1.2 billion
  • 80% of people visit chippies at least once a year
  • 382 portions are eaten by British consumers every year
  • The largest chippy in the UK is Harry Ramsden’s in Bournemouth.
  • The longest running fish and chip shop is in Yeadon, Leeds, and has been trading since 1865.
  • Steph Celik of the Blue Whale Fish & Chip Shop in Maltby, South Yorkshire holds the Guinness World Record for wrapping five 350g portions of chips in just 58 seconds.
  • The longest serving fish frier was Bettina Dawson who worked at her family’s shop for 76 years but she unfortunately passed away in April 2014.

All facts courtesy of The Federation of Fish Friers. 

How many chippies are there in the UK?

  • 1910: c25,000
  • 1929: c35,000
  • 2009: c10,000
  • 2014: c10,500

So there you have an in-depth guide to the classic dish, bet you never realised how vital it is to the British institution!

And here are some fun facts to leave you with- Michael Jackson liked his fish and chips with mushy peas, John Lennon covered his in tomato ketchup and Winston Churchill referred to the dish as “the good companions”!

If you’re looking to buy or sell a fish and chip shop, let Hilton Smythe help. We are best placed to advise you on the purchase or sale of your local business. Give us a call on 0845 519 8809 or email

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