IN the 17th Century, Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition arrived in Britain from the Iberian peninsula bearing a secret: how to deep fry fish coated in flour. This was the start of the British national dish.

Fried fish warehouses opened to sell the new delicacy to the public - Charles Dickens mentions one in Oliver Twist, which he serialised between 1837 and 1839, where the fish was paired with either bread or baked potatoes.

Meanwhile, in the north of England, gritty, poor industrial towns were deep frying chips of potato...

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Who first combined fish with chips is open to debate. London claims that refugee Joseph Malin opened in the East End selling "fried fish in the Jewish fashion" and chips in 1860; the north reckons the pioneering accolade should go to John Lees who opened opposite Mossley market, near Oldham, Lancashire, in 1863.

Perhaps that debate is academic, because, along with improvements in trawling technology, it was the railways - invented, of course, in south Durham - that brought fish and chips to the masses. In the latter half of the 19th Century, ports were connected to cities by railways enabling enormous quantities of fresh fish to be deep fried on a daily basis.

By 1910, there were about 25,000 chippies in the country. That had risen to about 35,000 in 1929, and during the Second World War, Winston Churchill's government ensured the national dish was not rationed - not only were soggy chunky chips very filling but it would have been bad for morale if supplies had been limited.

Today, there are about 10,000 chippies, so we thought we'd tuck in to a packet in The Northern Echo's photo library, wrapped in old newspaper, which is marked "Fish and Chips".

If any of these pictures bring back memories, if you can tell us anything about any of the people featured, or if you have a good fish and chip story to share, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk