EXCITEMENT is bubbling up in the deep fat friers because today is the closing date for voting in The Northern Echo’s Best Chippy 2024 competition.

Ten local fish emporiums are desperate to prove that they are batter than all the rest and the others don’t haddock a chance against them.


Although fish and chips are regarded as being a quintessentially British delicacy, they were brought to this country by immigrants and were made popular among the masses by railways with a good dollop of Dickensian sauce on top.

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. Then in A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, Dickens mentions the hunger of the city dwellers who are desperate for “husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil” – one of the earliest mentions of potato chips in the English language.

Deep frying slivers of potato seems to have originated in Belgium.

This picture of Harrington's fish and chip van in Durham City is from the book Durham Memories by J Landt Mawson, edited by Amanda Stobbs, which was published by Amberley in 2013. Mr Mawson, whose mother was German and so he gained his unusual name, was born in Durham in 1890 and became a solicitor. He remember refuelling in his teenage years at the van, which stood outside St Nicholas' Church.
"'Two and one' meant a big lump of fish for twopence and lots of chips for a penny, " he wrote. "The van was a sort of caravan with open sides and a counter on which stood chipped enamel tin cans which were perforated at the top and contained help-yourself pepper, salt and vinegar.
"You got the lot in a sheet of newspaper, which went all soggy before you finished your meal, but fish and chips never tasted better anywhere.
"A tip: if you want real potato chips, fry 'em in plenty of fat to a nice brown, then tip them onto a nice clean sheet of newspaper and fold over and scuffle them about for the newspaper to absorb the excess fat.
"From time to time add salt and pepper to taste. Lovely! And eat them outside – out of newspaper!"

So who was the first person to introduce the chip to the battered fish? 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.

By the 1920s, there was a chippy on every corner, but before then, there were horsedrawn fish and chip vans that parked up in regular locations. This van is brand new, having been made by Herbert Raine's coachbuilders in Spennymoor for Mrs E Hughes of The Batts, Bishop Auckland. She ordered this £125 horsedrawn fish and chip trailer in May 1922 when she put down a £70 deposit and paid off the balance at £10 a month

Really, though, it was the latest steam-powered technology that brought fish and chips to the masses. New trawlers could scour the North Sea for the fish and then the railways, created here in the North East, joined ports like Grimsby and Whitby to the cities 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, the National Federation of Fish Friers estimates there are 10,500 chippies in the country serving 360m meals of fish and chips every year.

“These businesses use 10 per cent of the UK's potato crop and 30 per cent of all white fish sold in the UK and the industry generates a turnover of around £1.2bn every year,” it says. “Sixty-two per cent of fish sold in fish and chip shops is cod and 25 per cent is haddock. Ninety per cent of shops use FAS (frozen at sea) fillets – these fish are caught by large modern trawlers operating in carefully managed fishing grounds in the icy, clear Arctic waters of the Barents Sea and North Atlantic, caught by Icelandic, Norwegian, Russian and Faroese vessels. Stringent, science-based and strictly enforced regulations have ensured good management of cod and haddock stocks in these waters.”

Here, from the collection of the Darlington Centre for Local Studies and The Northern Echo’s archives, are some chippies of yesteryear. Of course, if you have anything to add, or any chippy memories, we’d love to hear from you: please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk

Bimbi's on High Row, Darlington. Picture courtesy of Darlington Centre for Local StudiesAlbert and James Bimbi outside their chippy in Durham Market Place in May 1984 when they were selling frozen fish and chips for 90p a portion in May 1984 to avoid paying the new VAT on hot food. Bimbis are one of the great names of North East fish and chips. Their founder was Mary Bimbi, who was the daughter of Italian migrants Bartholomeo and Asunta Bacci who settled in Annan, Dumfries, where they ran the first chippy – most Italian immigrants into the Durham coalfield at the start of the 20th Century set up ice cream cafes rather than fish and chip shops. Mary went back to Tuscany to be educated, in a convent, and then returned to Britain with her new husband, Lorenzo Bimbi, to set up an ice cream shop in Ashington in Northumberland. Another one followed in Seaside Lane, Easington Colliery, which also did fish and chips, and then they opened in Durham in 1958. With their sons in the business, it expanded to having 13 shops from Newcastle down to Darlington. Lorenzo died in 1978, but Mary carried on serving until she was 94 when the Bimbis sold their business. She died in 2010 aged 104, so fish and chips may be the secret of long lifeMary BimbiAlan's Fish & Chip shop in Farrer Street, just about opposite the Hopetown Carriage Works. Alan's is now a curry takeaway. Picture courtesy of Darlington Centre for Local StudiesDot Clark in the fish and chip shop in Farrer Street, Darlington, in September 1975. Farrer Street is one of the older terraces in the Hopetown area of town. The street is named after James Farrer, the Scottish archaeologist who was the Conservative MP for the South Durham constituency, which was centred on Darlington, from 1847 to 1865READ MORE: GETTING TO THE ART OF A VILLAGE MART IN TEESDALE

Mary Prestledge of Shildon Fisheries in Church Street in October 1981. In front of her, ready for wrapping, is a copy of The Northern Echo – you can see the Hear All Sides letters column. It was around this time that, due to health and safety regulations ordered that a sheet of greaseproof paper had to be wrapped around the fishThe Americana fish and chip shop in Bondgate, Darlington, on July 28, 1981. Does its "Americana" name suggest that it was moving into the new American burger market as well. Picture courtesy of Darlington Centre for Local StudiesIn Newton Aycliffe in November 1982, you could get skinless haddock and chips for only 65pThis is Bob Richmond serving fish and chips in Surtees Street, Darlington, in April 1971. We love his clipped moustache, his tie, his pristine white jacket and his fancy old tillThis picture was published in the Echo’s former sister paper, the Evening Despatch, on October 25, 1967, under the headline "Fish and chips Chinois". It said: "The cooking of traditional English fish and chips was taken over by the Orient when Darlington’s first Chinese fish and chip shop opened last night at 14 Lawson Street. Shirely Chan is seen at work serving meals ranging from prawns and rice, curried chicken and rice to, of course, fish and chips"Bill Harrison, chairman of the Darlington Fish Friers Association, in his Gurney Street shop in 1971