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U-turn by EU on eel fishing—but too late to stop Tubby Isaacs’ jellied-eels slipping away

PUBLISHED: 18:41 18 June 2013 | UPDATED: 00:16 19 June 2013

Paul Simpson serving at Tubby Isaac's

Paul Simpson serving at Tubby Isaac's

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Pie and Mash shops in London’s East End are breathing with relief as a damaging EU ban on eel fishing has today been blocked in Brussels.

Tubby Isaac's customer Barry SullivanTubby Isaac's customer Barry Sullivan

But the rescue has come four days too late to save the East End’s famous Tubby Isaac’s jellied-eel stall at Aldgate from sinking below the waves of the recession. It closed down on Friday—after 94 years.

London Tory MEP Marina Yannakoudakis said: “Londoners have enjoyed jellied eel with their pie and mash for more than a century.

“I’m glad the EU has for once used its loaf—and thought better than to meddle in what East Enders put on their plate.”

The slippery U-turn over eels comes after fellow Tory MEPs on the European Parliament’s Fisheries committee opposed an outright ban put forward by a Swedish Green Party MEP.

The UK’s Struan Stevenson said: “Imposing an outright ban or strict limitations on commercial and recreational fishing is not the solution.”

He called for “a pragmatic approach” addressing falling stocks and the importance of protecting rural industries and traditions.

But the 11th hour rescue hasn’t been in time for Paul Simpson, the fourth generation of his family who have been serving up traditional eels, whelks, cockles and mussels at Tubby Isaac’s stall in Whitechapel High Street since 1919.

He shut up shop—or rather stall—for the last time four days ago, blaming street crime and anti-social behaviour rather than Brussels bureaucrats.

“It’s rough standing out in all weathers,” he said. “It’s not a nice environment around Petticoat Lane these days, with street gangs, drug addicts and drunks most evenings.

“I’ve had enough, with passing trade slipping away because of things like trading regulations and parking restrictions.”

The stall set up by the original 28st ‘Tubby’ Isaac Brenner soon after the First World War had its heyday up to the 1950s, especially Sunday mornings serving the crows along Petticoat Lane.

But even ‘The Lane’ seems to have passed its ‘sell by’ date.

“The recession has hit trade badly,” Paul explained. “The market is losing out and I don’t think will never recover.

“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

Neither of his children want the business, his daughter having just finished a law degree and his son about to go to university to study economics.

Paul inherited the business in 1989 from his dad, Ted Simpson, who took over from his Uncle Solly who died in 1975. Solly was given the business by Tubby Isaac himself in 1939.

“I’m the last one ever to do this,” Paul added. “All the East End eel stalls along Brick Lane and the Roman Road have closed—it’s a sign of the times.”

Isaac Brenner set up the stall soon after the First World War and kept it going for 20 years, before emigrating to America with his family.

The secret of good jellied eels is in the cooking, Paul tells you. The jelly exudes when eels are boiled and sets to create a natural preservative.

East End families traditionally always eat from a bowl and then put the remainder in a cold pantry, where the jelly would reset to preserve what’s left for the next day.

But the cockney culture of jellied eels has slipped away. Meddling from Brussels, despite the late reprieve, didn’t help.


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