Exhibition: Rivers of the World
Wed 29 Aug - Sun 9 Sep, 11am – 6pmUpcoming event
As the Thames is London’s river, so whitebait is its fish – which has long been famous on the menu at Greenwich’s Trafalgar Tavern. Join Roger Williams, author of Whitebait and the Thames Fisheries, who will talk about his search for the source of this fashionable dish that had London society truly hooked. And hear why fishermen could be fined for catching it, while the rich could scoff it scot free! Afterward stay to sample the dish itself.
The Thames once teemed with fish. Greenwich was the biggest supplier to Billingsgate Market and Barking was the largest fishing port in Britain.
For almost a century Whitebait Dinners were a high point in London’s calendar when crowds gathered to see government ministers at the end of their summer session heading for the taverns of Blackwall or Greenwich for the Ministerial Whitebait Dinner – even during the Great Stink of 1858.
Whitebait dinners were fabulous affairs of many courses, including turtle soup, any number of fish, game and meat, with all kinds of puddings, all washed down with punch or Sauternes, Hock or Claret Cup. But at the heart of the menu was always Whitebait, which usually arrived to great rejoicing as a separate course, on silver salvers accompanied by wedges of bread.
Riverside taverns serving whitebait stretched from Poplar to Purfleet, but were centred on Blackwall and Greenwich. Only The Gun in Blackwall and the Trafalgar in Greenwich have survived.
Yet this little fish’s fame came at a cost – to fishermen and the fish stocks of the Thames. The fashion set so high a price on the fish that all other fish were cast aside, illegal fishing was rampant, and it led led to the decline in the Thames fisheries.
Hear how whitebait was caught and cooked, and learn about the state of the river and its fish today, and if you fancy it follow the talk with the Trafalgar's famous Whitebait Supper.