Pat ‘Pop’ Newland, owner of Poppies Fish & Chips has been serving some of the best fish and chips in East London for 60 years. From the Second World War to the creation of one of London’s most iconic establishments, Pat takes BEAST through his memories of the East End and his love affair with fish & chips
Where in East London were you born and raised?
My mum and dad were born and raised in the East End and lived in St Stephen’s Road, Bow until the Second World War broke out. As East London was becoming more and more dangerous with enemy bombings, my mother decided to move out to Wallingford in Berkshire when my dad went to war. It was here where I was born. Once the war was over, we all moved back to the same house in Bow at around 1946, when I was 4 years old. After that, life in the East End returned to normal. People played football in the streets and we all coped with one shirt and holes in our shoes because ultimately we all had a huge sense of community. Times were tough and became much tougher when I lost my brother at 9 years old. We were out playing and on our way home for dinner when a van missed me and hit my brother. It’s always affected me and shaped the person I am today.
What is your favourite memory of East London?
My happiest memories are in Victoria Park – a little bit of paradise. When I was younger, I’d always venture to the park with my mum and brother. We used to go and fish in the three ponds and my brother would wave to me across the pond when he’d caught a fish, he’d be so pleased with himself for the rest of the day. I’ll always remember the joy we felt then.
Where are your favourite places in East London?
It has to be Victoria Park, definitely. After my brother passed away I still went to visit the park all the time and I continue to go there to this day. I’d also have to say Brick Lane. Over the course of my life, it has changed so much but still manages to retain its charm. I mostly go on a Sunday and visit the market stalls and the bagel shop – the guy in there knows me and always keeps stuff back. Another place is Tower Hill. I used to work at independent fish & chip places all over the East End, learning the trade from the people I worked with and when I was 18 I worked at a fish & chip kiosk in Tower Hill. Poppies wasn’t even in my mind at this point, but looking back all these people taught me what I know today and became the mentors who helped me to bring Poppies to life. There was also a boxing venue and snooker hall where I used to do amateur boxing to keep fit. I don’t think it exists anymore but the snooker hall used to be run by The Kray family, who I became familiar with when I was about 15. The Kray twins were the Guv’nors of the East End who I would sometimes play a few rounds with. They had so much energy and ambition, but I mostly kept my distance.
What are the biggest changes that you’ve seen in East London over the course of your life?
The biggest change is definitely the people. Before, everyone knew everyone – I knew everyone on my street by name! There always used to be a massive sense of community and family; we used to knock on each others doors and play cricket or football on the street. But today, everyone seems to have a mission everyday and life is now lived at such a fast pace.
Can you describe what your first working experiences and what it was like working in Roman Road aged 11?
My first job was when I was 10 and I worked in an Iceland Wood Factory. I’d get wood from the factory, chop it and bundle it up then deliver it round to the houses. When my Dad came back from the war he had Snow Blindness and was unable to work so my mum had to look after him. We were very poor and I worked from such a young age to help my family, we needed all the help we could get. When I was 11 I would go to Roman Road and see if any of the shops needed help. It was here I stumbled on Phil Koch’s Fish & Chip shop and he gave me a job, cutting the newspapers in a dark creepy room with a gas light! As time went on, he gave me more and more jobs and when I was 13 I started cleaning potatoes. Then I learnt how to clean and fillet a fish. I worked there until I was 16 learning the trade and giving all the money I earned to my mum who was nothing but selfless, kind and industrious.
When and where was Poppies established?
I’ve been in the trade all my life, but I only decided to set up Poppies much later in life. I’ve had experience as an ice cream salesman, a packaging business owner but always held onto the idea of having my own business which would sell the greatest fish & chips in London. Around 10 years ago I was riding my bike through Spitalfields when I saw two shops boarded up and an Italian lady standing outside. We made a deal with her there and then and she sold us the shop – it was then that Poppies came to life.
How have your memories of 40’s and 50’s influenced the decor or Poppies?
My whole life I’ve collected memorabilia and wanted to bring a sense of the past into my shops. I’ve got enough antiques to create another 10 stores! Some of my favourite items in the shops include a rocking horse that reminds me of Muffin the Mule and the pianos. Everyone used to have one in their front room back in the day. I often talk to customers about the stories behind the objects, it keeps people coming back for more.
How has Poppies been able to stand the test of time and keep customers coming back?
The truth is… myself. I’m known in the East End and my name has managed to become known across the world. People hear about us and want to visit. We also sell the best fish & chips, which despite being a bit expensive, is of the highest and freshest quality. At the same time, it’s not just about selling fish & chips, it’s about selling the East End. I’m there at the shop every single day to greet customers and tell them about the history which is something I’m immensely proud of.
Tell us about your fish sourcing
When we first started, we were working with T. Bush at Billingsgate Market and now they’re a third-generation supplier. All the fish coming into the store arrives on the same day from the boats of either Peterhead or Cornwall. We’ve known these guys for years and they continue to provide us with consistent quality which keeps us and the customers happy. Salih is our resident fish-monger whose worked with me since the beginning and prepares the fish onsite to ensure ultimate freshness. Our fish is of consistent high quality, much like our potatoes which are sourced by Masters & Co who bring us 100 bags of potatoes a week. Our quality of suppliers, along with my reputation are what make us stand out and we can never let that slip.
What do you love most about your job?
The best part of my job is meeting people. I’m industrious and love to work, from age 10 to my grand old age of 79. I still make sure I come into the shop every morning so I’m able to meet those who walk in the door – honestly, it keeps me alive, moving and happy. The trials and tribulations life has dealt me have enabled me to be kind, whether that be to customers or staff and I love nothing more than seeing these people every single day.
Poppies Spitalfields are now open every day from 12pm to 8pm for takeaway, click & collect and delivery.
6-8 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6QR
Other branches: Camden (30 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP) & Soho (55-59 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 6HW)
By Lara Mills