Given current London property prices, I wonder what it might cost today to buy an entire island in the middle of the Thames. At the end of the 1800s, such a prospect was not so remote, and all for less than £7,000. An 1899 newspaper article recalls the lively auction of Eel Pie Island, the historic Twickenham ait located a short walk from the luxury apartments at 20 The Barons. I love the touch of wit on the subject of eels:
“Pall Mall Gazette, Friday 18 August 1899
EEL PIE ISLAND AT AUCTION
HECKLING THE AUCTIONEER
Eel Pie Island, off Twickenham, at one time beloved of anglers, and in a collateral way sacred to the memory of Pope, Horace Walpole, and other distinguished men, was at Tokenhouse-yard yesterday successfully got rid of to a number of purchasers by Mr. W.B. Mason, of Windsor. Some time ago, this freehold property was put up en bloc at the Mart, but there was no bidding. Afterwards it was resolved to cut up the estate into little pieces, which is in the fitness of things with a concern identified with eels.
There was a roomful of people when the auctioneer mounted the rostrum. Mr. Mason did not waste any time in historical description. He referred all and every to the printed particulars, invitingly headed: “Free Conveyances! Payment by Instalments! No Burdensome Restrictions!” Then there followed the information that Eel Pie Island occupies a unique position, commanding most extensive and charming views of sylvan beauty, including the far-famed Richmond Hill, and “being in the immediate vicinity of several well-known riverside mansions, the grounds of which are maintained in princely style, is eminently attractive for residential purposes.” The property, it was further said, was within five minutes of Twickenham Station, and was, therefore, readily accessible from London. Nothing was said about Twickenham Ferry, as it might occur to a man at midnight. But the audience knew all about it.
The auctioneer was considerably heckled to commence with. What about the drainage? asked an intending purchaser. Well, said Mr. Mason, curtly, “Earth closets or cess-pools; houseboats have earth closets and take them ashore.” Another question: “What about the land tax?” “We never paid it,” responded the auctioneer. “But I know,” retorted the inquirer, “that you have paid it for thirty years.” “Have you collected it?” “Yes I have,” was the answer, and the laugh was for the moment turned against the auctioneer, who subsequently had his revenge in knocking down a plot to the collector.
Mr. Mason first of all put up the estate in one lot. There was no bidder. Then he offered Eel Pie Hotel, which, he said, was doing £100 per week in the summer months, and might make much better profits under different management. From £2,000 the bidding rose to £3,200, at which price it was knocked down to Mr. Edwin Stephens, of the Drayton Court Hotel, Ealing. This gentleman subsequently secured for £1,250 a plot of the island having a frontage to the Thames of 280ft, and an average depth of 100ft. This section of the property, as most river men know, is well adorned with well-grown trees. The other plots offered fetched from £104 to £136. The total amount realised was £6,290.”
Chopping up Eels