The secret island hidden in the Thames you can only access on certain days

Artists studios line some of the pathways through Eel Pie Island
-Credit: (Image: Mike Kemp)


London is full of hidden secrets and forgotten oddities. But to have hidden an island in the middle of the River Thames is a feat impressive even for the mysterious city.

But sure enough, in the middle of the river which snakes through the middle of London is a tiny little island that holds decades of history - but can only be accessed on specific days during the year. The island even has a suitably bizarre name - Eel Pie Island.

The island is a private area of land that you can reach only by a footbridge from Twickenham - or by boat. No-one really knows why the island got it's strange name, though it's been thought that it came from the eel pies served on the island during the 19th century.

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A jazz performance at the Eel Pie Island Hotel in 1961
A jazz performance at the Eel Pie Island Hotel in 1961 -Credit:Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During the 1700s and 1800s, an inn on the island was built and became a popular stopping point for steamer excursions. A newspaper report written in 1848 said: "This island comprises about eight acres, chiefly pleasure-grounds, and in the centre is the Eel-Pie House, noted for the last two centuries as a favourite resort for refreshment and recreation to water parties..."

Later on, the Eel Pie Island Hotel was built on the island. It was originally a three-storey building which even hosted ballroom dancing during the 1920s and 30s. Throughout the 20th Century, many famous artists played in the ballroom, including Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton and The Who.

In 1963, there was a period where you could come and see The Rolling Stones play at the Eel Pie Island Hotel every week, Secret London has reported. But during the 1960s, the club was forced to shut because the owner could not meet the £200,000 cost of repairs demanded by police.

A temporary reopening at the end of the 60s saw Black Sabbath, Genesis and Stray play at the renamed Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden, but this was short-lived. The hotel was then occupied by a hippie commune which became the largest in the UK in 1970.

Pleasure boats and barges moored on the River Thames at Twickenham next to Eel Pie Island
Pleasure boats and barges moored on the River Thames at Twickenham next to Eel Pie Island -Credit:Andy Soloman/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The building had fallen into disrepair and was placed under a demolition order, but in 1971 the Eel Pie Island Hotel burned down in a mysterious fire. But still, the island's creative and artistic energy continues.

There are now 26 artists' studios on Eel Pie Island, which open to the public twice a year - the only way members of the public can see the island. There are also around 120 people who live on the island, in roughly 50 houses spread across the 9 acre space.

Eel Pie Island is also home to two nature reserves, which are protected from public access. The island also has the only working boatyard on the Thames.

Eel Pie Island is opening in June and July this year for two weekends on June 29-30 and July 6-7. The artists' studios will be open from 11am until 6pm each day.

There is no need to book - all you need to do is walk over the footbridge accessed from The Embankment in Twickenham. For more information, visit the island's website here.

Got a story for us? Email anna.willis@reachplc.com.

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