30th May 1660. A Fishy Story.

The word mackerel is derived from the 1300.s Old French Maquerel. The Romans used it to make garum, a fish sauce. Mrs Beeton’s Book on Household Management (1861) had a recipe for fennel sauce using mackerel.

Mackerel with rocket, spinach and watercress.

Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Act 2 Sc. 4), has Falstaff saying, ‘You may buy land now as cheap as stinking mackerel’.

Cries of London, showing if nothing else, the cavalier spelling of the 17thc.

Samuel Pepys was fond of a high protein breakfast involving the likes of brawn, but Today in 1660 he recorded in his diary, ‘that he had a dish of mackerel newly ketched (sic) for breakfast’.

Apart from showing how fish was important in the diet of the well-heeled in 17thc England, it also demonstrates how mackerel was regarded in the past.

However times and taste changed for as recently as the 1970.s mackerel had an image problem, as a survey in 1976 by the White Fish Authority showed a reluctance to depart from cod, haddock and salmon.

Less than 10% of respondents had ever bought mackerel, and only 3% did so regularly. Many fishmongers didn’t even stock it. Many housewives had heard rumours that mackerel had a bad reputation as a scavenger of dead material and so regarded as ‘unclean’.

Mackerel is the common name for many species of Pelagic fish, (swimming in upper sea layers), and historically the fish was not preserved as it ‘went off’ quickly resulting in Scombroid fish poisoning. The Cambridge Economic History of Europe stated that there is more references to stinking mackerel than to any other fish.

Cries of London 18thc showing mackerel be bought at the door.

The growth of mackerel in the Scottish fishing industry, in recent times, has been regarded as a ‘god-send’, in an economy where off-shore oil is declining.

This is reflected in 2017 in the inclusion of the fish on the back of the polymer £5 note.(see below).

RBS £5 note showing two mackerel.





Today mackerel is sold smoked, filleted and vacuum packed, but importantly in health conscious Britain, as an oily fish, rich in Omega-3, selenium and Vitamin B12, its popularity had increased.

Dietary Information on mackerel,


motleyhealth.com/Pic of fish on plate.

scotsman.com. 11.10.2016. All hail the million pound note/Pic

rbs.com/new note.



theguardian. 7.2.2015. Article re Pepys. Rebecca Seal.

Economic History of Europe CUP. Clapham J.H.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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