Eel Pie Island: This secret Thames island - with a rock’n’roll past - is only open to the public twice a year

Private Eel Pie Island - which once held gigs from Pink Floyd to the Rolling Stones - is now only open to the public twice a year, when artists allow visitors to their studios.

Eel Pie Island in Twickenham is a little mud flat in the River Thames with a rich history which includes Henry VIII, the Rolling Stones and Charles Dickens.

The island is home to around 26 art studios that can only be reached by a footbridge on the left bank.

Most of the year visitors will be met with a ‘private property’ sign, but twice a year the islanders invite the public to come and visit their open studio event.

It was also an iconic venue for British rock and roll in the 1960s, with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd performing at the Eel Pie Island Hotel.

Eel Pie Island supposedly got its name from pies baked on the island using locally sourced ingredients that were then sold by island residents to river traders that passed by.

This year, the studios open up on July 2 and 3, from 11am to 6pm - you don’t need a ticket, just cross the foot bridge at the Embankment, near to Twickenham station.

Here’s all you need to know about London’s secret island.

Map of Eel Pie Island by Cathy Horton

Early history of Eel Pie Island

The almost nine acre island has been a place of recreation since as early as the 17th century.

There are also rumours that Henry VIII used the island as a courting ground, as well as legend that whilst being rowed up the Thames he was overcome with hunger and stopped at the island for an eel pie.

During the mid-18th century, an inn opened on the island known as either The Ship or The White Cross.

The Eel Pie Island bridge being built. Credit: Fox Photos/Getty Images

By 1830, Eel Pie Island became a popular destination for steamer visits and was known as a get away from the dirtier air down river.

It’s also rumoured that Charles Dickens visited the hotel in the 1830s and immortalised his novel Nicholas Nickleby.

Twickenham Rowing Club has been based on Eel Pie Island since 1880, just 20 years after it was founded.

Jazz sessions began in the Eel Pie Island in the 1950s and young people would come to dance in the ballroom

Eel Pie Island in the 20th Century

In the early 20th century, the Eel Pie Hotel opened and became a hub of British pop music to try and attract younger people to the island.

The building initially hosted ballroom dancing during the 1920s and 1930s before jazz sessions began in the newly reopened hotel in the mid 1950s.

Andrew Chisnell took over running the club and in the 1960s the venue began attracting R&B bands and rock groups.

Between 1957 and 1967 the venue attracted some of the biggest names in British rock history.

The Rolling Stones - Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Brian Jones, and Bill Wyman - in the 60s. Credit: Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Eel Pie Island saw Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Pink Floyd performing some of their earliest gigs at the hotel.

Ronnie Wood from The Rolling Stones told NPR that the venue was like a melting pot of British musicians, saying: "You might bump into Mick Jagger in the bar, Pete Townshend, Ray Davies, Keith [Richards] or [David] Bowie."

People would cross the iconic Eel Pie Island bridge with ‘EELPILAND’ passports that were its version of a modern loyalty card.

During a five-month period in 1963, The Rolling Stones would perform there every Wednesday evening.

Pink Floyd. From left to right, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett and Rick Wright. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

The end of Eel Pie Hotel

Unfortunately in 1967 the venue was forced to close due to health and safety risks and the owners could not afford the repairs.

When Eel Pie Hotel closed its doors, it was rumoured that 30,000 people were members of ‘EELPILAND’

In 1969, the club briefly reopened as Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden and saw performances from the likes of Black Sabbath and Genesis.

However, the venue was taken over by a small group of local anarchists and by 1970 the Eel Pie Island Commune had become the UK’s largest hippie commune.

Aerial view of the River Thames with Eel Pie Island in centre and Twickenham town centre on right, West London, May 1955. Credit: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The building had fallen into disrepair and was set to be demolished, however in 1971 the Eel Pie Island Hotel burned down in what has been described as a “mysterious fire”.

The centre of the island was devastated by another in 1996 and just a year later the footbridge was damaged by a contractor.

A new footbridge opened to Eel Pie Island in August 1998, but left the island only accessible by boat for some time.

Eel Pie Island is closed to the public most of the year but is home to around 120 residents

Eel Pie Island in the modern day

Today, Eel Pie Island has around 50 houses and is home to roughly 120 residents.

There are a few boatyards on the island as well as a few businesses and art studios.

Around 26 are on the island and twice a year artists open up their studios to the visitors to share their art.

The island is now a secret, somewhat overgrown haven in the middle of the River Thames and holds its history quietly in its roots.

The studios are open on July 2 and 3, from 11am to 6pm - you don’t need a ticket, just cross the foot bridge at the Embankment, near to Twickenham station.