A group of ministers sought to 'dine in a place of rest and of good repute'. Greenwich was chosen because of its convenience for London. They decided to dine on whitebait at the newly opened 'Trafalgar Tavern'.
These shoals of tiny fish were caught locally on the Thames. Within an hour after they were caught, they were deep fried in lard until crisp, then dressed with lemon juice and cayenne pepper. They were served with brown bread and washed down with iced champagne.
Word spread of the 'Trafalgar' and more and more politicians visited it. Until 1883, the whitebait dinner became an established annual tradition. Special barges brought ministers from Westminster to the 'Trafalgar', which was specially decorated for the occasion.
Whitebait are no longer found in the Thames. Although foreign whitebait is still served in the pub.
Each dining room commemorated a great naval victory or famous officer e.g Nelson, Hardy, Hawke, Howe, St Vincent, the Nile and Trafalgar.
Charles Dickens was known to dine at Greenwich. His letters and diaries show the following meetings at the 'Trafalgar':
May 20 1843 – dinner at Trafalgar with John Black
May 12 1853 – dinner at Trafalgar with Felton, Mr and Mrs Stanfield, and Peter Cunningham
He also based his wedding breakfast scene from 'Our Mutual Friend' on the Hawke Room of the 'Trafalgar'.
The 'Trafalgar Tavern' opens on the site of 'The Old George Tavern'
The last ministerial whitebait dinner – Prime Minister Gladstone’s ministers dinned together
Whitebait suppers go out of fashion, the 'Trafalgar' goes into decline
The 'Trafalgar Tavern' closes down
First World War
The building is used as a home for aged seaman
Between the wars
It becomes a working men’s club
Second World War
It is used as flats for naval officers
Reopened as a pub having been restored to its Victorian grandeur