Fishing

Fishing - Introduction

 

The villages on this coast originally developed as small fishing and agricultural communities with a few farms and fishermen’s cottages. The 1841 census shows seven fishermen living in the village. This reduced to only two in the censuses of 1861 and 1871 but by 1881 had increased to eight.


In the 1920s we know that twenty fishing boats worked out of Brook Bay and in living memory Alf Woodford chugged the round of his lobster pots in his white painted boat and sorted his catch in the tarred shed on Brook Green nicely named ‘Seashell’. Therles, the cottage Alf lived in has changed little and the cluster of houses on the Green still gives an impression of what the huddled line of fishermen’s cottages must have looked like.

The undercliff at Sudmore, to the east of Brook Green, had particularly good fishing grounds. Withies for making crab and lobster pots were also planted there. The chief catches outside the mackerel season were prawns and lobsters. In the old days Brook fishermen would be out early in the morning to catch the prawns, cook them and take them to Newport to be put on the train for Billingsgate fish market in London.

Glass floats, like these, were commonplace on Brook beach in the 1950s, but are very rarely found today. Made in Japan, they are hollow glass balls with air inside to give them buoyancy. Each float had its own net and a long line of them was attached to huge fishing nets to keep them afloat. Most of these floats are in shades of green because that is the colour of glass from recycled sake bottles.

Withies - a pre-eminent Island industry

Mr Cooke and his father and grandfather before him have carried on this industry for about 150 years, and it is still being maintained by his son Mr Herbert Cooke. The Cookes of Brook have won a wide reputation for their fish-pots, having for many years supplied the south coast of England and even Ireland.

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Withies and lobster pot making

This photograph shows Herbert Cooke making a pot on Brook Green in the 1920s. The making of lobster pots was a flourishing industry with pots being sent as far afield as Ireland. Marshy land at Sudmore, to the east of the village, was ideal for growing willows – or withies. The pliable shoots were cut in January each year and stacked in large sheds.

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Alf Woodford

As an experienced seaman, Alf Woodford had a healthy respect for the sea and did not like to take people out fishing with him: If something happens I’ve only got myself to worry about. When he died a well-thumbed mariner’s version of Psalm 23 was found among his few possessions:

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Memories of Alf Woodford

Like all good fishermen, the best places for catching fish in living memory was a secret known only to Alf and David Hookey. Anne Ham (Hookey) remembers how: when it came to divulging any of his fishing grounds, Uncle Alf was close.

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Pat Tyrrell remembers Alf Woodford

Pat Tyrell remembers spending time as a boy with Brook fisherman, Alf Woodford:

Alf was a very nice, very kind man and a bit of a character; probably one of the last characters in the village and the last longshoreman in Brook.

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Memories - Gen. Jack Seely

 

In Forever England (1932) General Jack Seely describes the daily risks that Brook fisherman had to take in deep swells and breakers that no boat but the lifeboat could survive:

I will try to describe a fisherman of today who lives in a cottage quite close to the sea. His wife is dead, and he has one child.

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Memories - Ella Hookey

Ella Hookey (‘Mrs Tom’) wrote in the WI Scrapbook in 1958:

Fishing was another industry in which about eight men were occupied in Brook. My father (Frank Cooke) fished in summer and in winter occupied himself in making lobster and prawn pots, generally admitted to be the finest obtainable. He had orders for these from different parts of the country some even going to Ireland.

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Memories - Pat Tyrrell

Pat Tyrrell remembers Alf Woodford and his withies:

Alf had a withy bed up at Sudmore on the left as you go towards Chilton; he used to cut all these withies and when he wanted to take them down to his house he’d carry them down on his back; all you’d see was a pair of legs and a great big pile of withies walking down the Military Road! It was like a big round bird’s nest but Alf was under there somewhere! He was only a little man, but very strong.

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Chris Braund remembers fishing with David Hookey at Brook:

David Hookey of Downton Farm was one of the last Isle of Wight farmers to work both on the land and the sea. David’s speciality was prawn fishing; he grew his own withies, harvested them and then made his own pots during the winter months. The old fishermen kept their boats at Brook Point, not where the slip road is now; this is before the land slip.

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Simon Homes compares fishing off Brook in 2009, with earlier years:

Fishing at Brook today is much as it always has been. Even with lighter boats and modern equipment, the rough sea and huge Atlantic swells still limit the days you are able to launch safely. Over the last four years spring and summer conditions have been dictated by a busy Atlantic which keeps throwing areas of low pressure in our direction.

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Memories of the 1950s

In the 1950s Bert Morris and Walter Stone of Hanover House enjoyed fishing from their rowing boat named Fantoddle. Many fish were caught and villagers would come and buy the fresh fish at the shop in Hanover Stores. On one occasion half a tonne of bass was caught and sent to Portsmouth for 4d per pound.