The History of Bridgwater Angling Association, Part One

The year in which it all started and by that I mean the formation of Bridgwater Angling Association was it appears 1905 and there seems ample support for this date. Amongst the various accounts which have been heard there is one that has been told by a former member and his story has been passed down throughout the years.

It is more than probable that Dunwear ponds were a popular fishing venue for anglers at the back end of the 18oo’s. Now according to historical accounts in 1905 they consisted of the North pond, Middle pond and a South pond. Now we know the location of North pond, that has stood the test of time. South pond which is mentioned is not the South pond of that we know today. The original South pond was situated were the car park is now and the reed bed to the left as you enter the car park. The middle pond still exits but is is now completely over grown see map below. The yellow is North pond, The green is Middle pond and Red is South.

A time came when the owners of the brickworks situated in Plum Lane and surrounding lands were complaining about damage being done to bricks and tiles in the yard, and they decided to prohibit fishing. Just who is to blame is not on record. Amongst the then small band of anglers there were some with a small degree of influence. They approached the owners with a proposition that they be granted the right to fish on condition that they formed an association and accepted responsibility for the behaviour of the members. This was conceded, and the Brigwater Angling Association came in to being.

Thus it can be asserted that Dunwear ponds was the Associations birthplace. Down through the years following, so much of the history was enacted there. Outstanding members long since departed from the scene, came to fish in their chosen swims with regularity, and made such a contribution to events inseparable from the development.

No rent was asked for these fishing rights and they continued to be held free of charge until 1956. In that year changing circumstances led to the Association being able to purchase the North, Middle and the “NEW” South Pond (the one we know today). The cost was £100!

It seems very certain that the first secretary was one Herbert Farrance. His large family was very well known in the district and particularly in angling circles. Several family members were very keen anglers and were deeply involved in the origins of the Association. Herberts mother in law a one Mrs Novark also took an important role in the club beginnings. By all accounts this lady was a formidable character and noted for riding a tricycle loaded with her fishing tackle along the canal.

An advert printed in the Bridgwater Mercury from 1904.

It’s unlikely that Mr Farrance remained in office for any length of time, because it appears quite early on that the secretaryship was held by Cliff Allen. He appears to have occupied this position for a period until his livelihood took him away from Bridgwater. Then his brother Arthur took over and resumed the responsibility.

It now appears that Arthur Allen served through a time of relative tranquility as far as angling matters are concerned, but it was a period that saw the violent disruption of world war one. Arthur retired in the late 1930s to be followed by the legendary Ray Perrett. It may be asserted that Raymond had a longer and more eventful term in office than any other secretary. Although this in turn was interrupted drastically by war, It saw profound developments in the history of the association.

Ray Perrett’s father had a significant place in the early angling scene. He kept a well established grocery business in St Johns street Bridgwater roughly where the William Hill bookies is now. With the assistance of a younger Raymond he sold some fishing tackle as a side line. This took place in a part of the shop where anglers brought and exchange stories of their fishing adventures. Photos of specimen fish and out standing catches where often exhibited in the window.

Even a sparse account of the history of Bridgwater Angling Association would be incomplete if it did not contain the surname Vinten. Snuffy as he was called by his friends was apparently by all accounts a small man with a shrewd mind and a force full personality. Snuffy kept a shop in Fore Street on the corner of Court St in Bridgwater He sold tobacco, fishing tackle and guns. At the time and by that I mean in the early part of the 20th century it was the angling centre of the local area. This was the place where angling issues great and small were debated and settled. Mr Vinten had been chairman of the association since its inception, but the strange thing is that no one at the time can ever recall him attending a committee meeting. But if anything appeared in the minutes which failed to meet his approval, the secretary was required to strike it out. Snuffy died in the late 1920s and his death was considered a great loss to association and to local angling.

Go back a hundred years or so and you would of met Snuffy.

One Frankie Styler was another person who figured prominently in the early days. As far as it can be ascertained he was the clubs first treasurer and his retirement did not come until to the 1950s.

Like so many personalities of the association Frankie was a shop keeper, he had a drapery business in Eastover in Bridgwater which was not far from the Bridgwater Motor Company. Roach fishing was his main love and like many of his contemporaries, he would not have been happy without an average of about three quarters of a pound in his catches, this meaning that many of his fish would be well over a pound. Certainly he would be very far from happy with the quality of roach fishing that is prevalent today.

There was a trio often seen to be seen at Dunwear ponds or on the banks of the canal. It consisted of Ran (Randolf) Hook, Wally Roberts and Jim Jefferies.

Ran Hook was chairman for a period from some where in the early 1920s until the late 1930s. Immaculately precise in all his methods, he won the Association cup on five occasions. At the time the cup competition was the event of the year and getting ones name on the plinth was a real distinction. There was an intense rivalry between him and Bill Watkins who also had won the cup on several occasions.

Wally Roberts was almost a dwarf but what he lacked in height he made up for in angling prowess. He was a likable man and seemed incapable of saying or implying anything unpleasant about other people. Amongst the fisher folk of the day Wally had enormous respect as a first rate angler. How ever later in life he had fallen victim to the economic state of the country then prevailing and was reduced to rather straightened circumstances, and added to this predicament poor Wally began to suffer from failing eye sight. Jim Jefferies was another splendid companion but his life was cut short during an out break of very serve influenza.

Another unforgettable character was a gentleman called Stan Lewis. Stan stood in direct contrast to Wally Roberts. He was an enormous man. He was well known in sporting circles around the town. As a young man he played rugby for Bridgwater. He was well over six foot tall and in training weighed in over eighteen stone. An excellent angler by all accounts and it was some somewhat incongruous seeing such a man handling the most delicate of tackle. Later he became the land lord of The Crown Inn in St John street in Bridgwater.

There were so many who featured in the evolution of the association that it is quite impossible to do justice to all of them. One can mention a few names from the early days. Albert lock, who followed Frankie Styler as treasurer, Bill Carver, Jack Diamond, Cliff Lea, Bert Croker, were amongst those in the fore front before the first world war. Fred Denner Sammy Adlam, Cyril Matherick, Bob Radford, Bob Stacey, Donald Baggs, Mitchel-the mad jeweller- and pennywho kept a barbers shop on the Taunton road all seemed conspicuous a little later. The Hoopers, a father and two sons, and the Seamen family were essential features of the scene at Dunwear.

The history of the association over the years before 1914 is now very vague and shadowy. No one from them days who were involved are no longer around. It may be guessed that some of the members of the Farrance family, Ray Parretts (more on him later) father, and Snuffy Vinten where amongst the people concerned, but an attempt to name all the active spirits would be hazardous.

In the 1920’s the association reached a mile stone in that the membership exceeded 200 and to boot had a healthy bank balance. Come the 1930’s the club would start to develop. Definite signs of progressive thinking and concern for the future was quite evident, but this was brought to a halt by world war two. In the next part we see how after the war Bridgwater Angling Association evolved in to one of the biggest angling clubs in the country.

A day on the bank at Banklands.

Thursday February 3rd just gone my dear friend John Hughes and I decided to have a go at fishing the Bridgwater and Taunton canal at Durston. Our original plan was to fish the bank between Maunsel Lock Tea rooms and the Somerset Boating Centre. On entering the car park we were met by a hearty group of volunteers from the Taunton section of the Inland Waters Association. Amid the hustle and bustle of unloading hedge trimers, shears and other assorted tools and bits and bobs, we where told that our intended place of fishing was the target of a good old tidy up and a bout of well needed hedge trimming. Fair enough no problems with that, so me and John decided to fish the other side of the bridge known as Banklands.

Nothing complicated was implemented I just set up a small waggler and John decided to go piking with ledgered dead bait. The most notable thing about this stretch is that it is not all that deep, I say three and a half foot at most. But this did not seem to spoil the fishing. Yours truly had a most productive day with out even trying. Plenty of plumpish Roach, Rudd, Perch and hybrids were caught, even a Dace. John managed to catch a pike of about 5lb which put a smile on his face. All in all it was a pleasant days fishing. This was a type of session where one just chilled out and just took in the surroundings and lived the moment.

John catching his pike

It has been mentioned before in this blog that one of the nice things about fishing the canal is that you meet a lot of pleasant people who always have a bit of time for a chat. I got talking to a local lady who lives in one of the nearby farms who was out for a jolly old stroll. She happened to mention that in all the time she had been walking this stretch we were the first anglers see had ever seen fishing this part of the canal. I think this a bit of a shame, but saying that me and John agreed to visit this place again. The fish know of this place and so should you.

That, all for now Part two of the history of Bridgwater Angling Association will be in the next post, until then tight lines Pete C.

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