A gem from Angling History

The bad one

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I make no claims to discovering this, the credit must go to Mike Duddy but what a gem and piece of history of angling in Manchester/Salford he found.
Having rediscovered it, I feel it needs a much more wider audience, so I have no hesitation putting it on here for all members to read. I have however, edited slightly into a format from what it was in to one more accessible for this site. To aid those reading it, who don’t know Manchester that well, I’ve included a link to historic maps of Manchester.
Manchester Historical Maps

Enjoy!

Anglers' Evening 1879
Retiarius recently recommended i take a look at a website which allows you to read pdf's of old books. Using the sites search facility I found an old tome called an Anglers' Evening compiled by the Manchester Angling Association, printed in 1879 which had a chapter about my favourite river the Irwell. Using the dark arts of cut and paste Im able to share this chapter with you.

"Angling In The Irwell - A Record Of Hopes And Memories by Edward Corbet


Tis sixty years" since, when in my early days the idea of railway travelling yet undeveloped
and the fouling of streams comparatively infrequent, my angling facilities were limited to a few
ponds near home, where, with frequent catches of the beautiful stickle-back, or Jacksharp, we had an
occasional prize in the form of a dace, or a Prussian carp perhaps two ounces in weight. The report of such a
catch was sure to bring a gang of fishers to that pond. As to river fishing in those bye-gone times, it was what
salmon fishing is now to the trout fishers of Manchester, a thing to be thought of, and possibly to be had someday. The Bolton canal was a stage in advance of the pond fishing. I have seen a row of ten or twelve men within easy-speaking distance, each earnestly watching his three or four rods with hair lines and quill floats ; one of them perhaps with a silk line and two lengths of a very superior and costly article called gut at the end. These with waspbait, or worm, or maggot (gentles we did not know), were successful in catching a few dace, gudgeon, and eels.


But old traditions of some ten or twenty years then gone, told of good fishing in the Irwell. We heard of the
time when fine salmon were caught opposite the New Bailey—itself now no longer "new," but a vanished
structure,—and we were told of many trout and other fine fish that had been common. Fisherman's Rock in
Hulme had its history of wonderful catches. But all these accounts were for a time—say about the years
1820-22—tales of what had been before the gas-waste was put into the river.
About the year 18 19 I have, from the New Bailey Bridge (now called Albert Bridge), watched the fish on
the shoals at the lower sides of the piers, and seen innumerable fish both there and at the packet station
near the old Barracks (then opposite the New Bailey). These were chiefly gudgeon ; but other fish were seen
rising to flies,—and so numerous were the flies that the air was lively with swallows and house-martins ; and the" Old Quay boys " used to stand on the bridge and whip them down, with a long, heavy, short-handled whip, adroitly throwing the lash so as to kill the poor birds. It was a favourite amusement for us to count the swallows' nests along the Salford Crescent, and there were two or more in every window of the cotton mill at the river side opposite the New Bailey. There are no nests there now to be counted.
Some ingenious man found out that gas-tar would make a cheap black paint, and instead of its being put
in the river it began to find a use, and by-and-by was actually sold for money—a great result in those days.

I have seen the river so covered with gas-tar (the varying tints of which were somewhat admired as they
passed) that no real water-surface could be seen. But we heard of the offence given by this tar to the once
famous Warrington salmon, and to the sparlings which used to be brought thence. These fish became
scarce, as the use of the new light caused increasing defilement, and ultimately they disappeared. The
demand for gas-tar was not equal to the supply, and, therefore, a larger quantity of gas-refuse was put in the
river—gas-tar, gas-lime, ammonia water and all, went in. About 1824-6, gas-tar ceased to be an unsaleable
article, the river was less polluted, and the fish began to show (especially above town). We school-boys spent
part of our holiday times in going up the river from Pendleton, and trying various favourite spots with
carefully prepared bait ; and generally we were so far successful as to bring home from six to twenty fish for
two of us. We usually went in pairs, furnished with maggots by Robert Ackerly, of Hope Tower, Salford,
and with lines and hooks by Peter Sharratt, Postmaster, Windsor Bridge. One favourite spot was half way
between Douglas Mill and Agecroft Bridge, where the water from certain works came into the river from the
Bolton canal. Here we generally caught one or two " shoalers." These shoalers I believe to be the " graining." They are a fine fish of good flavour, like a herring in size, form, and colour, and not so broad as a dace, nor so thick as a chub. They are described in Webster's

Dictionary as " Graining (Leuciscus Lancastrieinsis), a small fish found in England and Switzerland." We caught them in the rapids generally ; the Clifton Aqueduct, the channels in the rocks for half a mile
above, and the outfall of sundry tunnels from coal mines and other places, being favourite spots. We often caught dace and chub, but seldom large ones.

The beautiful reaches of river beginning with the approaches from Pendleton by the footpath from Brindle
Heath, near Douglas Mill weir, with the high lands of Irlam's-o'th'-Height on the left, the sweep of Scar
Wheel on the right, and the ancient racecourse site and buildings at Kersal Moor above ; the broad quiet
river before and the footpath through the meadows to Agecroft Bridge, mantled with ivy ; steep rocks with
trees on the eastern bank, forming a back-ground to the picturesque Kersal Cell, with its broad meadows; the
whole crowned by the woods of Prestwich and the high lands of Stand ; these form a picture fresh on the retina of memory, though more than fifty years have passed since it was first, and frequently presented to me in all the varied tints of the season. The yew trees of Kersal Cell grounds, budding all over with their spring shoots of light green, backed by the older foliage, gave me my earliest ideas of the beauty of these evergreens. I had only seen them in their darker tints. It was only then that I began to find that not only yews, but many other evergreens, had more than one tint and more than one aspect in the varying seasons.
Agecroft Bridge was then a favourite study for painters, and the bridge was one well worth seeing either from
below or above, from the west bank or from the east, the west bank of the river giving us a different class of
prospect from that seen on the east. Broad meadows on the left ; noble trees on both banks ; the Hall (Irwell
House when Squire Drinkwater lived) ; and the hill-sides covered with trees. There were no boards about trespassers to be seen, nor even a notice saying, "This beautiful land on sale for building plots." Here was the broad rock on which we often spent an hour, and tried it on all sides ; in shallow, in deep, in swift, in slow, in sun or in shade, always with patience and hope, and generally not without some finny prize.
A little higher up the stream we had steep rocks for some distance on both sides, and many favourite pools,
runs, and shallows in the stream ; and then we came to the Bolton Canal Aqueduct. Above this, for about half-amile, we had again many beautiful views ; not much varied except by the trees, the river course being very straight but at the half mile, on the western bank, there came a very fitful stream from a tunnel through a steep rock, with a descent of some three or four feet to the river. In the eddies of this stream, and at its margin, we spent many hours and caught many fish. It was a sort of Rubicon, seldom passed, though sometimes we stretched our courage to go to the famous Ringley Weir. The tunnel was a wonder. Where did the water come from Why did it not always come .'' These, and many similar questions puzzled us. One day, two of us had worked our way from the first rapid at Agecroft to this place.

Having had little or no success below, in the numerous places tried, we had made a push to get here. Arrived, we found, instead of a rushing stream and a foaming waterfall, a mere trickle from the tunnel mouth. It was proposed that as there were no fish to be caught, and no water was in the stream-bed, we should explore the latter. So away we started into the dark tunnel, feeling our way with our bundled-up rods. Step by step we went, in single file, for such a length as seemed to us near a mile, (really nearly a fourth of that distance,) during the major part of which we saw before us a slight gleam of daylight. This
itself was a puzzle, as we knew well that we were going towards the high lands of Clifton. We arrived at length at the southern end of the passage, and found ourselves at the bottom of a deep shaft or well, full of curious and inexplicable machinery, made chiefly of oak. Long we looked at it to make out what it meant. Many years afterwards we came to know that it was a means of drawing
water out of the Clifton coal-mines, the machinery being worked by the water of the river from above Ringley
Weir, and the whole having been designed and constructed by the well-known Brindley, the engineer of the then famous aqueduct at Barton-on-Irwell. On that memorable Saturday afternoon we got a spattering of knowledgeof this place, and it came in company with a great rush of water that soon began to flow into the tunnel by which we had arrived. We, of course, beat a retreat, going back more rapidly than we came ; but it took so much time that the water, which had not come to our ankles in our " up journey," wetted us above the knees during our return. We gladly welcomed the daylight as we arrived at the river side. Four of the six retreated all the way home, frightened, and indisposed to try more fishing. Myself and one companion tackled up again, and before we left caught several fish. The river, in those early days, was seldom seen by us beyond Ringley ; but above, it had many beautiful lengths. All are now marred by some of the many uses to which the riverside is devoted. In later years, I have seen many other parts of the river, and certainly few streams have originally been more varied and beautiful than our Irwell and its tributaries.
Even at this day, with a little license of omission of shafts, mills, and other works, or by taking the prophetic
view of some eminent men and replacing the above named objects with broken walls, ivy-covered roofs and
shafts, with other such poetic arrangements ; and improving off the rocks and trees the perpetually recurring grime of continual smoke, clothing the dead branches wit verdure, and putting in a few anglers fly-fishing, the lover of the picturesque may yet find miles of beauty full of precious "bits," or broadening into grand views of lake, river, and mountain. We call the lakes " razzervoirs," and the mountains are "nobbut hills," while the river itself is but an open drain ; yet in a ten miles' walk from Manchester to Bolton (by river nearly twenty miles), or in a five miles' walk by the brook-side above Bolton to Turton, or by Wayoh and Bradshaw Brook to Entwistle, or from Prestolee to Bury, or from Bury to Haslingden, or branching off towards Tottington to Holcombe, or from Rochdale up the valley by river instead of by rail to Shawforth, or along others of the numerous tributaries, the artist may find such combinations of river, road, rock,and ruin, with back-grounds of hills and trees, as will give him years of work for his pencil. With such skill as an architect is required to apply in restoring a ruined oldcathedral or monastery, he might paint back the views and produce a Lancashire of a century ago, or possibly a century hence, styling the picture " View on the Irwell, 1780" or " 1980," according to his fancy. The river and its tributaries are really yet worth exploring, even in search of the picturesque, and many a fall, and turn, and rapid, give such views as only require the conversion of the stream itself to purity to become eminently pleasing. This chief defect, the impurity of the water, is, however, now so perceptible, not only to the eye but also to the nose, that it would be advisable for our seekers of pleasure in this district to provide themselves with some of the preparations of carbolic acid, or with some other good antiseptic, before inhaling for any length of time the odours of these tributaries.
It has not been my fortune to explore the banks of the Dead Sea, but a sad sight it must be if it exceeds in
deadness the sight I once had of the Irwell when engaged on professional work. I had to go in a row-boat from Manchester to Runcorn by river, or by "cut" where the navigation is shortened by canals ; all along there was evidence of the direful effects of the polluted condition of the stream. There was scarcely a blade of grass or a bunch of rushes near the river itself; and only such trees as were high enough above its banks to keep most of their roots out of its reach, and luckily so placed as not to be destroyed at the top by chemical fumes, had preserved their leaves and lives. Excepting these, a very few rats, and now and then a melancholy-looking sandpiper, who, no doubt, kept to the river side, not from choice but from family tradition, with an occasional lock-gate keeper, and those few others of the genus homo and genus equus who earned their living in connection with the navigation, there was not a thing with life to be seen. Indeed the navigation itself is almost destroyed by the persistent river pollution, so many tons of rubbish being put in, that the dredging is a very serious and almost overbearing cost. One of our greatest treats in my boy-days was to walk down to Mode-Wheel lock, there to meet the packet-boat, sail down to Warrington or Runcorn, and buy some Eccles
cakes at Warrington. Returning by the boat the same day was sometimes practicable, but more frequently we had to return by one of the Liverpool coaches, which placed us nearer home at Pendleton. On these packet-boat journeys we always, or nearly always, disturbed some angler who was fishing from the towing-path ; though, of course, fishers were more numerous on the bank where they were not likely to be disturbed.
It would require many journeys now to find one man fishing in this stream. Even the mouth of Glaze Brook,
once famous for its bream, has lost its prestige ; and only the Mersey and Bollin retain at their outfalls, sufficient purity to keep eels and gudgeons alive. About 1825 I became acquainted with practical fly
fishing, and made flies that caught fish. They were generally a sort of hackle, made of a starling's breastfeather, with a body usually of black silk, but occasionally a little scarlet wool. The first knowledge I had of the effect of this wonderful art of fly-fishing was on seeing a man with two flies, at work where a stream was coming into the Irvvell, about one hundred yards below Agecroft Bridge. He caught almost at every throw, and often brought two fish to his basket. He caught some forty while I stood by, and told me he had over a hundred they were about two ounces each in weight—shoalers, dace, roach, and a few chubs. Of course I was converted to fly-fishing, but I generally kept a reserve of requisites for bottom- fishing, and pursued my way, with or without one or more companions, as far as Ringley Weir-hole. There we generally caught some fish, and at sundry places on the way we had more or less success ; often bringing home ten or twelve fine fish, either graining, chub, or dace ; occasionally only gudgeons and minnows. When the
others would not rise, and we had to try the bottom, we did not refuse the loach. Sometimes we got an eel, and sometimes a perch. I have often seen the bottom-fishers with a good lot of eels ; and once I remember a man showing me a fish which, from memory, I estimate to have been about three or four pounds weight ; I think it must have been a bream, but its silvery-white scales looked too bright for that dull fish. The scales were large-sized, and the man called it a salmon ; I did not, but it was a fine fish, and he had caught it in Ringley Weir-hole, within an hour of my seeing it. I went to Ringley Weir-hole at once, and after a patient trial of about two hours, was rewarded by a settled conviction that there was not another fish like the one in question left, and that it must have eaten all the little ones. Yet it was not a pike, or a trout, or a grayling ; it may have been a chub. The last time I went to try the upper part of the Irwell I saw the only pike I ever saw in that river. It was about twenty yards below Agecroft Bridge, and I was on a small island of sandy gravel. The fish was about the size of a herring, and swam round me, looking as if it was seeking food. I caught no fish that day. I think it would be about the year 1830. I had before this fished and caught fish in some other streams, notably the Irk at Crumpsall and Blackley, the Medlock at Ardwick, and the Derwent at Rowsley. On a day kept as a fete day on account of the passing of the Reform Bill, some time late in 1832, I went with a companion to fish in the Mersey below Irlam. We caught very few fish ; but we saw some ten or twelve men at various favourite holes, each of them with a good dish of fish beside him, some twelve to twenty in number, very uniform in size, and mostly dace about as big as herrings. This is the last of my remembrance of fishing in the Irwell, but I had previously seen and caught fish at Mode- Wheel mill -tail, at the Crescent, Salford, the weir below the Crescent, and various other places. Perhaps about 1828 I saw a man catch a trout nearly two pounds weight at the mill tail below the Crescent, Salford, and I once met a man with six trout caught in the Irwell, at the foot of a small streamlet near Kersal Moor ; but I never caught a trout in the river myself. I knew by sight an old man who got his living (according to his own account) by fishing in the streams around Manchester, I once saw him at Agecroft, fishing above the bridge, and he had two or three eels. I had some confidential talk with him and found that his basket was more frequently weighted with hares and rabbits than with fish, and that fishing was with him only a cloak for poaching. About the year 1840 a salmon was caught, nearly dead, above Warrington ; it was about eighteen pounds weight. The latest Irwellfishing I have known was about 1850, when some people used to fish in Peel Park. They caught some fish, but I
do not know the species.
And now for the future of the Irwell. There havebeen put into it, as refuse, several materials which, with
the progress of science and invention, have been found capable of better uses, and of these I will name a few. Gas-tar was put in ; it now sells for thousands of pounds per annum, and forms the basis of many important trades. Ammonia-water was so wasted, and it is now sold and used. Gas lime was also freely put in the river before a better use was found for it. Cotton waste was put in, I have seen the river white with this material ; we have now a group of traders called cotton waste dealers, who have an Exchange of their own. Dye stuffs have been redeemed from waste to a large extent, but they yet form a great portion of the river's pollution. Soap has been very largely put in, and in some cases profitably kept out and converted into fine tallow candles and alkalies. Metallic and chemical refuse, coal, ashes, and cinders are yet thrown into the river. And last, though not least, the valuable article called sewage is still put into the river, to an extent causing a loss, in my belief, of more than a million pounds a year to South Lancashire. At Wrexham, and many other places, it yields a clear profit to the sewage farm of more than £10 per acre per year. The increase in the revenue of land so improved in South Lancashire, to the extent of twenty miles by twelve, would exceed a million a-year, and the sewage of the town would improve such an area very materially, without nuisance from over-irrigation. Science has so far advanced as to show that it is profitable to
keep sewage out of the rivers, and legislation must proceed to prevent the abuse of the water-ways of the country. Then we may hope that the Irwell will again be a bright stream with trout and other fish in it, swallows and other birds over it, patient anglers not disappointed of sport beside it, and the poisoned area along the whole length of the stream restored to its original atmospheric purity. Smoke may be as effectually done away with as other wastes have been. Then we may hope also for other improvements not so remotely connected with these as may at first sight appear ; and as the filthy gas-tar has given us the beautiful aniline colours and the valuable carbolic acid, so other wastes maybe utilized, until everything is put to its best use; and finally, through the operation of the much-despised utilitarianism and trades' profits, we may arrive at the highest attainable pitch of civilization, when our towns will be lively with vegetation, our streams replete with fish, the air resounding with birds, and ourselves living well-spent lives in a well governed country."

I hope fellow Mancunian anglers enjoyed reading this chapter as much as i did.
Posted by Mike Duddy
 
B

Berty

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Mind blowing......i suppose to him, we have reached the promised land if measured in hunger and sustanance?

---------- Post added at 21:29 ---------- Previous post was at 21:22 ----------

Fascinating. I wonder what the dace-like fish was?

Shad?..................................................................
 
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The bad one

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Goeff if you are referencing the fish he called Graining ? Just checked on Fishbase and they are saying Dace Leuciscus Leuciscus .
What does mystify me is he knew what Dace were and his use of the last word Lancastrieinsis?
Given the time he was writing, I can only offer perhaps two explanations
1. He was confusing the two, which were in reality the same species.
2. Or bleak were called Dace and dace were known as Grainings.

Sparlings I'm almost certain were smelts, as I've seen them advertised at times on the fish market in town as thus.
 

geoffmaynard

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Yes - the bleak explanation sounds most likely. The Industrial Revolution... and they called it progress :(
 

The bad one

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Quite Geoff :confused: If you use the link to the maps and go through them you'll see how rapidly Manchester grew. It's staggering it's growth and all the filth went into the Irwell as he describes. Compound that with all mill and dying towns along its course and tributaries, plus the chemical works and metal shops, it's no wonder the river and the Mersey it drains into was classed as biologically dead only 30 years ago.

Whilst it's much improved today, thanks to the Mersey Basin Campaign and has reasonable fish stocks in most parts, it still lives on a knife edge and one serious pollution could undo MBC 20+ years of work to clean it up. I think E. Corbert would say if he was still alive "We are not there yet!"
 

The bad one

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I've been doing a bit more digging on this (sad like that I know) and the exchange that took place in1950 in the House of Commons is interesting regarding the Irwell
Link thanks to Salford Friendly Anglers Society

RIVER IRWELL (POLLUTION) (Hansard, 18 April 1950)

It took another 35 years (1985) before the Mersey Basin Campaign came into being and another 25 years to bring the water quality to a standard where it would support sustainable aquatic life including fish stocks.

So from the Govt. saying they'd tentatively tackle it 1950 to 2010 (60 years) to come a sustainable conclusion.

And without turning this thread into another pro/anti Angling Trust thread, What chance the ATr tackling the problems rivers now have any quicker?
 

dezza

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Phil - What an absolutely fascinating thread. I initially thought that the "graining" could have been a dace, or maybe even a dace/chub or dace/roach hybrid - if such things exist. I note that it was found good to eat. So are dace from a clean river although I don't eat them these days.

The River Don which flows through Sheffield suffered a similar fate to the Irwell although the pollution was caused more by steel manufacturing than tar. I don't doubt that could tar could have come into it of course. I remember when the Don used to flow bright reddish brown through the middle of Attercliffe.

Today of course the Don is a pristine river full of most species. The river at Meadow Hall, next to the big shopping complex looks absolutely marvellous. I am told it is full of grayling, but access is near impossible.
 

goonch

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Graining were (I think but correct me if I'm wrong) first described by Yarrell as a different species. Unfortunately it was based on his examination of only one specimen :rolleyes: Houghton mentions this in his own book, some 43 years after Yarrell's, as does Tate-Regan in his book published another 32 years after Houghton's. Following that it gets little mention in the literature and is generally considered to be either a variety of dace or simply just an old local name for them.

Blame Yarrell for confusing everyone for the best part of a hundred years :D
 

geoffmaynard

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And without turning this thread into another pro/anti Angling Trust thread, What chance the ATr tackling the problems rivers now have any quicker?
Maybe I only see the glass as half-full but I'm with Fred on this. In the last 50 years the public awareness of our environment has come along in leaps and bounds. A great raft of people actually care these days, whereas in my fathers day it was a shrug of the shoulders and a 'nothing to be done, its the price of progress' attitude.
 

Keith Speer

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"Graining"?

The chap clearly knew the difference between a Chub and a Dace, so could the "Graining" be one of these http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ide_(fish)

The Victorians (and certain adventurers, prior to the Victorians) were not too bothered about moving species around?


I suspect the "Lancastrieinsis" bit was added just for fun, I don't know too many Lancastrians, but I do know a few Yorkshire men and you know what they say:-

"You can always tell a Yorkshire man, but you can't tell him much!"

Similar mould maybe?:wh
 
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