During the 1914-1915 season the entire team of Clapton Orient signed up to the front line, forty one in total, the highest en-masse conscription in the country from a football team. The final game saw a 20,000 strong crowd to see off ‘their boys’, George Scott, William Jonas and Richard McFadden made the ultimate sacrifice, while many of the Clapton Orient men were unable to play football again. The original Clapton stadium was located just 200 yards from where I now live and yards from the River Lea. Later Clapton Orient moved to the Speedway site off Lea Bridge Road and then soon after moved to Leyton where the club changed its name to Leyton Orient. Lest we forget.
On Saturday 2nd April 2016 the Angling Auctions in Chiswick finally drew to a close when the hammer fell and lot 630 – “An unusual American Bamboo trout fishers creel” was sold. Slow applause permeated throughout the hall in appreciation for Neil Freeman who has put the hammer down on 32,000 lots over the last twenty five years offering vintage fishing tackle, taxidermy, books and angling art to a worldwide audience of collectors and angling enthusiasts.
My involvement began in 2011 (I’m considered a relative new boy) when John Andrews of Arcadia asked if I could help out on the rods. Arriving in Chiswick I was soon put to task in the construction of the rod rack, an antique in its own right, but a protector of fine fishing rods. Neil told me that he built the rack in 1991 with a drunk Irishman, a story I must confess I believe looking at the quality of its construction, but in defence of the Anglo-Irish workmanship it still survives with it’s biannual kicks and trips that it has to endure from eager anglers grasping at the wonders it beholds. Five years on I am still putting up the same rod rack, stuffed with even more matches and bound with ever more gaffer tape.
Over the years staff have come and gone but generally there is a core that stay loyal, Neil’s brother has been involved from the start and more recently Neil’s son Sam has worked as a porter. Fresh sandwiches and cakes are made and the all important tea urn is switched on as soon as we arrive on the Friday morning, the tea urn is first off and last on the van, a tradition that has lasted since the beginning. Last Saturday the tea urn was loaded onto the van for the last time in Chiswick and a new beginning for the Angling Auctions has begun down in Romsey, Hampshire. Hopefully I will see you there?
Growing up in the seventies and eighties, the local woods was my playground, a place of freedom and discovery, a real living breathing Xbox, where armies were formed and disbanded, explorers lost and found, a place of endless possibilities. To get my band of brothers to the woods we had to negotiate ‘no mans lands’ – a hundred yard track that led up to the gates of Sunte House, a seventeenth century manor house and its custodian, Mr Gorer or ‘Old Man Gorer’ as us brothers of the woods called him. Unlike many manor houses, Sunte House was not austere, its large windows gave it an airy appearance, the slate roof tiles enhanced this, in bright sunlight they sparkled a silver-grey, echo’s of past garden parties resonated in the grounds , there seemed to be an air of happiness about this place in the not so distant past. At the start of the track was a cattle grid with a hand painted sign in black and white now flaking away, it read ‘Sunte House – Private – No through road.’ The cattle grid was ‘ours’ a place of safety, a look-out for Old Man Gorer, it was a game of cat and mouse that we played out for years. Old Man Gorer was an elderly man, always dressed in a three-quarter length beige mac, normally undone, he looked dishevelled and always aided by his scruffy collie dog. For years I feared he would collar me, in hindsight he was frail, he was quite elderly and never posed a threat .
As we grew so did our courage, one evening we decided to break into the gardens of Sunte House and explore, dressed like commando’s we entered on the west side through a gap in a barbed wire fence and found ourselves on a meandering path, a canopy of exotic shrubs grew up high and blocked out the sky, many of the plants were labelled, lead tags etched with their botanical names. The west side was dark and quite eerie, somewhat neglected, but still maintained a certain order, someone had curated this garden in the past, there was a sense of Victorian plant collector about this place. We were relatively well hidden on the west side but to gain access to the east side and the main garden we had to dash across the front drive across a manicured lawn in full view of the house and potentially Old Man Gorer. It was still daylight, there were no lights on in the house, we waited until dusk, then made our move. As the light dropped we edged out from the shrubs on our hands and knees and onto the lawn, quickly we sprinted across the open fifteen yards. Once into the cover of the main garden we found more labelled shrubs and another perimeter stone path. We followed the path around tentatively in case we encountered Old Man Gorer coming around the opposite way. As we crept along the light through the shrubs was changing, it was getting lighter and it was moving, it was unclear what I was seeing and then I could sense water, the garden was hiding a secret, a large pond. Pushing through the undergrowth I could see a rectangular pond with an island in the middle, lily pads everywhere, and moss covered stones and rhoddendrons lined the edge. It was still and quiet, the distinctive smell of water was present, huge Scotts Pines towered above creating a high canopy, it was reminiscent of a Japanese garden but with an English accent. Suddenly the wind started to pick up and sway the trees, a barking dog in the distance un-nerved us, could it be Old Man Gorer’s dog? We decided to retreated and return another day. For weeks the pond played on my mind, I sometimes questioned if the pond actually existed, it was so enchanting and I was so fanatical about catching carp from lost ponds, I thought I may have imagined it.
The rest of the summer was spent seeking out carp ponds within cycling reach of my house, scanning Ordnance Survey maps for little blue dots often nestled in patches of wood in the middle of open fields, these were forgotten hammer ponds. Once located I would jump on my bike and see if I could gain access, permission was rarely asked for, just some discreet commando style fishing. Hammer ponds are abundant in Sussex and often go back to a pre-Roman era. Sussex geology was rich in ironstone, the main material for iron production and water was essential to the cooling of the iron. During the Stewart and Tudor times iron production boomed and more hammer ponds were created by the damming of small streams and rivers. Often these ponds had a small population of carp, tench and roach not giant carp but a five-pounder was a real prize and I always hoped to discover a pond with wild, un touched Roman wildies.
My quest for hammer ponds took my mind away from the Sunte House pond for a while but soon I had to return, I would have to try to fish the pond, this was going to take all of my nerve. I decided to return to the garden alone, not with a rod but with some bread and see if there were any carp. Once again I arrived at dusk, I was about to step over the fence when a figure silently walked past literally only a few feet from my face, I froze and he continued on, it was Old Man Gorer inspecting his garden, probably enjoying the late evening air. I was convinced he saw me, the woods were dark but he decided to walk on, I was after all just by the public foot path, and he probably encountered the public there on many occasions, I imagined he had no interest in me, the public and knew nothing of my intentions. I returned home thankful that I had not gone into his garden a few minutes earlier and become trapped on the west side by the pond. After that rather uncomfortable close call I decided to have a break from the pond and concentrate on trying to catch a double figure carp elsewhere, I still had a few weeks left of the summer holidays, this was a target I set myself and had yet to achieve.
It was a couple of years later when one evening after messing about in the woods that I decided to return to the garden with a friend and see if we could locate any carp, it had been a hot summers day and if the pond contained carp then tonight would surely be the night to find them feeding? Our access to the garden was easier than ever as much of the perimeter fence had fallen down, the house looked neglected and the garden more overgrown than usual, we darted across the lawn as we had done before and into the west side. Making our way round the dark perimeter path I felt something was not right, the light was different and the smell? As we approached the pond I peered through the shrubs only to discover a flat lawn, no pond, no island, just green grass, it was as I feared, my imagination had run wild, it was a ghost pond. We left the garden dejected and I was somewhat embarrassed after dragging my friend into danger to see the pond that never was.
In 1985 Geoffrey Gorer died and the house was sold, every now and then the new owner could be seen driving past in his beige Mercedes, he looked fairly en-friendly, new fences and ‘Private – No through way’ signs were put up, it was clear the new owners didn’t want any funny business, once again I forgot about Old Man Gorer, Sunte House and the ghost pond.
Thirty years on it is 2016, I still think about that pond, did I imagine it, did I see Old Man Gorer that night, the more I contemplated it the more I doubt it’s presence. I decided that I was to make one final pilgrimage to the garden, my plan was to walk up on the Sunday morning after a family gathering on the Saturday night. Today access can only be made via the public footpath, the cattle grid entrance is now blocked. I set off on a cold wet morning, the mud underfoot was eight inches deep in places but for the sake of an hours nostalgia I was up for it, I soon came to the two open fields in front of the house, now fallow and quite overgrown with brambles, to my right was the ten foot high hedge that hid the garden. The hedges had been thinned to encourage new growth from the base and I could see a way through and into the inner fence. Pushing through the hedge I got to the old iron fence and could see the familiar stone perimeter path, beyond that I could clearly see the ghost pond, a Monet style wooden footbridge spanning over to the island, this time in the plain grey light of a bleak January morning I could confirm that the pond was a ghost no more.
While writing this piece I decided to do a online search for ‘Sunte House’ and ‘Gorer’ and was pleased to discover that Old Man Gorer or Geoffrey Gorer as he was known, was one of three brothers from a well to do jewish family from Hampstead, all educated at Westminster college, with Geoffrey and his younger brother Richard both going on to Kings College, Cambridge. Richard studied music and horticulture and moved in to horticulture professionallly soon after Geoffrey bought Sunte House in the 1950’s, the house must have been the spark to change his career. One day while walking in the grounds Richard noticed a spontaneous hybrid of the shrub Abutilon which is now a popular species that still exists today called ‘Suntensis.’ It is probably Richards influence that made the gardens more a botanical collection of some repute. Throughout his career Geoffrey had been a prolific author on the subject of anthropology, he had a passion for the arts and mixed in some rather interesting social circle including George Orwell and the poet Edith Sitwell. His body of work including 10,00 letters and manuscripts are now preserved in the Kings College archive.
Through the Lens has been a regular feature of words and images for Fallon’s Angler since issue 3 that I have had the privilege of producing. Below we have part of the piece I shot last summer for issue 4 in Ireland on the Blackwater. I have just returned from shooting Through the Lens for issue 5 which has been a real pleasure and what I feel to be of significant importance to the heritage of angling and one for the traditionalists. Issue 5 will be out in the middle of Jan but in the meantime here is my last entry from issue 4.
After my recent trip to the enchanting River Blackwater in Co Cork, I came across this film, written and directed by Richard Gorodecky which struck a chord and reminded me of my similar experiences, especially of those in ‘our’ fishing hut. Fishing huts are always heavy with atmosphere, the river a constant sound that permeates through the walls leaving the angler with a itch that there is more fishing to be done. For issue 4 of Fallon’s Angler I have captured the fishing hut in our regular ‘Through the Lens’ series, but until its publication watch this short trailer and take in the atmosphere…
This last July something happened to me that although was not significantly life altering has made a change to my angling for the next year, but I will come back to that a little later.
First I must tell you about a discovery on a stretch of river where a group of carp (about twenty or more) live below a weir exploiting the rich oxygen. In this fast moving area of water lie a concrete platform of around 20×20 feet where I have managed to create a dinner table for these resident carp, the size of which are heart stopping, the smaller fish are probably high teens while some easily reach into their twenties possible more. The access to this place can only be achieved when the water level drops below the overflow, this is when you can climb down a high wall and jump onto the base of the overflow structure, this is the style of carp fishing I like, solving problems and accessing carp that only the adventurous will attempt. When the water level is low the oxygen is also low and this drives the carp high up against the weir where they spend the days searching for food and breathing the oxygen rich water, this is a place that I am planning to cast a line.
During the closed season I had been observing these carp, many of which were clearly very big commons, possibly weighing thrirty pounds or more. Throughout the last few months I have been building their confidence, to be honest they were pretty keen from the start, getting their heads down on sweetcorn, maggots or bread. In preparation for the season I had a small Hardy trout bag packed and ready to go on any opportune moment with a bait box, bits of tackle, a tin of sweetcorn, and a folding net suitable for my new found task of bouldering down this wall and jumping onto the concrete overflow with my trusty old carp rod and reel in hand. Soon the sixteenth came and went, but I was just too busy to get down there.
Then in early July a pleasant distraction came in the form of an invite to fish the Blackwater in Co Cork for salmon. Salmon are the polar opposite from carp, they hit a bait in anger, and if hooked run off with haste in their ever transient cycle of life. If the salmon is reactionary then the carp is the cautious cousin, a ponderer, a creature to sum up all the possibilities before they act, exploring the same familiar territory for food, then once found carefully nose the bait sometimes leaving it for days before returning and finally taking the plunge and taking the bait.
Since the beginning of my angling life back in 1980, water has been a place of mystery, wonder, a place where I felt comfortable either with or without a rod. I could not pass any water without sparing a few minutes and consider its possibilities, whether it was a tiny brook or the sea. Now, and for the next few months I have to consider water to be a place of potential danger and take caution as I suffered an epileptic seizure. Thankfully this happened while in the relative safety of a hotel room in Co Cork and with a friend who managed to look over me, this was not a pleasant experience and I came out of it battered, bruised and with a shoulder that even a month on is in dire need of surgery. It could have been worse but I will have to be patient, my angling is now restricted to doing it with friends and using public transport as my driving license has been suspended, the carp of the weir will have to wait until next season.
The Tuesday Swim has been a little quiet for a while and for good reason, I have taken on the role as picture editor for the newly formed publication Fallon’s Angler. For those who haven’t come across this quarterly may I point you in the direction of the website www.fallonsangler.net.
My task along with the editor, Garret is to bring to the reader, original, interesting, and thoughtful writing and photography, a tall order? Well, certainly a challenge but as ‘Fangler’ grows in momentum more opportunities are coming our way to discover new and old writers who have an interesting tale or perspective to share. I have just heard that we may have an old angling legend to grace the pages of issue 4.
My assignment for issue 3 was to visit Jean Williams in Usk and her wonderful traditional tackle shop that is filled with atmosphere and local knowledge. My photo essay and interview in Sweets I hope captures this atmosphere, I think it does.
I believe the term ‘song of the paddle’ orginated from an american writer/artist called Bill Mason who wrote and produced a film of the same name in the post hippy era of the mid seventies, where he explores the ‘wilds’ with his family in two open canoes. In his film he states “the wilderness was only invented by the white men, for the native americans it was always know as home, now modern society has put a distance between man and his creator.” To take up the paddle or to cast a line must surely be part of the re-connection that drives anglers and canoeist to venture out? So while paddle and rod cross swords in this country over their fight for rights to our rivers, it must be both parties that should tread carefully as we have no rights, if we are lucky we have the opportunity to experience, and then we leave, the ‘wilderness’ should not be plundered, nor exploited and certainly not owned.
Click here to view.
A few years ago I bought a Canadian canoe, an ex-army friend borrowed it almost immediately and took it on some adventures, from source to sea along the Thames, and the following year the length of the Wye on the Welsh/English border. I was happy that the canoe was getting used but I was envious when his tales were re-told. One story that struck a chord was the night-time paddles (mainly to avoid the boat traffic during the day) on the Thames, to be afloat on the river at night and experience the very first light while drifting with the flow must have been magical, no other soul, just the song of the paddle.
I eventually reclaimed the canoe from a frozen shipyard one January morning out on an estuary in Essex, but to be honest it was nearing the end, damp had got to it, boards were delaminating. So this year I have started to build a new plywood Canadian canoe, twelve feet in length, that should carry two adults and some gear. In the summer I want set out and paddle the length of the River Lea from it’s source in Hertfordshire to Leamouth where it enters the Thames. Like Bill Mason I want this journey to be a connection and not just a recreation, exploring your place, your home and what comes around the corner is a journey that only ends, when it ends.
It’s easy to do when the current carp scene is so unappealing, all good things come to an end? Well not really they just get displaced and a little harder to find, just like special carp waters. When I started to get serious about fishing I got caught by the carp bug, this was just about the same time you could buy a shelf-life pack of boilies, and monkey climbers were all the rage. In truth my success was moderate but I did fish quite difficult waters, (commercial fisheries had yet to plague the country) and I did catch some good carp. Once I came within quarter of a pound of breaking the carp record set in 1952 for Haywards Heath and District Angling Society, if I had broken the record I would have kept it quiet, but that is another story.
Sadly carp fishing is now dismissed by many anglers because of the ugly commercial side, the ‘purists’ turn their noses up and instead talk of the benefits of catching roach, perch, chub and crucians which is all very good, but it is easy to over-look what is still one of the most powerful and magical fish in the British Isles, the common and mirror carp. Puffed up footballs bursting with halibut pellets is not what I am talking about, more the longer, leaner specimens that still swim in mill ponds, lost souls that lurk in canals and rivers or the occasional ‘wildie’ that can still be found all over England and Wales.
So why am I harping on about carping in the middle of winter? Well while I was defrosting from a pike trip the other day I was drawn to my old 1980’s copies of Carp Catcher magazine, to help aid the thawing process. Articles range from interviews with the old establishment such as ‘BB,’ to new ideas discussed like the hair rig from Kevin Maddocks. Carp Catcher always had a pioneering spirit that set a precedent in carp fishing but in a way it was also feeding the end of a magical time, the modern carp scene was gaining popularity and the mystery was being made more transparent and accessible to lazy fishermen.
Those who contributed to Carp Catcher went on to create some of the biggest tackle manufacturers today but equally many did it purely for the love in a manner that was personal and relatively discrete. The editorial content was honest with a real sense of problem solving and watercraft, rather than re-inventing the invented that is now all too apparent in todays angling publications. A more recent read that I have acquired is Carp Hunters a book produced by the Carp Society which has contributions from Julian Cundiff, Jim Gibbinson, Andy Little, Ritchie McDonald, Tim Paisley and Chris Yates, again this captures a real spirit of carp fishing from anglers who approached their fishing in an individual manner. It may be this individuality that made this era such fun to follow? Although many consider the Walker years to be the golden age of carp fishing, I love to read about this latter period simply because I remember it and feel in some way part of that wonderful time in fishing when I was as a teenager and dreamt of owning matching rods and Cardinal 55’s.
Reading these articles again has prematurely ignited a yearning to carp fish, normally this arrives in late spring when the waters warm and the carp appear for another season. So until the sun burns longer I will have to sit on my hands and wait and dream about a place where wildies reside not so far from London and some lonely spots on the Lea. When I eventually make it out with my carp rod there will be no bivvies in sight and it will be personal, I will use the simplest of tackle and possibly I shall write the odd post here on TTS but often not, sometimes just a snap on my phone and a memory. Carp fishing never really changes.