Opening day in the Colne Fishery, about 1930. The fishery Company smack CLAUDE leads four others past the Company motor paddle dredger PYEFLEET (II) with Company officials, the Mayor of Colchester and his retinue of clerks and councillors looking on in the tradional 'gin and gingerbread' celebration opening another dredging season. Colchester would see nothing but the Company returns and the annual Oyster Feast, held in the Town Hall and attended by local dignateries and 'imported' celebrities.
The smacks make their characteristic silhouette with bulky, loose footed gaff mainsails and jibs and frothing bow waves cutting the tideway. At the right, others are dredging hove-to, with the tack of the mainsail triced up and the foresail backed over to maintain the desired speed for towing the dredges, further adjustment being made by length of warp to suit depth of water, angle of smack to tide, moving the position of the warps at the rail and working the sheets. This was a subtle task carried on with the constant casting and hauling of dredges, sorting their contents and sailing the smack amongst may others at close quarters aind in the confines of the river and oyster grounds.
Fishing for oysters in the Colne has passed through many phases and ownerships over the centuries since the Romans came to esteem the local oysters during their occupation of Britain. Eventually, control of the extensive oyster grounds fell to Colchester Corportion and they administered it jointly with a body of 'freemen of the river' until the diminished fishery collapsed in the severe winter of 1962. Its heyday was during the late 19th century when scores of smacks dredged the grounds each winter, employing several hundred men.
After its collapse the fishery was taken over by a private company and is now dredged by two power craft; one is a steel hulled catamaran, towing dredges from a gantry --- a strange contrast to the fifty or so sailing smacks working it before the war or the earlier day when an observer at East Mersea counted 130 smacks in sight at once, dredging oysters on the Colne and Blackwater grounds. [JL]
Plate.123 in SWW.
Used in The Sailor's Coast, page 44.
PYEFLEET II CK23 built Rowhedge Ironworks 1930, Official No. 161499. [Ships Built on River Colne CD 2009]