IRONBRIDGE ANGLING SOCIETY

History of The Ironbridge Angling Society.

The Ironbridge & Disrict Severn Angling & Protection Society,to give it its full title,was founded by a small group of Gentlemen Anglers & local business people at The Talbot Inn,(now The Malthouse),in year 1885.

Then,as now,the fortunes & activities of the organisation were inexorably linked not only to the River Severn itself,but also to the changes in business structures & population movements in & around the Ironbridge Gorge.

Strong & colourful personalities drift in & out of the Clubs history,& the very good connections it had with members of the local nobility often stand it in good stead as times change & the World moves on.

It is,overall,a story of the passion & magic which the River Severn has brought to the lives of successive generations of both visitors,& those fortunate enough to be born & bred along its banks over many decades.

Tracing the origins of Angling within the Gorge,one has to consider the social structure of the times in question.These days,Angling draws devotees from all walks of life,& along the River bank,or around a commercial fishery,its virtually impossible to determine a person's background or social standing.Everyone is a Brother or Sister of the angle.

But back in the 18th & 19th Centuries,things were very different.Wealthy & powerful landowners controlled whole tracts of the countryside,including many Rivers & Stillwaters,& the fishing often belonged exclusively to them.Angling was predominantly a male sport,& the quarry of the Gentlemen fishers were usually only Salmon,Trout,Sea-Trout & the occassional Grayling.

Rough,or,as we know them,Coarse fish,were treated with disdain,& often,especially in the case of Pike & Perch,would be summerarily killed if caught.

For ordinary folk living along the River bank,fishing,whilst always an enjoyable pastime,was often also a convenient way of putting a different meal on the table.A fresh-caught Eel,Perch or Pike,could be turned into a very tasty dish back at home in the kitchen,even if the enterprising Angler ran the risk of a fine from the local Magistrate for poaching his Lordships waters!

Here in the Ironbridge Gorge though,the local landed gentry,whilst still controlling much of the River bank,appear to have been extremely generous & supportive of local Anglers,& it was from within this atmosphere of encouragement & tolerance that the Ironbridge Angling Society was born.

It is worth considering for a moment the extent of some of the local landowners estates back in the times of the Industrial Revolution.For example,on the 2nd of January,1782,Richard Reynolds,the Father of William Reynolds,& his wife Rebecca,were in possession of:"1 Manor House,20 Messuages,100 Cottages,4 Furnaces,4 Forges,15 Limekilnes,200 Acres of land,40 Acres of meadow,20 Acres of pasture,300 Acres of wood,50 Acres of heath,20 Acres of land covered with water,Courts leet & baron,Minerals,Fishing,& Free warren etc in Madley,Coalbrookdale & Badger".

On 25th March 1848,a copy of a conveyance between Joseph Reynolds Esq,Lord of the Manor of Madley,& Francis & Richard Darby,conveys:"Several pieces of land,but reserving the rights of Free warren,Liberty of Hunting,Fishing,Hawking,Fowling & Mines of Coal & Ironstone etc",for the Vendor.

Of course,within the actual Ironbridge Gorge area itself,the Darby family & their descendants were extremely powerful.They were also,it must be said,very understanding & supportive of the local community,including the Anglers.

On 9th March 1866,Edward Edwards of Coalbrookdale,who was leasing the Upper Furnace Pool in Coalbrookdale,itself a part of the extensive Darby estate,reserved:"His rights to fish in his portion of the said pool when sub-leasing a part of it to Henry Whitmore,Henry Dickinson & Francis Tothill".

By the later 1800's,the heyday of the Industrial Revolution was over.Ironbridge & Coalbrookdale had grown at a phenomenal pace over the previous 150 years,but now the Forges,furnaces & Factories which abounded in the area were battling for orders against similar enterprises all over the industrialised World.The area still had a comparatively high population of industrial workers,& all of the Businesses,Tradespeople,& Retailers which were needed to support this infrastructure,but it was beginning to go into decline.

And so it was that the small group of Gentleman Anglers,Tradespeople & Businessmen,led by Mr William Waghorn & Mr Theobald Jordan,gathered in their own club-house room at the Talbot Inn,on the Wharfage,beside the River Severn in Ironbridge,In May of 1885,to form the Ironbridge & District Severn Angling & Protection Society.They quickly devised their own logo for the new Society,adopting the Latin inscription:"Carpe Diem" as their motto,which can be translated as:"Seize The Day".

Things got off to a great start,&,although the new club had only 16 paid-up members during its first three years,things soon began to improve,& by the Annual supper,held at the Golden Ball in Madley Wood on 3rd December 1890,membership was up to 61.

By this time,Mr T.F.Kinnersley,J.P,who owned extensive lands at nearby Leighton,was the Society's President.He had kindly granted the club exclusive rights to his fishings on the River Severn,between Buildwas & Cressage.They were also privileged in having the necessary permissions to fish the waters of Lord Barnard's estate at Uppington & Cound,Captain Levett's stretch at Buildwas Park,& Captain Moseley's waters at Buildwas Abbey.Obviously,even at this relatively early stage in the club's development,they had managed to foster excellent relationships with the local nobility.

Prior to 1888,club members had endevoured to fish on one day each week,& prizes for the largest fish caught & the greatest overall aggregate weight of fish captured during the season were awarded annually.

In an ammendment to the club's rules voted on at a meeting in the Talbot on 21st March 1888,it was decided to change things.from now on there would be four "Fishing Excursions" each season,two taking place on Saturdays,& two taking place on Wednesdays.Parties of Anglers would head for Buildwas,Cressage or Cound in a Brake pulled along by four Horses.The parties would leave the club-house on the Wharfage at 8am sharp,& be returned to the Inn by 9pm.Fishing was from 9am to 7pm,with an hour given for weighing fish,except Pike,which were weighed back at the club-house.A special annual prize was awarded for the largest Pike caught,& also for the heaviest aggregate weight of Pike captured in a season.

Trout & Grayling appear to have been rather more plentiful in the Gorge in those days,& special prizes were awarded for these too.Prizes were quite generous,& usually of an alcoholic nature,although the annual Pike prizes were always awarded in cash,5 Shillings for 1st place down to 1 Shilling for 5th.The fishing trips were paid for out of club funds,& annual membership was 2 Shillings & 6 Pence.New members had to be proposed & seconded by existing members,& meetings at the Talbot took place on a Monthly basis throughout the season.

The members of the Society were not only keen on fishing,they were also,it seems,great socializers too.On 13th July 1901,members attended a garden party hosted by Mr & Mrs E.M.Webster.Mr Webster was,at this time,the current President of the Society,& lived at "Hillcote",Benthall.As the evening passed,:"Tradespeople,the Angling Society,& the Teachers & Scholars of the National Schools,enjoyed themselves immensely,&,as Mr M.Amphletts string band played,social distinction was,for once,forgotten,& all went merry".

On 14th May 1902,they were out partying again,this time the occasion was a "Smoking Evening",which was being held,"in the large room of the Rodney Hotel",to commemerate,"The President of the Society,Mr E.M.Webster.Esq,leaving Iron-Bridge".The evening was divided into two halves,& several members took a turn at entertaining their friends with,"Songs,Glee,Pianoforte Solo's & Recitations".The Chairman of the Society,Mr D.Sinclair Esq,opened the proceedings with the Royal Toast,after which all those present,joined with him in singing the National Anthem.

Things went on from strength to strength over the next few years.At one of the monthly meetings held in the club-room at the Talbot Inn on 6th February 1905,the members heard that the Society's Auditors,W.Nicholas & J.W.Shingler,were happy to find correct the club's accounts for the year ended 31st December 1904,which showed a very healthy balance in hand of 12 Pounds,8 Shillings & 2 Pence.The meeting also heard that Captain H.R.Moseley,of Buildwas Abbey,a relative of Oswald Moseley,who would soon gain notoriety as the leader of the British Fascist Party & Future Father of Formula one's Max Moseley,had accepted the club's offer to become the new President of the Society.

The World was a turbulent place in the early years of the 20th Century,but,as conflicts loomed on the horizon,things seem to have remained quite calm & relaxed in the Ironbridge Gorge.Club membership remained very much at the same level right up to,& including,the years of the First World War.Possibly this was as a consequence of the social position & status of many of its members,equally,the majority of them would probably have been classed as too old for active military service.

In any event,things in the Society carried on much as they always had done.On 19th August,1916,as the British forces on the Western Front were gaining ground on the Somme,& German attacks on Verdun were successfully being repulsed,members of the Ironbridge Angling Society were fishing a competition on the River Severn in front of their club-house on the Wharfage.Nine Anglers fished that day,& the total weight of the fish caught was 37lb 1oz.The match was won by Mr R.Tomlins,with 6lb 9oz. 2nd position,& a place for all time in the history of the Society,went to Mr Thomas Duckett,who,in amongst his total weight of 6lb 3oz,caught an amazing 3lb 3oz Bream/Roach hybrid!! This incredible fish was immortalized forever as a stuffed specimen in a fine glass case.Apparently now answering to the name of "Shannon",& with its captors details inscribed below it,Mr Duckett's catch can be viewed today in the fish & chip shop at the Blists Hill Museum,Madley!!

As the decades rolled by,members of the Society came & went.Mr James Toddington,landlord of the Talbot Inn & sometime Treasurer of the club,retired from his active duties,& Mr Holland Ernest Rowley became the pub's new proprietor & Society Treasurer in his turn.In due course,Thomas Duckett,who was living then at 16,The Woodlands,Ironbridge,became Secretary of the Society.In 1929,Ironbridge & District Angling Society won the Shropshire angling Championship & medals,& became affiliated to both the Shropshire Anglers Federation,& the Birmingham Anglers Association.

Family names,forever linked with successful angling in the Ironbridge Gorge,begin to become interwoven into the fabric of Society life throughout these times.Father's,Son's,Brother's,Nephew's & Cousin's,the great names are all here:,Walter Machin,John Norry,Bill Kelly,George Bradshaw,Bill Waltho,Roy Johnson,George Oliver,Bert Wilcox,generations of Duckett's & Heighway's & Onion's,Maw's & Beddoes & Higginson's.All top notch anglers on the River in their day,& all these names faithfully preserved in the records of the club.

At this time,not only did Society members fish & socialize together,but many of them now worked together as well.In the preamble to a lease granted to the Society on 12th June 1935,by Mrs Frances Muriel Cope-Darby,for her waters in what is now Dale Park,Secretary of the Society,Thomas Duckett,states that,"75% of our members are employee's of the local ironworks".

Mr Duckett further mentions that,"The waters are over-run with Birmingham Anglers,not giving our local anglers a chance".

Mrs Cope-Darby's waters ran from what is now the Museum of the Gorge,to upstream of the Albert-Edward railway bridge in Coalbrookdale.Beyond this boudary upstream,the waters belonged to Major Hugh Milnes,of Marnwood,& he too was extremely supportive of the Society & granted them a lease of his fishings.

Even with their own waters on the door-step,members still enjoyed a day out on the River bank further afield too.Gone were the four Horses & the Brake,now Anglers would board the train at the Station in Ironbridge,& travel upstream or downstream on the picturesque Severn valley line for their day's sport.Sometimes,if a large party intended fishing a competition on a particular stretch of the River,for example on waters they leased at Great Berwick Farm,upstream of Shrewsbury,they would hire a Motor Bus,which would collect them from the Talbot,& return them there after the day's fishing,just as had been the case in the past.

To assist the Bus-driver in finding his passengers,on 4th August 1938,Mr Rowley paid 5 Shillings & 6 Pence for the painting & lettering of a sign for the Angling club,which was then affixed to the wall outside his Inn.

As the World decended into a Second dreadful War,Angling Society life in the Gorge was continuing much as it had always done.Many of the local industrially based businesses were converted to Britain's war-work effort,& there were lots of new faces to be seen in Coalbrookdale & Ironbridge.Among the products manufactured in the area were wing sections for the new Lancaster heavy bomber,which were assembled in hastily erected buildings at the lower end of the Coalbrookdale works site.Also,several engineering company's were re-located into the Gorge,having been bombed out of their previous premises.On 9th November 1940,at 11.45am,the Luftwaffe attempted to destroy the Society's harmonious existence,by dropping three 500lb bombs on the Talbot.Fortunately,they missed,the bombs landing on the other side of the River,in Benthall Edge.Perhaps Mr Rowley's sign hadn't been such a good idea after all!

Following the War,& the passing away of Mrs Cope-Darby,the executors of her estate began to sell off much of the deceased's real estate,including,in April 1953,the Severn Foundry,with the fishing rights.This particular piece of property was purchased by the "Merrythought" company,who still continue to manufacture Teddy Bears on the site to this day.

As it entered the second half of the 20th Century,the Society was still very fortunate in having an extremely dedicated & very competent group of people as its committee.Roy Johnson,George Oliver,Walter Machin & his Son,Dennis,John & Billy Norry,& Philip Albert Wilcox,who was always known as "Bert" by his friends & fellow Anglers.It was this group of people,along with others equally dedicated,who were to keep the club healthy & successful for the next 40 years.Many had been with the Society since they first became Anglers,& most remained with it for the rest of their lives.

Along the Riverbank,the expansion of public participation in the sport of Angling,coupled with the fragmentation of the large local estates,saw a huge increase in the number of clubs competing for leases on ever-decreasing lengths of the River Severn within the Ironbridge Gorge.

The Ironbridge Angling Society were very fortunate in having held several leases for some time,but,gradually,some stretches changed tenants,&,eventually,all the waters upstream of the old Buildwas Power Station Bridge were lost to other clubs.

Downstream of the Ironbridge,there were some small additions to the Society's fishings.On 27th September 1973,Mr J Chaplin,a Factor & Wholesaler of Sports Goods,Fishing Tackle,& Hand Tools,who,at that time,owned several houses along Severnside,just downstream of the famous Rogers family Coracle workshop,agreed to lease his fishing rights on the Riverbank in front of number's 18,19,& 20,to the Society.

During the 1970's,Angling was often billed as the largest participative sport in the United Kingdom.It seemed as if everyone,everywhere,was going fishing.Tackle had improved,& there were more shops stocking it,books about fishing were on every young child's Christmas wish-list,& fishing clubs were springing up in every village,town,& large place of work all over the Country.In Ironbridge,with one of the most beautiful & prolific stretches of the River Severn in their backyard,the committee of the Angling Society knew they had to increase membership to keep the club solvent enough to pay for its waters,as increased demand led to ever-rising rents.

One initiative taken was to form a Junior Angling Section.Juniors fished alongside adult members in the Society's competitions for overall honours,but they also now fished against each other in competition for the Ironbridge Angling Society Junior Challenge Trophy,which was awarded to the most successful Junior Angler,at the annual prize-giving dinner held at the end of each Season.

This Trophy was first awarded in 1974,to Jeremy Thomas,a local Angler,introduced to the sport by Bert Wilcox,who remains an active member of the Society to this day.

The increased Angling activity along the banks of the River Severn,prompted,in July of 1978,The Telford New Town Development Corporation,who had been given responsibility by the Government,for regenerating the whole area of the former East Shropshire Coalfield,including the Ironbridge Gorge,to consider the provision of an "Angling Lodge" on the Wharfage,at Ironbridge.

In their document aimed at canvassing support for the project,the Development Corporation cited:"Upwards of 1200 Anglers are to be found on the banks of the River Severn,between Shrewsbury & Bridgnorth,on an average weekend day during the Summer months".They further proposed that:"The Lodge would be catering for 20 Anglers on a self-catering basis,with parking for 12 Vehicles".

The increasing number of Anglers on the Riverbank seems to have had a beneficial impact on the fish in the River themselves,as,throughout the later 1970's,match catch weights continued to increase,& so did the size of the fish that were being caught.In 1980,the G.Upton Rose Bowl Trophy,which was awarded annually by the Society for the best specimen fish weighed in during the Season,went to Mr G.E.Bates,with a Barbel of 10lb 8oz!.

It was a regular occurrence during these times to have a turnout of 30-35 Anglers at a Society match.On 15th July 1979,30 Anglers fished the 3rd Contest of the Season at Leighton.The match was won by a Pensioner,Mr T.Biddulph,with a weight of 32lb,9oz,0dr.There were some dry nets,but over half the field caught fish,& the species recorded as being captured range from Barbel & Chub,to Roach,Dace,& Perch.

By now,the Society had been in existence for close on 100 years.It had survived two World Wars,the Great Depression,several changes of Landlord's,& even an outbreak of Foot & Mouth,but the 1980's were to bring it some of its toughest years.

The sale,by the executors of the Cope-Darby Estates,at an auction in Kidderminster on 9th May 1984,of the middle sections of its waters,on the edge of the Regatta,& Strethill fields,in Dale Park,to Mr D.T.King of Wolverhampton,& the Tuckers Fastener Company of Birmingham,focused attention in the club on its vulnerability to the new,emerging forces in Angling.

The Ironbridge Angling Society had always been a club of the River.Angling in the 1980's was changing.New,"Commercial fisheries",as they became known,were beginning to appear,which,unlike the naturally created fisheries on the River,were being stocked to the brim with fish just waiting for Anglers to catch them.Tackle & tactics were also changing.New baits,coupled with Roach Pole fishing techniques & finer terminal tackle,were beginning to account for huge catches in competitions on these new Commercials.Fish stocks,bred purely to be caught by Anglers in stillwaters relatively un-affected by the weather,which had always played a major part in success or failure on the River,were easier to catch.The Commercials provided almost guaranteed sport at an affordable price,& fishing the River became increasingly considered as hard work.

The Society tried to fight back.Still retaining the Marnwood waters belonging to Major Hugh Milnes,but badly in arrears with their rent,the Society elected him as President.Major Milnes extended all the help he possibly could,as did Mr Holmes,the proprietor of the "Merrythought" factory,& the Riverbank upstream of the Museum Of The Gorge,& downstream of the Dale Park,but the situation was becoming increasingly difficult.

Brave attempts were made at improving the appeal & rewards of a membership with the club.New trophies for both Junior,& Senior sections of the Society,were generously donated by several people,including Mr Walter Boden,Bristows Sports,Taylors Tackle,Mrs Margaret Biddle,(Who donated a special Trophy for the under 13 years old Anglers),& Mr Lawton.E.Hall,an Electrical Contractor,of Chasetown,near Walsall,who was made a life member of the Society for his donation,contributed to an overall improvement in membership.So too did a new Monthly newsletter,& an offer of financial assistance from the Telford Angling Society.

Generosity continued to be extended towards the club.In 1985,The Shropshire Anglers Federation,with whom The Ironbridge Angling Society had been affiliated since 19th April 1938,granted the club a year's free affiliation,to try & help it ease its financial difficulties.Cash donations from long-standing supporters,such as Cyril & Rod Biddulph,& Alan Bowles,also helped keep it afloat,but,in its 100th year of existence,it was quite apparent that things were becoming increasingly difficult for the Society.

The following year,1986,was a particularly sad one for angling in Shropshire in general,& for the Ironbridge Angling Society in particular,as it marked the passing-away of two of its most loyal & devoted members,Honorary Secretary,Burt Wilcox,& long-time club bailiff,Jack "Bosky" Higginson.

Paradoxically,against this background of instability & sadness,the efforts of the club to right itself financially had begun to work.At a meeting held at The Meadow Inn,Coalbrookdale,on 20th August 1985,Senior membership was recorded as being 101,Juniors as 35,Life Members were a surprising 24,& there were also recorded the details of 7 Committee members.

Sadly,the improvement in the Society's circumstances was short lived,& by The Annual General Meeting,held at The Coalbrookdale British Legion Club,on the evening of 29th October 1987,Senior membership was reported as being down to 46,with 3 O.A.P.or half-price renewals,& 26 Lifetime members.

Things were now in terminal decline,&,although there was some sporadic activity in 1988 & 1989,the final accounts for this period in the Society's history,reveal that it ceased to function after 5th September 1990.

Almost 19 years later,at 8pm on Thursday 30th July 2009,following an initiative by Jeremy Thomas,(A former member of the old club),aimed at re-forming the Ancient Society,a group of interested parties met at The Tontine Hotel,Ironbridge,& a new chapter in the life of The Ironbridge Angling Society was begun.The World of Angling has changed immensely since those distant days during the Summer of 1885,today the Society faces new challenges,both along the banks of the River Severn,& within the community of the Ironbridge Gorge itself,but one thing will always remain the same.There's nothing quite like the feelings of joy & anticipation,when it's known that a day will soon be spent,solely in the pursuit of happiness,&,hopefully,a Monster Barbel!!

CARPE-DIEM!!

The Ironbridge Angling Society Wishes To Gratefully Thank The Following For Their Kind Assistance In the Researching of This Material:

Mr Dennis Machin.
Mr Malcolm Kelly.
Mr Paul France.
The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Archives.
The Ironbridge Gorge Community Archive.
Blists Hill Victorian Town Museum.
Shropshire County Archives.
The Shropshire Star Newspaper.

The historical records of the Ironbridge Angling Society are available to anyone wishing to study them, by appointment, at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Archive. For further information please telephone: (01952) 432 141

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