The True Price of Fish

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The Fishermen’s Mission’s ‘The True Price of Fish: Narratives of Life at Sea'  Oral History Project was inspired by a poem of the same title written by Liz Harman, Bard of Newlyn.  The project was coordinated by Rich Stever and published in 2019.  Interviews were conducted by Rich Stever and Derath Durkin.

The objective was to capture the voices and stories of retired representatives of the local Fishing and Seafaring community in Paul Parish with a focus on Newlyn.  Three copies of the books were published.  They were donated to the Newlyn Archives, Newlyn School and The Fishermen’s Mission in Newlyn.

Funding for the project was provided by The Fishermen’s Mission of Newlyn, the copyright holder.  The Mission has generously granted permission for Paul Parish to use the material for educational purposes.

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The True Price of Fish

(Written by Liz Harman at Tom Leaper’s Memorial to Fishermen in Newlyn)

HE STANDS THERE IN ROUGH WORKING CLOTHES,
YOUNG, STRONG.
ETERNALLY CASTING A LINE THAT WILL NEVER REACH
THE SHORE.
NO SAFE HARBOUR NOW-
JUST A GRAVE, AN OCEAN DEEP.
NO EARTH, ONLY SALT WATER ABOVE HIM.
SHE LAYS HER FLOWERS AT HIS FEET
AND WEEPS.
TOUCHING THE BRONZE,
SHE TRIES TO REMEMBER A
WARM, LIVING, MAN-SCENTED BODY-
THE SMELL OF OIL AND FISH, SWEAT AND SEA-AIR.
THE FEEL OF A STRONG-MUSCLED ARM ABOUT HER
WAIST,
A KISS.
SHE FAILS, THE BRONZE IS COLD AND UNYIELDING.
SHE PONDERS, AS SHE DRIES HER EYES,
IS THIS THE TRUE PRICE OF FISH?

Liz Harman reads "The True Price of Fish"
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Elizabeth Barbara Harman (Liz)

Elizabeth Barbara Nash (Liz Harman), was born in Newlyn, Cornwall on 13 June 1931. Her mother, Rene Nash, and her grandad, John (Jacko) James Matthews, were born in Newlyn. Her Father and Grandfather both worked at sea as Fishermen and on freighters. Liz married Jim Harman in 1950. 


She grew up listening to her mother telling stories. In 2007 the Cornish Gorseth honoured her with the Rosemergy Cup for her Cornish Dialect story and in 2008 she became a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth. Liz’s Bard name is NESHORSES HWEDLOW (Spinner of Tales).


Liz specializes in dialect verse and prose. Her work has appeared in Scryfa and the Western Morning News, and three collections – ‘Now ’Ark to Me’, ‘Now ’Ark Some More’ and ‘Now ’Ark To Aunt Sarah Anne’ – are published by Scryfa. Some of her stories can be heard on the Voices of Cornwall CD series. Voicesofcornwall.co.uk.  The Voices of Cornwall recordings can also be heard on iTunes.


Liz performed in amateur dramatics for decades in the St. Peter’s Players and has performed at the Minack Theatre. Liz spent years portraying the character Betsy Lanyon, Fishermen’s Wife, at Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance, for local Primary school visits.  She was honoured with the Southwest Winner Marsh Award by the British Museum in recognition of this volunteer work.  She also portrayed Bryallen, the Wise Woman from the Iron Age village of Chysauster at the Penlee Museum.  Liz was well known for her storytelling at the Tongue Pie events during the annual Golowan Festival in Penzance.


Liz Harman’s stories and poems do much to preserve Cornwall’s History and culture.  Most of her stories are based on true events and record Cornish history as surely as any history books.

As of 2020 she still resides in Newlyn and continues to share her stories with family and friends.

Liz Harman interviewed by Rich Stever
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Liz reads "the harvest festival"
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William “Billy” Stevenson,

Also known sometimes as “Fairy Liquid” as he apparently often used to “wring his hands” together when  talking to people!

Born in Newlyn in 1928, he became part of an already well-established family business with a bakery and shops in addition to fishing interests. One of 3 siblings, he attended Trewarveneth School, the Newlyn Board School, following which he went to Hayle Grammar School, where he felt banished from Newlyn – he hated it!

 

In 1943, during WW II, Billy left school at the age of 14 and joined the crew of a fishing boat, a hazardous occupation in heavily mined waters.  He stayed in the fishing industry until he retired, with a total of 77 years.

During the war Newlyn saw an influx of Belgian and French refugees, many bringing their boats. As the war ended, the Belgian trawlers left Newlyn and the local boats serving in the Navy slowly returned home.  Small naval boats were built during the war with eventual conversion to fishing in mind.

 

Gradually these boats were released and became available for purchase by tender.  It was then that W. Stevenson & Sons took the opportunity to increase the size of their fleet.  In this Billy was actively involved.

He married Enid in 1954 at Paul Church, and they had three girls – Elizabeth, Claire and Cathryn, and have 7 grandchildren. Billy said, “One of the ups of fishing – people will always eat fish. The downs, although Newlyn was one of the lucky ports to fish out of, we still lost some fishermen at sea.”

 

Billy has been an avid photographer and collector of maritime memorabilia. Many of his photographs along with autobiography can be found in his book 'Growing Up With Boats' (2001)

As of August 2020 Billy and Enid continue to live in Newlyn.

Billy Stevenson interviewed by Derath Durkin
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Kim, Ian and Cod fished together for many years.

 

“Cod”

Stephen Astley was born in Ilfracombe on the 20/1/59. He moved to Newlyn when he was 4 years old.  He could never be called a Cornishman even though he’s been in Cornwall for 56 years!  He’s still considered “Devonish”. 

 

Cod’s father worked for Land’s End Radio, (which was the reason they moved) a part of what was then British Telecom. Land’s End was a pretty big radio station. Cod grew up in Newlyn, a fishing village, and was mad keen on going fishing at a young age. He attended Newlyn School, then Heamoor School which is now Mounts Bay Academy. He left school at 16 to go fishing. He did a few bits of other things here and there but was mainly in fishing.

 

Cod and his partner, Jane, were engaged for 33 years before they decided to get married 2 years ago.  They have 1 son and 2 daughters, and 2 grandchildren.

 

3 years ago, Cod developed sepsis and lost both his legs and lost a few fingers before that, but he’s still fishing.

Ian Johns

Ian Johns (Johnsy) was born and bred in Newlyn, July 1955. Like Cod, he was schooled at Newlyn school and then Heamoor, now Mounts Bay Academy.

 

Ian’s dad was a Mousehole man – he used to go fishing with him. Once out of school, Ian went to St Austell to do an engineering apprenticeship with British China Clay. Once free of the apprenticeship, he came back home and went fishing and has done so ever since.

 

2 years ago, he had throat cancer, but, thank the Lord, he had radiation therapy and survived it all. He’s still here to tell the tale. Ian is married to Kim Johns.

 

Kim Johns

Kim was born in Devon in 1955, so, like Cod, came from the “wrong side of the bridge”.  Her father was a Lieutenant Commander in the navy and her step-father was a Squadron Leader in the RAF and was awarded the DFC.  Kim’s mum was a housewife who was very much into her golf, and, as young woman, had been a Tiller Girl.

 

Kim decided to go fishing at the age of 23.  It was very hard to get into as a woman  but she eventually made it! She did a few other things, including some salvaging.

 

Kim came out of fishing when she did her knee in and, courtesy of the Fishermen’s Mission, went up to Dreadnought and had the Queen’s surgeon which was ‘really cool and fantastic!’ They said that basically, although she was perfectly capable of doing the job, “women weren’t built the same way as men” and also said “If you carry on the other knee will give in too.” She came ashore and started to do nets and things.

 

Cod and Jane thought they had the record for the longest engagement, but Kim and Ian had been engaged for 38 years before they got married, 2 years ago. They have 2 daughters, 5 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild. Cod did his first walk on his “new legs” at their wedding breakfast.

Cod, Ian and Kim interviewed by Derath Durkin
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Mick Mahon

Born in Southampton in 1948, Mick began fishing in 1965 in Grimsby, during a “gap year.”  He initially wanted to become a teacher or an architect. This gap-year of fishing lasted 44 years.  He spent the first four years fishing on deep-water trawlers, working Iceland, Norway, Russia and Greenland, three-week trips with three days in harbour.

After 4 years of deep-water fishing Mick went to the North Sea, Anchor seining (Danish seining) for 8 years, working 18 to 20 hours a day in the summer with trips up to three weeks.  Next, he moved to Cornwall to do trawling, scalloping and beaming, working for the Stevenson family out of Newlyn Harbour as both a crew and skipper. After 5 years of working for the Stevenson’s he bought his own boat, the first of three, Jo-Al, Betty- g and J. Anne.

In 1988 Mick fished for cod off Cornwall which ran in such abundance that he reached a year’s quota in days. He became angry because he would have to dump 2-3 tons of cod due to quota restrictions.  He saw the quota as a complete failure in the conservation of fish stocks.

 

Mick was also a political activist supporting Canada in 1995 after they arrested a Spanish trawler in their waters.  The British government supported Spain.  This didn’t sit right with Mick, so he cooperated with a Canadian newspaper to put in an appeal for Canadian flags.  Soon articles were published and Canadian flags were flying on 99% of British fishing vessels, showing support for the Canadians. He also stood as a UKIP candidate in a general election and in local elections.

 

Mick enjoyed most of his 44 years in fishing.  He saw it as a good way to work independently and get paid in direct proportion to how hard he worked. In later years he grew disillusioned with EU regulations and quota restrictions.

In 2018 Mick moved back to Grimsby to enjoy a quiet retirement.

Mick Mahon interviewed by Rich Stever
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Kevin Bennetts

Kevin was born in Redruth, Cornwall in 1949. Like many of his generation growing up in what would today be termed poverty, there was always food on the table and plenty of hand me down clothes.  This was the way things were. It was the best his parents could offer.  Love made up any shortfall in material things and it fostered a burning ambition to better himself and ease their lot.


Kevin was lucky enough to attend good schools where often strict but innately kind teachers instilled the right values.  He'll always remember his very fierce Welsh headmaster addressing his final assembly on the day they left and wishing them success and happiness in their lives which he then went on to define as 'being where you want to be doing what you want to do at whatever level you choose'. Those words have never left him. They had a major influence on his chosen path, which has never been straightforward. 

"My fishing career was rewarding both financially and spiritually but my late 30's move into the oil business was not planned as such, it just seemed to happen and set the stage for the rest of my working life and recent retirement.


 I am a great believer in fate and am convinced that fate has played a major role in my life pushing and shoving me in the right direction at the right time, I am sure that you reap what you sow and karma will bite you hard if you get things wrong.  People always talk about the dangers of fishing and the cost in lives; yes there are very real dangers which must always be factored in. I have far too many close friends who figure in the 100 odd names of those lost in Cornish waters over the last 70 odd years but I always counter that no one made us become fishermen; most of us chose to do what we did because we wanted to being fully aware of the risks and the potential rewards if we got it right. 


The greatest enemies are greed and ego, we must all make a living but when we have enough how much more is too much? I can attest on more than one occasion that 'pride really does goeth before a fall' when the only answer is to arise chastened by the experience and start all over again bearing in mind that Einstein defined lunacy as 'doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result each time', making mistakes builds experience, not all experiences are happy, so having survived, not making the same mistake repeatedly is important given that there are plenty of new ones for the unwary to discover.

Kevin Bennetts interviewed by Rich Stever
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Joseph "Mad Joe" Andrews

Joseph Andrews, otherwise known as Mad Joe, spent almost 36 years fishing out of Newlyn.  He was born in 1951 in Penzance, lived in Heamoor for his first five years and finally moved to Newlyn where he has spent most of his life.  Joseph was an only child. His parents died at a rather young age so he was very self-reliant and also depended upon friendly neighbours and the generosity of a tightly knit fishing community. As a child he remembers going down to the harbour with his dad and looking at the fishing boats.  At the age of 15 Mad Joe left school and started his fishing career. 


There were not as many regulations back in those days as there are now, he recalls. Mad Joe says fishing is not as hard today as it used to be.  He lost the tip of a finger in a winch accident. There is more technology and more comforts aboard boats.  Also, these days you need to make large amounts of money before crews can make anything. The weather could have a strong impact on your livelihood.  If you miss 2 or 3 trips there is no money coming in

After fishing for mackerel in small boats for a few years and getting his skipper’s license in 1994 he joined the Stevenson & Sons in 1996 and spent the rest of his career with the firm, retiring in 2002.  He has been involved in a wide variety of fishing techniques including long-lining, netting, and crabbing.


He fondly remembers the boats he worked on and owned a few including: The Excellent; The Shelia, Bonny Mary; Mary Glenn; Golden Hope; and the Joanna Claire.   One of Mad Joe’s favourite aspects of fishing was the comradeship and rivalries.  He misses the yarns about characters, boats, fish and weather.

Mad Joe continues to reside in Newlyn and is now driving lorries for a living.

Mad Joe interviewed by Rich Stever
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Martin Ellis

Martin Ellis, otherwise known as Nutty Noah, was born in Cornwall in 1954.  Both sides of his family have been in the Cadgwith area on the eastern side of the Lizard in Britain’s most southerly county of Cornwall for five generations.

He started fishing at about 19 or 20 years old after a year and a half in "Dales Garage" in Penryn, that he did not enjoy very much. Martin was persuaded to try fishing by Peter Jane of Cadgwith. He started fishing from Cadgwith cove in a small punt with 30 or 40 pots and then did hand line mackereling in the winter from Falmouth or Newlyn.  He caught shrimp and lobster off Cadgwith as well.

Martin was a fishing innovator.  He managed to improve his catch rate over the years by introducing the double netted bottom with a skirt around the bottom of the mouths and worked shark hooks on the dans when the tide had cut away. Over the years he experimented with a Ring Net made of Mono-filaments, 100 fathoms long and 10 fathoms deep.  Martin shared his innovations with other fishermen who still use his techniques to this day. He owned and operated several small fishing boats in his career.

 

Martin retired from fishing around 2005 and runs a taxi service, 'Cadgwith Cove Cab', called the 'ARK'. He has also created a series of paintings of Cadgwith and his past.  These can be seen on his website  www.nuttynoah.co.uk.  He has also written some songs and put them on YouTube, "The Cornish Fisherman’s song', "Pilchards now Sardines" and "The Treasure of Treasure Island"

Martin Ellis interviewed by Rich Stever
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Robert McLeod

Robert was born in Hammersmith, London, on the 10th February 1946.

When he left school at the age of 15, he then served a 7-year apprenticeship in London as a Printing Plate Maker working for WH Smith and Sons and printing the Radio Times and The Listener.  Following this, he was selected to attend courses at 

Oxford University and Cranfield College and subsequently worked as a Work Study Officer within the company.

 

Robert married Jean at St. Just Methodist Chapel in 1970.  After spending a year in London, they relocated to St. Just and Robert continued his work as a Work Study Officer and became Head of the Coat Making section with Moorland Sheepskin Tannery at Pool.

 

From 1971 to date Robert has made his life in Cornwall where he and Jean raised their 3 children and now have 7 grandchildren.  In 1975 Robert joined Trinity House becoming coxswain of the Stella and Winston Churchill.  He worked for The Trinity House Corporation for over 20 years. He was part of a crew that helped with the operational maintenance of regional lighthouses and transported lighthouse keepers every month. Rob and his crew also maintained coastal beacon lightships and buoys and helped to keep the sea lanes free of debris. With the advent of changeovers being done by helicopter he then continued his employment doing Lighthouse maintenance until he left the service due to ill health.

 

However, Robert wanted to remain actively employed and spent 2 years working at the Fishermen’s Mission in Newlyn where his time at sea was put to good use communicating with the working men of the fishing fleet.

 

An opportunity arose for him to use his wood working skills doing Church repairs including hoisting 20'-foot-long girders over the top of St. Uny Church Tower to replace the existing beams, all done with block and tackle and no other hoists in sight! At this time, he was able to design a funicular lift for the use of the builder working on the Minack Theatre.

 

Robert also worked for British Telecom updating the wiring at the tops of poles, spent a year as a technical assistant at Cape Cornwall School and two years caretaking at St. Ives Comprehensive.

 

Robert and Jean currently live in Conner Downs, Cornwall.  He has had a lifelong interest in C20 History, sailing, Rope work, splicing and wire splicing.

Rob McLeod interviewed by Rich Stever
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