Map of the River Lune, 1859
Though the Lune river is only a mile from Tatham parish, this article came about through a different connection between the two. Stephen Stackhouse, a friend of Tatham History Society, discovered a large book of maps that had formerly belonged to his grandfather, William Hodgson. William spent part of his life working for the Midland Railway, first as a level crossing keeper at Clintsfield in Tatham, and later as a ganger, maintaining a length of track stretching roughly from Wennington station to the county boundary. William eventually left the railway and became a bailiff on the River Wenning, covering the stretch of river adjacent to the railway he had previously maintained. William and his wife Mary lived for many years in Wennington, where they are pictured below outside their cottage. Click to enlarge.
The map doesn't include any detail for the Lune tributaries, so it isn't clear why it came into William's possession. However, we are very pleased that he cared for it enough to pass it down to his descendants, and grateful to Stephen for entrusting it to the care of the society.
The book measures 27 x 20 inches, and consists of eight 22 x 16 inch maps at the scale of six inches to a mile, covering the River Lune between the Carlisle railway bridge in Lancaster and Borrow Bridge, two miles south of Tebay, a distance of 36 miles, as the river flows. It is clearly a map about fish and fishing rights, as it records riparian landownership in great detail, as well as the names given to every stretch of the river.
Why was it made?
CLICK NUMBERS TO VIEW MAP SHEETS
The Salmon Crisis
In the eighteenth century, salmon had been an everyday staple food, affordable by all classes, and there are many contemporary reports of rivers teeming with the fish. Its widespread availability and use during the reign of George III even led to demands from the apprentices of Lancaster that they be served it no more than twice a week.
However, by the middle of the nineteenth century the salmon was both relatively scarce and expensive. The price of the fish to the urban consumer increased almost twenty-fold between 1820 and 1850. Not all rivers were equally affected. On the Hampshire Avon, for example, the overall catch fell from 1,160 salmon in 1816 to 68 in 1860. On the Lune, the value of salmon caught at the Skerton fishery dropped from £1000 in 1832 to only £300 in 1859.
Salmon are migratory, and migration is essential to the survival of the species. They breed in river headwaters, from where young fish migrate after two years to spend between one and three years at sea, where they grow quickly. On reaching maturity, the adults return to their native rivers, mostly in late summer and autumn, to spawn during the winter. Anything that blocks or hinders migration can affect salmon numbers in individual rivers.
Like all fish, salmon depend on good water quality. During the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of the early nineteenth century, many rivers were used indiscriminately to dispose of industrial and domestic waste and pollutants. Silt from mining operations was particularly destructive, augmented in the case of lead mines by the release of toxic salts. The chemicals used in textile, tanning, paper and print industries were also damaging to river life.
At the same time, there was a massive growth in the numbers of man-made physical obstructions: dams to create reservoirs, weirs to divert water to factories, and locks to permit inland navigation.
Indiscriminate and often illegal forms of commercial fishing added to these problems. There was an increase in the efficiency and number of permanent stake-nets in coastal waters and estuaries; these nets had been used for centuries, and were large fixed structures of timber and mesh, into which the salmon swam and became trapped. Their growth in numbers in the early nineteenth century was stimulated by an increased demand from the growing population. Many were operated contrary to fishing laws, for example by working almost year-round, or by preventing enough adult fish reaching their spawning grounds.
Inland fishing practices were often little better. Many permanent fishing weirs and coops worked without adequate periods of cessation; legal restrictions on fishing seasons might be ignored or misunderstood. Immature salmon were killed in large numbers both by netting and by fishermen with rod and line. Even the adult salmon which reached their spawning areas in the upland headwaters still faced danger from local populations long accustomed to winter salmon poaching.
In 1838, the Lancaster Gazette published a letter from "An Angler", who voiced his concern over the decline of salmon numbers in the Lune, and described some of the causes. Along a mile of the mouth of the river was an array of stake-nets so numerous that AA wondered "how any fish is enabled to pass them". The Lancaster Quay Commissioners had cleared the nets "frequently", but they were soon replaced. He suggested that steam-boats heading for the port of Lancaster might damage the fish, and pointed to the increasing amounts of "filth" being poured into the river from the growing city. The next obstacles were Skerton and Halton weirs - especially the second - whose locks he suggested should be opened one full day a week during migration to allow easier passage; he castigated a Halton fishery proprietor for having in the past (illegally) kept the lock shut throughout the close season, to force the fish to spawn in his part of the river. Finally he referred to poaching, which he believed to be the "chief reason" for the decline, and described the illegal practices used by poachers. He referred to an existing "association for the better protection of the [salmon] in the Lune" and encouraged it to greater exertions against poachers.1
It's clear from this that the multi-factorial roots of the problem were widely understood at this time, and there were several unsuccessful parliamentary attempts to persuade successive governments to take action to remedy the situation. They were thwarted by the conflicting interests of powerful members of parliament, many of them owners of inland fisheries, but who also had financial stakes in water-dependent industries, or benefited from estuarine fishing rights.
That conflict is illustrated by an 1852 letter to The Times, reprinted in the Lancaster Gazette, from Thomas Garnett, a mill-owner of Clitheroe. He damns a parliamentary Bill, then being considered, which would "go far to destroy the value of all mills and factories [and] would be utterly worthless for the protection and increase of the [salmon]." He lays the blame for the salmon's plight at the feet of the owners of upland fisheries, for not doing enough to prevent overfishing, both legal and illegal.2
Legislation for the Lune?
In early January 1859, the Lancaster Gazette reported on a public meeting of the Lune Fisheries Society, chaired by W. Garnett, M.P., held to consider petitioning parliament for an "act for the better preservation of the fish in that river". At the meeting, £100 was pledged by Pudsey Dawson of Hornby Castle towards the cost of obtaining such an act.3
During the following month, all riparian landowners were approached for support, both in principle and cash, and most promised both. At the end of January, the Lancaster Gazette attended the next public meeting, and reported that all canvassed had "expressed the opinion that [an act] was highly desirable".4 The canvasser for the upper Lune was Richard Davids, surveyor for the March 1859 map, though unfortunately none of the very detailed newspaper reports refers directly to the map, which had presumably been commissioned during a private meeting, and we do not know the identities of the cartographer or printer.
At a further well-attended public meeting in late February, the enthusiasm for a parliamentary bill was generally undiminished, though tempered by lengthy discussions about the costs, and how they would be met.5 After that, the Society disappears from the pages of the all-seeing Lancaster Gazette, and we are left to speculate why.
The salmon decline was a national phenomenon, and similar concerns amongst fishery owners countrywide had prompted a succession of proposals for better regulation at national level, including an unsuccessful 1859 bill presented by two Lancashire MPs for the better regulation of tidal fishing in England. Possibly the Lune Fisheries Society felt that the parliamentary mood was changing in favour of effective legislation, and that they should "wait and see" before spending large sums of supporters' money promoting an act for the Lune.
However, it was not until 1861 that Palmerston's Liberal government appointed a Royal Commission to seek remedies for the salmon problem, which it viewed as being of importance for the nation, and for its ability to feed itself.
The Commission's central recommendations included the prohibition of all fixed nets, new restrictions on net sizes and the introduction of fish passes on all inland weirs and dams. The commissioners also called for the suppression of effluents and industrial pollution and the introduction of new nationally uniform weekly and annual close times for fishing. Steps to prevent the sale and possession of salmon during the winter close time were also suggested. Other recommendations sought to deal with the problem of poaching. The commissioners called for the prohibition of both the use and the possession of those instruments and baits connected in some way to poaching. These included spears, gaffs, snatches, torches and salmon roe. Furthermore, it was recommended that the killing of young fish and the disturbance of spawning salmon be made an offence.
Most of these recommendations appeared in the Salmon and Trout Fisheries Bill presented to parliament later that year, but by the time the Bill was passed it had been watered down to satisfy the objections of powerful, mainly Conservative parliamentary opponents.
Many of the consequent shortcomings of the 1861 Act must have become clear over the next few years, presumably through an absence of any significant improvement in salmon numbers.
In 1865 a new Salmon Bill was introduced, including some of the provisions lost in 1861, most of which survived their second parliamentary mauling. However, the most notable aspect of the 1865 Act was the establishment of local boards of conservators throughout England and Wales. Each conservancy board was to have responsibility for a fishery district, usually a single river or watershed. Within these districts, boards were to enjoy jurisdiction over both public and private waters and could impose and administer license duties. Almost all of the licence revenue was to go toward the employment of water bailiffs, who were granted wide ranging powers of arrest and inspection over both public and private property.
The 1861 and 1865 Acts of Parliament marked a significant change of official attitudes towards the natural environment, from the traditional laissez faire to a recognition that government intervention was needed. It hardly needs saying that the Acts were insufficient, in the face of the pollution and development arising from Britain's massive industrial and population growth, to result in the hoped-for nationwide salmon recovery, and despite further legislation, the fish remained a luxury food item until the invention of salmon farming in the 1960s.
Today, the wild British salmon faces new enemies. In our rivers, industrial pollution has declined, but agricultural pollution has increased; waste plastic is mistakenly or unwittingly ingested both in rivers and at sea, where salmon also suffer from ocean heating and acidification, illegal trawling practices, and ironically from the concentrations of toxic chemicals and parasites associated with salmon-farm sea-cages.
However, this article set out merely to investigate the origin of a beautiful and fascinating map. The establishment in 1865 of statutory water bailiffs has brought us back to William Hodgson, the inspiration for this article, and is an appropriate point at which to leave the story of the Lune salmon.
I am grateful to Professor Harvey Osborne, University of Suffolk, for allowing me to plagiarise and paraphrase sections of his Ph.D. thesis, and to Mike Winstanley for unearthing a wealth of fishy newspaper cuttings, leaving me with the pleasant task of mixing the ingredients and cooking up the story.
Osborne, Harvey. The Preservation and Poaching of Salmon in Victorian England; Fresh Perspectives on Nineteenth-Century Poaching Crime. Ph.D thesis 2000.
1 Lancaster Gazette, 31 March 1838