«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
Maritime economies in Britain and the South-West at the turn of the twentieth century To understand the transitions thus outlined, wider changes in the Cornish and British maritime economies must first be explained. This subject has been thoroughly treated in Starkey’s (1998) study of changes in the South West maritime economy between 1870 and 1914. He identifies six industries which made up the core of Britain’s maritime economy in this period, all sea-reliant, located on the coast and inter-related to one another: (1) maritime defence, (2) coastal leisure, (3) fishing, (4) port operations, (5) shipping, and (6) shipbuilding. All six industries expanded in absolute terms in Britain during this period. It was the moment in which a global economy arose, integrated through sea transport with Britain providing its
central hub. By the end of this period:
Possessing over 41% of the of the world’s steam shipping stock, launching over 60 percent of the world’s tonnage, carrying 52 percent of the world’s trade, catching more fish than any other nation, deploying the largest naval fleet on the oceans, and relishing the delights of more seaside resorts than any other nation, Britons were preeminent in most matters maritime (Starkey, ibid: 10).
However this expansion of maritime activity and commerce, like all processes of industrialisation, was regionally variable and in Cornwall and Devon a ‘pattern of limited growth and marked decline was clearly evident’ (p.11). By 1870 maritime interests in the South West were ‘broad and well-defined’, with longstanding and dynamic economies in all the above sectors and with coastal leisure just beginning to take off. In fact maritime activity grew in prominence in the South West in this period, employment rising in this sector by 50% as the population engaged in mining and quarrying almost halved and agricultural employment also decreased significantly. However Starkey finds that this growth in maritime employment was skewed in two ways: firstly, growth was focused on navy-related and coastal leisure occupations, with the fishing and sea-transport sectors experiencing degrees of relative and absolute decline; secondly, there was a spatial concentration of maritime activities across the board which also entailed a degree of occupational and technical specialisation. Devonport for example became the focus for navy defence, Plymouth for shipping and Brixham, Newlyn and Plymouth for fishing. There was a widespread development of tourism and recreational sailing, in some instances replacing or co-existing with traditional maritime industries (as at Penzance, Falmouth and Dartford) attracted by the ‘instant theatre of the fisherman, seafarer or stevedore at work’ (p.22). There was also some concentration of tourism in the larger Victorian seaside resorts (Torquay, Paignton, and Exmouth).
Why was the Cornish maritime economy so marked by deindustrialisation in this period in comparison to the maritime economy in England and Wales as a whole?
Simply put, Starkey’s answer is that there were fundamental structural issues that gave the Southwest a predilection towards small sailing vessels and restricted the growth of competitive and modernised ports, trade and shipbuilding. The region’s geography exerted strong but ambivalent influences. The most significant constraints 27 in the changing industrial context were: firstly, the lack of raw In the early industrial period by contrast, Starkey observes that the coastal environment had a number of features in its favour such as the proximity of the Western Approaches, the number of sheltered deepwater harbours for ship building and port functions, and ongoing opportunities for materials such as coal, or iron ore to, a) stimulate capital investment, b) supply a steamship industry, and c) export as major sea-borne commodities; and secondly, the configuration of the coastline which prevented large vessels navigating its river estuaries and many small harbours. Instead a cycle of ‘Anglocentric development’
led to significant concentrations of industry:
...sea-borne trade, increasingly focused on the major industrial ports of London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull and the coal ports of South Wales and north-east England.
Likewise, shipping gravitated towards the major ports, while shipbuilding migrated to the Clyde, the North East and other northern districts from the 1860s (p.29).
Fishing also became more concentrated in the ports of Hull, Grimsby, Yarmouth and Aberdeen, which had better access to the distant Arctic fishing grounds, capital investment, and railway links to the growing proletarian urban markets 28. Of course the same geographic features that constrained the South-West’s development in some sectors were assets for the growing interest in and market for the coast as a site of leisure, and its developing peripheral condition gave it an ambience of the untouched and undeveloped rural idyll.
The arrival of the railway: West Cornwall fishing communities in the nineteenth century Let us now turn to the specific manifestations of these broad changes within the fisheries of west Cornwall and particularly the port of Newlyn, firstly returning to the developing pattern of fishing after the Napoleonic War.
At the end of the war in 1815, many seamen were discharged from the navy and were keen to enjoy the freedom and independence of share fishing. They joined those fishermen who had been given special dispensation from the predations of the pressgang (Pawlyn 2000). Drift-fishing and the lugger building industry had been steadily growing and were boosted further by these new recruits. Drifting was done at night, up to 10 miles out to sea, using nets a mile long. The most important fishery naval activities. Additionally the region’s mineral resources and china clay had provided cargos that stimulated earlier sea-trade.
These newly emerging capitalist fisheries were not short of capital or labour. Railway companies were large investors in the northern and east coast fisheries, and a pool of labour was easily found, in many cases involuntary, indentured labour, such as young boys from workhouses and orphanages (Robinson 1996).
for the Mount’s Bay boats was no longer pilchards, but the Western spring mackerel fishery, particularly in the bay itself and also around the Isles of Scilly. Fishing ranges had been restricted during the Napoleonic wars, but by the 1820s, every June and July some Mount’s Bay boats took part in the mackerel fishery in the Irish Sea and off the Isle of Man 29. By the 1840s many boats were continuing to the North Sea herring fishery in late summer and early autumn, using the Forth and Clyde Canal to reach the East coast.
Luggers were generally built in one of two sizes (or ‘classes’). Larger (1st class) boats of up to 55ft were used as mackerel drifters or ‘drivers’, ‘so called as the boats were driven by the effect of the tides on their nets’ 30. Smaller (2nd class) boats were pilchard drivers. Originally open crafts, by the 1830s most had forward half decks (towards the bow) and by the 1840s, nearly all were fully decked. The transition to decked boats gave shelter and accommodation for the crews to fish throughout the year and in difficult conditions, important as the Cornish boats extended their range.
On their annual circumnavigation, crews of up to seven could be at sea for months at a time, only coming in to land their catches to the nearest market. They returned to Cornwall around October in time for the home winter pilchard and mackerel fisheries. Mackerel drifters far outweighed pilchard drifters in Mount’s Bay (the latter being more common at St Ives) but the ability to switch between the mackerel and pilchard fisheries was one of the of the great drivers of expansion in west Cornwall fisheries (Pawlyn 2000). The other broader and long-term dynamic underpinning the success of Westcountry fisheries between the 1500s and about 1880 was that between ‘near’ or ‘home’ voyages and ‘long’ or ‘far’ voyages to the distant fishing grounds (Gray 2000).
The extension of the railway system into Cornwall was a great catalyst for change in Cornwall, and had huge and ambiguous consequences for the region’s fisheries. In 1859, Isambard Brunel’s project to bridge the River Tamar was completed, breaching the great river that had for millennia provided a physical and symbolic boundary between Cornwall and England (Fig.19). In addition, with only limited Pawlyn (2009) has documented evidence for the growing participation of Cornish boats in the Irish fisheries through customs records. Due to anti-smuggling law Masters and boat-owners had to obtain a license from the admiralty in order to extend their range.
http://www.cornishmaritimetrust.org/#/the-barnabas/4537219866 (accessed 29 July 2012) road systems of poor quality and a danger from bandits, travel and transport between Cornwall and England had for a long time been largely sea-borne. The railway transformed the opportunities for Cornwall’s farmers and many turned their skills and small field systems to market gardening. It likewise brought new opportunities for fishers. Being a fish quick to rot, mackerel was always consumed fresh and up until this time had therefore been limited to markets for local consumption. The railway enabled fishers and merchants to participate in growing markets up-country such as Billingsgate in London. This was a further boost to the expanding drift fishery and boat-building likewise boomed in the 1860s and 1870s, with about 400 mackerel drifters landing 50 tonnes of mackerel a day in Mount’s Bay in 1875 (Halliday 2000). However, as is always the case with the great harbingers of modernity the Great Western Railway (GWR) brought mixed blessings.
Until the advent of the railway, Cornwall’s fisheries and other industries more generally had to some degree been isolated from the rest of the country. As I showed in the first half of this chapter, the markets that drove expansion in fisheries were local and Continental/ Mediterranean. The infrastructure and technologies of Cornish shipbuilding and fishing were more than able to compete in the era of sail, and the fishing boats of Mount’s bay were admired as the finest fleet in the world even as late as the International Fisheries Exhibition of 1881. With the railway the Cornish fisheries became for the first time integrated into a national market and the playing field shifted considerably. The western mackerel fishery began to suffer from outside competition.
Since the late eighteenth century, there had been well established trawl fisheries pursued by Devon sailing smacks, stationed at Brixham in particular. These had been gradually depleting local fishing grounds and moving further afield (Pawlyn 2000).
Trawlermen and trawl technical expertise migrated to the East Coast, driving the development of industrial trawl fleets at ports like Grimsby and Hull. The GWR also gave Devon trawlers growing mobility in the southwest, enabling them to land to Newlyn and Plymouth and thus take part in the western spring mackerel fishery (with benefits for merchants of those ports). Steam-trawlers and steam-drifters joined them, from the East Coast and the continent, Belgium and Holland, able to fish three miles of net to the luggers’ one.
With an expanding presence of both local and migrant boats in Mount’s Bay, demand grew for a new protective pier at Newlyn, especially after the loss of the fishing boat Jane with all hands in a storm, within sight of the harbour. In the 1880s and early 1890s the South and North Piers were finally built bringing much needed modernisation to a harbour where the large fleet had been so far inadequately provisioned for by the single medieval pier. Glyn Richards also emphasised the historic significance of the new harbour road that was completed in 1908 and known as the Strand. It connected the settlements of Newlyn Town and Street an Nowan where before there had been only a beach between the two on which the boats lay and which provided access across only at low tide. A Penlee exhibition poster (Fig.21) features Walter Langley’s Between the Tides (1901). It was painted shortly before the start of the road construction, and when compared with a recent photograph of the same site (Fig.20), illustrates how the road contributed to a quite radical transformation of the place. The beach had been very much an informal working space, where nets were hung to dry and sails pitched with tar, and where fish was sold (Figs. 22-25).
In addition, ‘Newlyn’ as a distinct and integrated locality was fast beginning to take shape. The financial and philanthropic muscle behind these developments was provided for particularly by the Bolitho family. Newlyn’s residents continued to identify with the particular sub-settlements even with some antipathy to the others (Lomax and Hogg 2009). Glyn Richards explained that Street an Nowan tended to be where the more ‘affluent’ residents lived – merchants, mariners, boat-owners, tradespeople, whilst the poorest residents – the unemployed and fishermen and their families who did not own boats, or perhaps just owned the one boat, tended to live in Street an Nowan. The distinction between the communities was also marked by religion; the 'Newlyn Towner’s' attending the Primitive Methodist Church and Street an Nowan folk favouring St Peter’s Anglican Church (Fig.26).
However from the 1880s onwards, with the presence of the artists now known as the Newlyn Art School, the encounter began to shape a collective self-regard – as did events like the riot of 1896. This was the year in which one May morning Newlyn fishermen threw 100,000 tonnes of mackerel into the sea from the Lowestoft and Yarmouth boats. Running battles erupted, with men from Newlyn, St Ives, and Porthleven fighting those of Yarmouth, Lowestoft and their neighbours from Penzance. The Home Secretary sent 330 soldiers from the Royal Berkshire Regiment and three gunboats to restore order. The official cause given for the riots afterwards was the Cornish fishers’ antipathy to the east coasters landing on a Sabbath.
However it was this fact this led to a glutting of the Monday markets, as well as the general increase in competition for the stocks, that really provoked the Newlyn men’s anger.
This is the volatile background then to the formative era of the Newlyn Art Colony, but evidence of such conflicts was not to be found in the works produced.