«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
I am concerned therefore to consider some of the concrete implications of heritage in terms of contributing to the sustainability (economic, social, environmental) of fishing communities. Although there seems to be wide consensus about the necessity of working towards sustainability in fisheries there is also a healthy element of scepticism amongst scientists, ranging from cautiousness (Pauly et al. 2002) to doubt and criticism of some of the assumptions of the discourse (Longhurst 2006). This usually rests on consideration of the un-sustainability of fisheries in the long, historical view and the complexity of understanding and regulating ecosystems and human impact. ‘Restoration ecology’ advocates have called for ‘reconstructing the past to salvage the future’ (Pitcher 2001: 601) referring to building datasets of past, ‘pristine’ conditions to inform present-day management models. However this should not be misinterpreted as a prescription for anything as simple as ‘going back’ to pre-industrial technologies or social formations. As Longhurst (ibid) and Thurston, Brockington and Roberts (2010) argue, serious depletion of stocks in the North East Atlantic and North Sea had already occurred before the transition to steam and diesel powered boats. My argument for the relevance of fisheries heritage for sustainability (in the broad, multi-faceted sense of the latter term) rests on three
1) Need for alternative livelihoods and diversification in the wake of fleet reduction, declining incomes, rising costs and restricted access (Symes and Phillipson 2009; Urquhart, Acott, and Zhao In press.).
2) Potential contribution to promoting and strengthening the links between ‘the catch and the locality’ (Reed et al. In press.).
3) Role as a source of ‘critical nostalgia’ (Clifford 1986) – allegorical as well as practical instruction in local and regional resourcefulness (MacDonald 2002).
One of the connections I make between heritage and livelihood is through thinking about heritage as a vehicle for the transmission of knowledge (both in the sense of historical knowledge and practical skills). Heritage can have a range of tangible effects (and affects) with potential for connection as well disconnection, and for making rupture and/or inequality both visible and invisible. I shall proceed by way of outlining my perspective on meanings of heritage and some of the issues around heritage with particular reference to maritime and fisheries contexts, before presenting an account of a range of fishing heritage(s) in Cornwall, focusing in on the reconstruction of the sailing fishing boat Ripple.
Cultural loss and salvage: heritage meanings andpractices
On the subject of heritage and sustainability in the coastal zone of South West England, Howard and Pindar (2003) articulate two concerns: 1) to outline a perspective on ‘fields of heritage’ and to question the validity of any rigid distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ heritage; and 2) to consider the implications of ‘modes of cultural heritage consumption’ (p.57). Whilst not spelling out the way they define ‘heritage’, it is clear from their discussion that heritage involves a concern, intention or practice to conserve, whether the object is a building, species, language, or skill. As I elaborated in the introduction, my own approach to heritage as a concept is to maintain a distinction between ‘heritage’ and a more generic notion of ‘culture’ because otherwise we lose sight of the fact that heritage entails a selective and explicit attention to particular manifestations of culture that are deemed worthy, or in need, of preservation and maintenance. Following Harvey I advocated a non-essentialist and relational view of heritage as ‘a process, or a verb, related to human action and agency, and an instrument of cultural power… a contemporary product shaped from history’ (Harvey 2001: 327).
Howard and Pindar (op.cite) identify six fields of heritage: landscapes (including seascapes), monuments, sites, artefacts, activities and ways of life and finally, people. Some landscapes, places or practices associated with heritage might incorporate multiple fields. One of their examples, the South West Coast Path (a National Trail) incorporates a mixture of protected and unprotected, natural and cultural features such as cliffs, coves and fishing villages. These may include sites of remembrance, including tragedies such as the loss of the Penlee lifeboat in 1981 when it when to the aid of a stricken ship The Union Star (see Chapter Four). The old Penlee lifeboat house near Newlyn is now a monument for the crew lost in that incident (mostly fishermen from the village of Mousehole) and their families. An active fishing village is also the base for the production of a range of artefacts linked to activities and ways of life.
As Howard and Pindar observe ‘the heritage of the coastal zone includes the entire culture of how to use it... Heritage is not only the material lobster pot, but also the ability to make one’ (ibid: 61). They also cite the examples of individuals or societies that preserve authentic old ships in order to sail them, and the recent revival of racing pilot gigs. The Cornishman and master-craftsman Ralph Bird (Fig. 102) who made 29 of the 141 registered gigs in use today, described the pilot-gig as formerly being the ‘white van’ of maritime Cornwall – an all-purpose work-horse used to ferry pilots out to ships as well as involved in salvage and rescue operations 76. There are a growing number of racing clubs mainly based in active and former fishing communities, and as Howard and Pindar put it, the sport is ‘one example of a determination to conserve the activity as well as the artefact. It is more interested with rowing than carpentry’ (loc.cite 61). The popularity and esteem with which Bird was held was evident at his funeral which was attended by almost a thousand mourners, many of them gig-rowers wearing their gig-colours.
His coffin, draped in the Cornish flag of St Piran, was towed to the cathedral aboard the gig William Peters, which he built for Roseland in 1987, and gig rowers formed a guard of honour on the cathedral steps with raised oars as the coffin was carried in77.
Laurier (1998) has studied formal and informal projects of ship replication and restoration, highlighting the meanings and skills involved for participants and audiences engaged in projects that involve craft production. Laurier’s sense of the term ‘craft’ recalls a ‘pre-Fordist’ era of connection between maker and product that lies counter to a wider trend of capitalist alienation (Greenhalgh 1997). However ‘craft’ is also relevant here in Sennett’s sense of the term (2009) as technique or expertise that calls upon both manual dexterity and intellect, the problem-solving abilities of ‘hand’ and ‘head’ combined. Laurier notes the significant amount of historical research that both expert and amateur boat-builders undertake – a dynamic process involving embodied knowledge, a makeshift approach to old and new, and trial and error. The informal boat restorers in particular work like genealogists contacting families to trace the biographies of previous owners or sailors and investigating archives. However Laurier concludes that ‘the ‘vital part of restoration is the reacquisition of skills and this forms a final embodied link to the past’ (p.47) underlining the importance in this context of an informal, ‘learning by doing’ approach. Similarly Easthope (2001) also distinguishes ‘kinaesthetic’ from Obituaries, The Times (November 14 2009: p.115) Ibid.
‘intellectual’ engagements with maritime heritage. Ingold’s project of exploring how skilled practice constitutes both human subjects and environments can be extended to looking at heritage practices.
Crang argues (1994: 151) that ‘each [heritage] practice has as its effect a different space for the past’. Many of the conflicts and tensions surrounding heritage production relate to how practices (such as replicating or restoring a boat) are incorporated into the redevelopment of space (such as waterfronts). Steinberg observes that an image of the ocean as a nostalgic space finds contemporary salience in the ‘postmodern urban waterfront’ (1999: 41), examples being the festival market places, high income housing and maritime museums of Boston, Baltimore, Bristol, Cape Town, Lisbon and Sydney. ‘Here, the sea is referenced as a crucial source for folk culture and past economic glory, but the role of the ocean in contemporary political economy is reduced to that of a provider of images to be consumed’ (p.407).
Steinberg quotes Sckula (1995: 12) ‘The old harbour front, its links to a common culture shattered by unemployment, is now reclaimed for a bourgeois reverie on the mercantilist past’.
Observing the recent movement towards ‘vernacular’ modes of heritage, a fascination with the mundane and growth in ‘interactive’ and local heritage museums, Day and Lunn (2003: 296) consider whether ‘nostalgia is indicative of a more participatory and multilayered sense of the past?’ Or if, ‘what generally passes for nostalgia-driven heritage is in fact a version of a past which is romanticized and distanced from the everyday experiences of most people’ (ibid) – the sights, sounds, smells and dangers? A cautionary tale is told by Atkinson, Cooke and Spooner (2002). In the place-marketing and redevelopment of the city of Hull, a former distant-water fishing port, efforts have been made to ‘exorcise’ fishing (including the stink of fish) from the ‘civic image’. Illustrating the inherent selectivity of heritage, the city’s maritime heritage is referenced in terms of the romanticized, historic age of sail. Meanwhile there has been contestation about the redevelopment of the dock that challenges any simplistic counter-narrative about working class community. The dock includes a site where an annual memorial event is held to the 8000 trawlermen lost at sea, showing how the built environment acts as a repository of collective place-memory. However Atkinson et al point out that not all of Hull’s fishing community would want the trawler-owners’ building to be preserved – a reminder that ‘collective’ memories may also be formed and informed by contexts of inequality. In a comparative study of small museums in North Carolina mill towns and the ‘Time and Tide’ project in Great Yarmouth, Wedgwood (2009) has asked whether working classes can also gain from preservation. She noted that ‘Yarmouth people wanted to turn an empty fish-factory into a museum, while retaining the fishy smell, and a fire-damaged wall’ (2008), suggesting the importance of personal memory in this context. The tension in these examples seems to be one between heritage that presents a homogenized and sanitized version of the past, and one that acknowledges a heterogeneity of local experiences and interests (including inequality) and which enables a more ‘critical presentation of the past’ and its ‘links with, or contingency on the present’ (Walsh 1992, cited by Day and Lunn ibid: 297).
Rural and industrial heritage may be a source of belonging and identity long after the labour which it draws on has ceased. The inhabitants of Ferryden in Scotland highly prize their identities as ‘fisherfolk’ despite the fact that the place no longer has an active fishing industry. Nadel-Klein (2003) situates their role in the invention and perpetuation of idealized aspects of the fishing past as a response to the ongoing marginalization of rural places within a capitalist political economy. In the process there has been a move from ‘fishers’ material status as primary producers of food to their symbolic status as objects of the “tourist gaze”’ (8). Resentment and resistance towards the prospect of becoming the latter is however keenly expressed by fishers who remain active in the industry. This brings me back to the second of Howard and Pindar’s concerns about the implications of modes of cultural heritage consumption.
Cottages and sail-lofts in Cornish fishing villages have in a sense been ‘preserved’ by conversion to holiday lets, second homes and artists’ studios (ibid). In some sites multiple use functions have evolved. At St Ives the ‘Smart Regeneration Appeal’ (Fig.101) has sought to raise funds towards the renovation costs of Porthmeor Studios and Cellars, a place where artists and fishermen have shared working space for over a hundred years. It intends to preserve both the fabric and usage of the building and provide an exhibition space to celebrate its fishing and arts heritage and convert one of the cellars into a working museum. However the consequence of a market in desirable locations is that many locals are priced out of property ownership. The author of one travel article who visited Salcombe in Devon seemed either unaware or uninterested in the area’s maritime heritage, other than the most superficial aspects, and more impressed by the ‘breathtaking prime real estate...
which has turned this formerly sleepy fishing village into the Knightsbridge of Devon’ 78. There seems to be a real spectrum of tourist consumption from this example to more informed and sensitive perceptions of visitors keenly interested in signs of a working fishing industry as found by Urquhart and Acott (In press).
The most distinctive and important characteristic of the coast may be, as Walton has argued (2010), that it is an ‘informal space’ – one that is deeply evocative for personal as well as collective memory, whether as a source for recollection of childhood seaside holidays or one connected to making a livelihood from the sea.