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Commenting on Casey’s argument that to ‘know a region is also to be able to remember it’ (2002: 76) – Matsuda says this mnemonic sense of place ‘defies mere “representation” because it is not about symbolism, but about finding presence in shifting temporal registers of a lived past’ (2004: 262). As visitors and diverse local inhabitants and workers attempt to ‘find presence’ in relation to past and contemporary rural life-ways, there is potential for both connection and disconnection (to nature, work, things made, other people). In any case tourism need not be the only target of coastal heritage and Howard and Pindar seriously question the economic viability and environmental sustainability of basing coastal economies around tourism. Rather, ‘if tourism can never be sustainable, then conserving heritage to serve the local population in very different ways might be’ (ibid: 67). The implications of different modes of heritage production may then be as important as modes of consumption. With this thought in mind, I turn now to consider a heritage initiative at Newlyn, the reconstruction of the lugger Ripple – an example which illustrates and enriches our understanding of these issues and which also prompts consideration of a range of other ‘fields’ of fishing heritage in Cornwall.
To remind the reader of the context in which Ripple came about and in which the fieldwork in general was conducted, the Superintendent of the Fishermen’s Mission at Newlyn, Keith Dickson, expressed concern about the loss of experienced fishermen and lack of recruitment owing to rising costs, restricted access and ‘Devon Sent’ (Evening Standard Magazine, Standard.co.uk/Lifestyle) declining incomes. He pointed to the problems this created in an area of long-term economic deprivation including housing issues, where property prices were out of reach of local incomes and he highlighted the situation at Mousehole where he believed as many as eighty percent of properties were holiday lets. Unlike most other fishing villages in Cornwall Newlyn only has a marginal tourist industry drawing in a small number of visitors from the much larger number that visit more ‘picturesque’ Mousehole which now harbours only a tiny active fishing fleet for part of the year. It was not uncommon for people I spoke to in Newlyn to draw a contrast with Mousehole with a mixture of pride and also anxiety about the prospect of Newlyn sharing the same future.
Against this background of concern about loss of skills and loss of jobs, I encountered Ripple – a heritage initiative that was attempting to revive old skills and create new jobs. The sight of Ripple moored in the harbour drew my curiosity, incongruous alongside the other boats but also somehow fitting in the wider land/sea-scape. It begged the question whether this heritage project could have something to say and to contribute to the problems in the fishing industry or whether they were operating in two different social and economic domains – separate and even antagonistic.
Following Cornwall’s designation as an Objective One area for the 2000-2007 EU funding programme a Fisheries Task Force was set up consisting of fisheries regulators, port managers, fish merchants and processors, agents and fishermen’s representatives to plan and implement how the money potentially available for fisheries was to be spent. A sub-group, the Newlyn Fishing Industry Forum (NFIF), was given the task of studying the potential for regeneration in the port through a) developing fisheries infrastructure and b) identifying and capitalizing on ‘opportunities that can be gained by combining aspects of tourism, leisure and fishing industries and to encourage all sectors of the fishing industry to be more accessible to the public’ (One n.d.). Proposals were not only informed by top-down policy directives. In public discourse surrounding regeneration in Newlyn, in online blogs and in my interviews, there was talk of the need for change and modernization and of addressing patterns of stagnation and narrow development. One of the members of the NFIF was the Methodist minister for Newlyn. Although recognizing the complex and longstanding ties between Newlyn and the firm that own the majority of the beam-trawl fleet, he questioned the public benefit of the harbour having ‘all its resources tied up in boats that were unable to go to sea’ (referring to the impact of the fuel cost and recruitment issues). A harbour is about more than those who go to sea he added. ‘You cannot separate a harbour from the people that live around it’. Like Keith he pointed to the example of Mousehole and asking rhetorically, ‘How do you stop a community from dying?’ John Lambourn (Figs. 109, 100) was also a member of the NFIF and envisaged the boat contributing to its heritage and regeneration goals, but essentially the idea, the finance for the project, and a lot of the restoration work was all his own. In fact it took five years of hard work before she was seaworthy. John grew-up close to Newlyn, the son of the artist George Lambourn (1900-1977). As a young man he left to join the merchant navy, and became a ship’s captain ferrying cargo and passengers all over the world. This led to a position as assistant harbour-master and civil servant in the Marine Department of the port of Hong Kong. On retirement he returned to live in Newlyn where his brother is a fisherman. Acknowledging the unique character of Newlyn, John has said that a ‘too tidy approach’ to promoting the area’s heritage would not sit well. He intended for Ripple to be a working boat and to have a ‘rural’ rather than an ‘academic’ or ‘sacred’ function. His vision was to set up a sailing school that would give young people as well as paying tourists a practical educational experience. He envisaged that the learning of seamanship skills through luggers would not only be a means for personal development and life-skills amongst young people but would also stimulate a growing interest in traditional boat-building in Cornwall. Furthermore, re-registering it under its original fishing vessel number he hoped to use it to demonstrate fishing techniques and land fish to the market.
Ripple constitutes a particular form of heritage but it also signifies and embodies a range of other relatively longstanding heritages – the influence of the Newlyn School of artists that drew John’s father to the area and which alongside photographs provide visual referents (in the absence of living memory) of the days when luggers were in common use; its biography tells a story drawing on a tradition of folk tales centred around boats and their journeys; and finally it embodies a range of craft skills, which some have even considered to be ‘arts’ of their own. A former
fisherman and artist remarked:
A lot is said about art in Cornwall, but hammer and chisel art, the art of bending and avoiding splitting, the art of each fastening being driven in and making up the overall strength of the Ripple seem to be John Lambourn’s art. What a beauty the Ripple is after so much work. I get the feeling John could see her finished before he started.
As described in Chapter Four, luggers are heavy-framed, carvel-planked 79, beamy 80 craft built for fishing that are easily identifiable by two perpendicular sails located fore and aft 81 (Fig. 105). Many small details were crafted by John himself such as the wooden blocks in the rigging. There were disputes with some of the suppliers involved such as the sail-maker in Falmouth who thought light modern sail cloth should be used. However John had a particular vision in mind which included the traditional heavy canvas sails which would have at one time been pitched with bark tar. He did make some concessions for new technologies, such as two engines and a range of navigational and communications technologies. It was therefore a ‘combination of the ancient and the modern’, he said.
There is no one alive now who made a living from sailing these boats, and few people who have the knowledge to build them. However there is a rich variety of historical sources that John could go to. To begin with there were the technical drawings and writings of maritime historians like Philip Oak and Edgar March, commissioned between the 1930s and 1950s by the National Maritime Museum to travel the length and breadth of the British Isles recording both the design of traditional craft and the memories of the boat-builders and mariners, as these craft were being replaced by engine powered boats and steel hulls. There were also ‘hand me down stories’ (in John’s words) and family archives. Once the restoration had begun, descendents of her former owners began rummaging around in attics and producing photographs and records that revealed Ripple’s biography. There are a great many photographs as well as paintings depicting luggers in the late nineteenth century especially. This was the moment shortly after the arrival of the railway, when the lugger fishing industry was at its peak and artists’ communities as well as early tourism were beginning to flourish, especially at Newlyn and St Ives. John had never built a boat before, let alone a lugger and yet the small details such as the Carvel – a technique in which the planks of a boat hull are pegged overlapping one another rather than pegged abutting flush up against one another as in the clinker technique.
Beamy: a terms used to describe a vessel that is broad (i.e. the proportion of its ‘beam’ or breadth relative to length).
Fore and aft: referring to the front and rear sections of a vessel, or towards the ‘bow’ and the ‘stern’ respectively.
rigging match these visual representations perfectly (Fig.110). Finally there is a huge amount of what John has called ‘the social history of Cornwall’ – the historic documents in public archives that record who built the boats, who owned and had shares in the boats, who skippered them and how much they caught.
The construction of Ripple and the material networks it embodies is mirrored in the social and economic relationships evident in the archives. These were explored in Chapter Four. Census data for St Ives in the late nineteenth century shows that the boat-builders, sail-makers, blacksmiths, rope-makers, coopers etc all lived alongside the fishers and mariners. The legal ownership of each boat consisted of 64 shares and the Merchant Shipping Records show that these trades-people as well as widows frequently held shares in the boats. The profits of each catch were divided between a boat-share (which was divided again between the owners), a body-share which able fishermen received (boys received a half-share) and a finally a net-share for those crew members that owned a net or a piece of a net 82. The women of fishing families often made and mended the nets, especially as fishing industrialized and the boats were away for up to three months at a time chasing the shoals of herring in an annual circumnavigation of Britain.
The way that Ripple is a conduit for the transmission of historical knowledge lies not only in archival repositories of social history and memory, but also in the skills and insight acquired through learning to sail her. I experienced this first-hand as a member of the crew sailing her for the first time since the 1930s. The crew composition was quite fluid and changed over time. Initial outings included members of John’s family and acquaintances of John who had taken an interest in her reconstruction, including a fisherman. During the period I was associated with Ripple, the core of the crew consisted of myself, John’s son-in-law and two school friends I recruited – one a builder and ex-fisherman and the other working at a fish factory whilst saving money to complete a masters degree in mining.
The ability to sail a lugger, as to build one, was a skill that had to be recovered and re-learnt – and the only way to do this was through practice (Fig.111). It was a tough, very physical challenge that gave us a more direct connection to a by-gone way of life. There were moments of exhilaration when body and limb, wind and Thanks to Tony Pawlyn, maritime historian (personal communication) for information regarding the social history of the Cornish fishing industry in the lugger era.
sailing rig finally worked in tandem, and boat and crew achieved momentary gracefulness. After a race at a lugger regatta, we rowed in to the harbour, two men to each massive oar. A crowd was gathered on the piers and cheered as we passed through the gaps. However for the most part the experience was punishingly hard and sometimes frightening. With a dipping lug rig, every time it was necessary for the boat to tack, the foresail (about 700 sq feet of canvas and a heavy wooden spar) had to be quickly lowered, passed around the mast and re-hoisted, without losing the wind or getting things tangled up. It was a difficult procedure for a bunch of novices.
Due to John’s commitment to authenticity, the sails were held in place by large iron hooks which passed through a round iron ring or cleat in the corner of the sail and were connected to the sheets which passed inside the gunwale and up to the halyards (ropes on which you pulled or ‘let go’ to raise or lower the sail). Sometimes when sailing the wind slackened for a moment and the iron cleats would come free. The sail would start to whip and crack like lighting, the iron ring flying dangerously around our heads, until some brave soul caught it and wrestled it back into place. On a failed attempt to make it to the Isles of Scilly in heavy seas, a crew member took a nasty hit to the head, and a life-boat was called to tow the boat back to safety.
Through these experiences we were given an insight into how tough the men must have been that sailed these boats for a living and we learnt that fishing and sailing, in the era before fishing boats were mechanized, were inter-dependent and advanced whole-body skills, to which a practical education from a young age would have been a great advantage. We also had to struggle with the nautical terminology and phrases that John insisted on using, as if to show that Ripple was part of a much broader maritime tradition.