«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
After one difficult trip, safely back in harbour, I had stayed to help John put the covers on the furled sails. First we sat below in the galley to pep ourselves up with sugary tea and biscuits. John was clearly disappointed with how difficult training a crew to sail the boat was turning out to be. I told John ‘this is where it starts to get interesting’. He responded, In your anthropological terms it is interesting because people have a certain romantic notion about these boats but for the fishermen who worked them, they were just about making a living and a hard one at that. When the motor engine came on the scene they did not hesitate to make that change. Handling that sail in bad conditions would have been hell and each time there was a chance the boat would sink.
He went on to talk about the wider issue of sustainability: ‘People think it’s just a matter of going back to the methods and technologies of old, but then find out how hard that life is. Sustainability is really much more complex than that’.
About thirty original Cornish luggers and three replicas are still sailing today.
There is an element of performance and spectacle about these which is romantic particularly for bystanders and onlookers (as crew-members we were only too aware of the dangers). However when the festivals and regattas are in full sway they are a thrilling experience for crews and spectators because they animate seascapes in a way otherwise rarely seen today which perhaps resonates with a deep, subconscious memory of past eras (Fig.113). As fishing and other coastal industries, such as shipping and ship-building, have industrialized, specialized and in many areas declined (Smith 1999, Starkey 1998), these tangible links with working seascapes have also been lost.
Just as John’s project is given meaning by local repositories of history and memory, this last aspect brings into view a body of academic work in archaeology and historical geography discussed in chapter one. Influenced by Braudel’s approach to Mediterranean history Bowen (1972) and Cunliffe (2001) explore shared maritime cultures of Atlantic peoples whether fostered by interaction and exchange or merely through an experience of the same sea and finding similar solutions to common problems. Whilst the Ripple restoration is somewhat particular given the local context, it is also one of a growing network of maritime heritage projects spanning Atlantic North West Europe explicitly celebrating a common heritage (which in particular regions some see as part of a revived ‘Celtic’ identity). Whilst there are a number of associations in Cornwall linked to the reconstruction/replication and sailing of former fishing vessels, such as the St. Ives Jumbo Association, Mounts Bay Lugger Association and the Cornish Maritime Trust (Fig.103), John Lambourn’s project is perhaps unique in that it is situated within the context of a working fishing port.
To recall my first encounter with John and the Ripple I had asked him how he had the skills to build such a boat and he replied, ‘Oh, when you grow up are in an environment where things are made, you just pick it up, like you do when you work on your own house... That’s what they should be teaching young people. It gives you’... (He searched for the right words). ‘Freedom!’ his friend, a fisherman, put in.
‘Freedom, yes’, John continued ‘and also a sort of “can do” attitude – if you have a dream and you can do the work yourself, well then that can make the difference between achieving something and never even beginning’. He also said that he wanted to ‘give young people thoughts and hope about what to do with their lives’. I liked the idea of a boat being a vessel of thoughts and a vehicle for the imagination, as indeed they have been throughout history, but there is here also the ideal of the craftsman (Sennett 2009), the maker who belongs to an ancestral community but also has freedom and independence through control over the process of work.
Macdonald (2002) has said that displays of vernacular material culture represent a critical commentary on resourcefulness that is expressive both of a locality and a way of life that is broader than the locality. Ripple represents a technological tradition that is unique to west Cornwall and simultaneously it can also be interpreted as representative of ways of life collectively associated with the broad historical-geography of maritime regions and more specifically, with fishing. The emphasis John placed on reviving a sense of local resourcefulness and independence is pertinent in the context of the fishing industry in an era where entry costs are increasingly prohibitive for young people.
The concern about nostalgia in critical discussions of heritage is symptomatic of a wider interpretation of ‘heritage’ as a peculiar phenomenon of late modernity and the so-called ‘heritage industry’. Whilst not wishing to recount the whole course of this debate, I shall draw attention to some pertinent points Harvey has made in this regard. He notes the ‘strong, yet often simplistic relation of the heritage concept to conditions of postmodernity and to the post-modern economy’ (p.323). However, Harvey contends that heritage is not only about economic commodification, nor solely about leisure. ‘Only looking at heritage in this light, leads to a narrow argument that heritage can only produce dislocation and rootlessness, cutting off an authentic version of the past and replacing it with a simulacra of the past’ (p.326). In this view ‘the heritage industry is portrayed as a sort of parasite, exploiting the more genuine and ‘ageless’ memorial (and largely oral) relationships with the past that people had before the 19th century’ (ibid). Harvey recalls the work of Pierre Nora that makes a ‘distinction between an elite institutionalised memory preserved in the archives, and the memory of ordinary people, unrecorded, and ingrained in the unspoken traditions and habits of everyday life’ (ibid). Yet importantly, ‘...rather than seeing this “traditional” memory as something that has ended, and been defeated by “false heritage”, Nora sees it as having been transformed (partly through technological and archival development) and democratised’ (ibid).
Whilst Harvey has found evidence of a much longer history of heritage making, through case-studies like medieval hagiographies of saints in West Cornwall, in maritime history there are also some early examples of such processes. For example O’Sullivan (2004) looked at the construction and use of wooden and stone fish weirs throughout the Middle Ages. He found evidence of continuity in the labour and practices of medieval fishing communities, even across hundreds of years and long periods where these structures would not have been used within living memory.
Exploring how ‘medieval fish weirs could be interpreted as the expression through material culture of the identities of local fishing communities’ (p.451) he suggests that, These people through their daily work and practice within estuarine environments, their knowledge and understanding of place and their perception of the past could have used these structures to construct, negotiate and even resist changing social identities with the world within which they lived (pp.451-452).
Interestingly for the present discussion, he notes that ‘in interpreting the evidence for medieval fishing practices on estuaries, archaeologists are hampered by the fact that they have no personal experience of how to build, repair and use fish weirs in chilly estuarine waters’ (p.451).
Whilst Ripple can be seen as an example of ‘critical nostalgia’ (Clifford 1986) it is arguably also a pragmatic and forward-looking enterprise. John had said one of his aims was ‘to open people’s eyes to the lessons of a hundred years ago, when there was no oil and only wind’. Recently one of the last of the Westcountry ketches 83, Irene, sailed for Brazil, via the Mediterranean. It is transporting and trading in ethical and organic food produce between ports on route, and is an imaginative attempt to explore a market for low carbon cargo. Reincorporating wind power and sail technology into commercial ship design is also being explored by companies such as B9 Shipping Company. Given the pressures in the fishing fleet owing to rising fuel Ketch: A two-masted, fore and aft sailing ship traditionally used for transporting small cargoes.
costs 84, Ripple provides an allegory about the need to explore alternative technologies and the role for the past as a resource and stimulus for future innovation. Several vessels at Newlyn have already experimented with incorporating sail power to make them less reliant on diesel. With multiple major redevelopment plans, public and private, having been discussed for Newlyn and the surrounding vicinity, John could also see an opportunity for revived boat-building and servicing yards. These could not only provide alternative jobs but also potentially be a stimulus for technological innovation in the fisheries sector.
Attitudes towards John’s project from members of the local fishing industry however have been mixed. A colourful and provocative character, he is widely regarded, as a romantic, an eccentric and even a troublemaker. Until recently, he was a newly appointed member of the Newlyn Pier and Harbour Commissioners, following a government Harbour Review Order in 2010. John, along with two others, was later voted out by secret ballot. Little information was given to the public as to the reasons for this ousting but it is no secret that there were disagreements regarding harbour redevelopment and regeneration plans, in particular a proposal for a new fish market.
One of the problems identified with the existing market has been is that it is an extremely functional and not aesthetically pleasing building that dominates the seafront and blocks views from the centre of the village to the sea. Most tourists either bypass Newlyn or pass straight through on the way to Mousehole. Ambitious plans were advocated by some people, including John, for redevelopment of the harbour that would include ‘visitor friendly’ features and a more effective marketing of the heritage of the village 85. Others, including some fishermen and fish merchants, felt that the fishing industry could not afford such plans and were wary of whom it would benefit. Whilst yet another group of port users, including fishermen I spoke to who operated from Newlyn but did not land their fish there, or reside in the locale, felt that any new market would ideally be located not in the village at all but favoured a new central inland market and distribution centre directly linked to one of the main roads, where lorries can get into and out of easily. This could then serve The overheads created by fuel expenses are huge – for some Newlyn based trawlers £10,000 of diesel per trip on average – arguably a significant pressure towards overfishing as well as affecting fisher incomes.
Plans were informed by the Cornwall Archeological Unit report: Cornwall and Scilly Urban Survey. Historical characterization for regeneration: Newlyn (Russell 2003).
both large fishing ports in the region and other smaller ports that presently overland their fish to existing markets.
Clearly there are widely divergent views represented here about the particular ties between fishing markets, towns/villages, harbours and fleets and how these are to evolve and adapt to changing European and global economic and political conditions. For Elizabeth Stevenson, shareholder in the largest fish merchant and fishing boat-owning firm in Newlyn (W.S. Stevenson and Sons) the bottom line must be the priorities of the catching sector. Elizabeth Stevenson manages the dayto-day operations of the firm that has been in her family for generations and also happens to be related to John by marriage, although they are no longer on speaking terms following John’s outspoken criticisms of the firm. She had some sharp points about the limitations of John’s project (as she saw them), saying ‘it doesn’t do a lot to the port in terms of economic strength or economic financial benefits, you know, it doesn’t employ anybody as such and it doesn’t bring in an awful lot of bread and butter, does it?’ I asked Elizabeth if she could see a role for the kinds of diversification John’s project might help promote such as traditional boat building and boat servicing yards. She replied that she couldn’t see anything necessarily wrong with it but doubted whether it was ‘a viable thing bringing in an economy to the harbour in terms of fish landed’.
He hasn’t landed a fish yet with the Ripple and I don’t think he ever will land a fish. If he wants to have the Ripple and go sailing, that’s fine and have people building luggers and things, I haven’t got a problem with that. There is certainly a need for carpenters, but whether it is viable without grants and things like that, that’s quite a different issue.
Perhaps naively I then asked Elizabeth whether she felt that projects like John’s might have a role in informing wider communities about fishing in Cornwall and
potentially attract new recruitment. Once again her response was to the point:
I haven’t seen any single person come in yet that’s gone commercial fishing, having gone on the Ripple. And I mean, may be it will, but I very much doubt it. There’s quite a different set of skills needed to go commercial fishing on some of the steel vessels than the sailing vessel.