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«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»

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Elizabeth Stevenson’s comments convey a sense of boundaries, social distance and different economic priorities that seem, in her view, to mark a sharp divide between fishing ‘industry’ and ‘heritage’. Apprenticeship into fishing is typically by an informal process of experience, observation and practice (as discussed in Chapter Seven). Whilst Ripple is a form of heritage that also calls on informal, practical and experiential learning of skills, this process and the skills learnt are comparable to modern fishing but not alike. It can by no means be a replacement for occupational skill-sets in fishing. What is being learnt during an apprenticeship on a boat is not only mechanical skills but also how to fit in to a social system which is both embodied in the habitus of the crew but also transcends the crew as a wider way of life (van Ginkel 2001; Simpson 2006). To ‘learn the ropes’ as a new recruit into fishing van Ginkel says, is a process, …not limited to the mere performing of tasks; it includes internalizing the norms, values, attitudes, interests, knowledge and skills necessary to become an accepted member of the occupational group, to do the job properly, and to legitimize the work world. Compatibility with the crew’s ideology is an important factor (2001: 179).

Fishers’ attachment to their way of life is often explained in terms of features of ‘occupational community’ (Davis 1986; Lummis 1977) such as a strong sense of pride and satisfaction in one’s work and identity, specialized knowledge and skills, ‘an “egalitarian ideology” combined with rhetoric’s and concepts of independence, self-reliance, freedom and so forth’ (van Ginkel 2001: 178). One aspect of this pride and satisfaction in work and identity, which is surprisingly sometimes overlooked in these analyses, is status as ‘primary producers of food’ (Nadel-Klein 2003: 8). In an era where more than half of the world’s population lives in cities and the majority of people (at least in the industrialized West) are not directly engaged in producing food, the close associations between fisher and fish as a vital (and often messy, bloody, smelly) life source and the idea of ‘putting food on plates’ is significant, not least to many fishers themselves. As one fisherman expressed it, commenting on his

sons following him into fishing:

They went fishing of their own choice. They didn’t come because I made them come.

They wanted to go fishing. But if I didn’t think fishing had a future, I would have tried to put them off. But I’ve always believed that fishing’s got a good future.

Because the way I always look at it, in simple terms is, you got to eat [pointing], and everybody else got to eat on this planet, and there’s only so many people producing food.

Whilst Ripple has not (yet) to my knowledge been dirtied with the blood and fish guts of a commercial catch, and whilst the reconstruction was self-funded by John, it nonetheless does have something to contribute directly to the catching sector and to the local economy. By evoking a sense of the past in a tangible way, by recalling and bringing to life scenes depicted in photographs and artworks, Ripple makes a link between different ‘fields’ of heritage – the production and consumption of local history, visual cultures (including art galleries and museums) and fishing in a contemporary working harbour – domains that might otherwise remain separate, disconnected and fragmented spheres to the detriment of all. This has already contributed to generating a ‘sense of place’ that is fostering stronger links between the ‘catch and the locality’ (Reed et al. In press.) as in the example of the recent revival of the fishery for pilchards in Cornwall, now rebranded, as the ‘Cornish sardine’. One firm is now selling Cornish sardines in tins illustrated with Newlyn School paintings featuring luggers in Newlyn harbour (Fig. 114). Now that real luggers can be once again be seen alongside the medieval ‘old quay’ in Newlyn (Fig.

115) this marketing has been used to good effect. The pilchard fishery is not regulated by quotas and is being promoted by catchers and merchants as both indigenous and sustainable. This marketable ‘sense of place’ as food provenance isn’t to be mistaken for the diverse and grittier everyday experience and placeattachments of fishers and other workers and residents in places like Newlyn.

Nonetheless it is an important one when the sustainability (social, economic, environmental) of forms of fish production reliant on bulk overseas export is questionable.

Laurier’s (1998) and Easthope’s (2001) research on heritage boat reconstruction and sailing show that processes of relearning and recovering these skills link a spirit of curious intellectual historical enquiry with a more kinaesthetic appreciation of the past that is formative for the participants as persons. In other words, these kinds of heritage speak to both ‘intensional’ and ‘extensional’ definitions of heritage as

defined by Porter and Salazar:

As an intensional definition, heritage presents itself as ‘sense of the self in the past’ where the subject component of ‘self’ is ascribed at increasingly broad scales of the individual, community, nation and globe, and the temporal links between the subject and the past are based on genealogical, biological or community connections. On the other hand, an extensional definition requires actually locating concrete manifestations of ‘heritage’ in the world. Language and other practices are vehicles through which human understandings of the past are expressed. Objects, too, come to

embody these ideas and represent and communicate past times in the present (2005:


The link between skills and heritage is more clearly understood when we consider how both enfold particular temporalities and realms of affect. The learning of fishing skills and heritage sailing skills involve their participants in different maritime geographies and senses of the past. However both are embedded in concrete technologies, artefacts and infrastructures that have the potential to impact (positively or negatively) on one another. An interesting image that captures the complex and shifting nature of fishing heritage in Cornwall is a photograph taken by Newlyn-based photographer Vince Bevan. It was taken at the Newlyn Fish Festival, an annual summer festival organised by the fishing community at Newlyn. In the foreground two young boys demonstrate a basic trawling method. These boys, barely yet teenagers, are the sons of two highly regarded and skilled fishermen and can often be seen in the harbour doing their own bit of fishing. They represent a future generation of fishermen. In the background are a few of the big beam trawlers, proud and somehow melancholic in their muddy berths at low tide; a reminder of the selectivity of heritage, there is the danger that the more recent history of the way of life represented by these vessels is slowly slipping from view.

Until recently William (Billy) Stevenson, elderly patriarch and retired boss of W.S. Stevenson and Sons maintained a small private museum in an old school house on Paul Hill (Figs. 117-121). He said he had been unable to secure public funding and was only able to afford to have it open to the public a few times a year. It was packed with photographs and models of all the various boats the family firm had owned and the crews who had worked them, plus real engines salvaged from the boats, some of which Billy would start up when visitors came. The museum illustrated the role of personal and collective memory that Wedgwood (2009) drew attention to in ‘working class’ museum contexts, although in this case from the trawler-owners perspective rather than the workers. A dedication by Billy Stevenson read: ‘I dedicate this museum to the memory of my grandfather and father who created a lot of what you see here’. The museum recently closed, the building purchased for use as an art school, and the (new) Newlyn School of Art opened its doors in September 2011, a private not-for-profit enterprise providing adult education arts workshops. One aspect of heritage disappears from view; another comes further into the light. However given the social embeddedness of art practices in the Newlyn area and the need for young artists to be able to supplement their income with teaching and for members of a diverse community to have the chance to learn new skills, who is to say that this new use of an old school building has any less validity than the last?

Conclusions The core example of fisheries heritage considered in this chapter challenges notions of ‘industry’ and ‘heritage’ as being separate and opposed domains. Whilst heritage production is inevitably a selective process, I have demonstrated an important role for heritage that exists outside of museum contexts and which incorporates informal learning, and production and use of material artefacts including craft skills. This can be a source of alternative and diversified fisherylinked livelihoods, a factor in strengthening and promoting links between catch and locality, and a powerful source of critical nostalgia to stimulate imagination and innovation. Alternative forms of heritage production have implications for alternative forms of consumption (including tourism) and even alternative forms of fishing. Dependency of communities on harbours and on the sea in places with a history of fishing is broader and more complex than merely landing of fish. The current period of economic recession and rising unemployment has consequences for young people in rural maritime regions, across class, occupational and family backgrounds. In a context of frequent anxiety about the loss of ‘real’ and ‘tangible’ jobs (Crow et al. 2009) and growing disparities between ‘financially rich’ centres and ‘heritage rich’ peripheries (Howard and Pindar 2003: 65), heritage initiatives that can strengthen regions, livelihoods and diversity of skill-base are to be supported.

Nonetheless, maintaining existing fishing harbours and beaches as bases for catching fish, remains the highest priority for the sustainability of coastal economies and the integrity of coastal places. Needless to say this should be complemented and stimulated by heritage initiatives, rather than replaced. This entails a historically informed conception of ‘fishing communities’ (both in the traditional and occupational sense) as mixed economies, which are always changing and evolving.

To recall Walton (see Chapter Two) ‘community’ in this view involves ‘commitment to an industry, not necessarily entailing actually going to sea, but being part of a network of shared interests and concerns that surrounded the fishing’ (2000b: 128).

A similar case is made by Ross (In press.) in the context of contemporary Scotland.

Academics can inform policymakers, local authorities and non-state actors about how to support these kinds of communities by observing the connections and disconnections between the various practices, politics and priorities of their different sectors. Ultimately neither state, nor industry, nor community models of development, will be sufficient alone to articulate and manage their complex ties.

Figure 101: Charity appeal leaflet for the renovation of Porthmeor Studios and Fisherman’s Cellars, St Ives. The Borlase Smart John Wells Trust Limited.

Figure 102: Master craftsman Ralph Bird at work. The Times November 14 2009.

Figure 103: Leaflet for ‘The Cornish Maritime Trust’.

Figure 104: A shipwright at work during the reconstruction of Ripple (photographer unknown).

Figure 105: The hull of Ripple during reconstruction work in 2005, with carvel planking and in the foreground one of the shipwrights that worked on the project.

Photograph by Vince Bevan.

Figure 106: Ripple, pre-restoration.

Figure 107: A depiction of the public launch of Ripple, by Bernard Evans, n.d.

Figure 108: John Lambourn aboard Ripple in Mount’s Bay, 2009.

Figure 109: John Lambourn at the helm of Ripple, 2009.

Figure 110: Off to the fishing grounds, 1886, Stanhope Forbes. Oil on canvas. Collection of National Museums Liverpool.

Figure 111: The crew of Ripple working together to furl and cover a sail, Mount’s Bay, 2009.

Figure 112: Ripple under full sail, Looe, 2009.

Figure 113: Ripple chasing the pack, Looe Lugger Festival, 2009.

Figure 114: A tin of ‘Cornish sardines’ featuring The Greeting by Newlyn School artist Walter Langley.

Figure 115: Artist Bernard Evans painting Ripple and other luggers alongside the medieval pier in Newlyn harbour during the ‘Painting Party on the Quay’ event, British Tourism Week, March 2011. Photograph by Steven Walker.

Figure 116: Two young boys demonstrate a simple trawling method at the Newlyn Fish Festival, 2006. Photograph by Vince Bevan.

Figure 117: Engines from fishing boats owned by W.S. Stevenson and Sons on display in William Stevenson’s private museum, Newlyn, 2009.

Figure 118: On the wall of William Stevenson’s museum, drawings by local school children depicting him and fishermen.

Figure 119: Photographs, ships models, a model lighthouse and other paraphernalia associated with the history of fishing at Newlyn, William Stevenson’s museum, 2009.

Figure 120: A near life-size cut out of Stevenson’s skipper Roger Nowell with paraffin stove set, William Stevenson’s museum, 2009.

Figure 121: William (‘Billy’) Stevenson outside his private museum in an old school building, Newlyn, 2009.

Figure 122: Ripple, early 1900s. Unknown collection.


This thesis has shown how ideologies around the work of fishing in Cornwall – belief in its viability and in the adaptability and resourcefulness of its practitioners – is reproduced, despite contemporary constraints. This is maintained and re-invented by both core fishing activities and heterogeneous knowledges and forms of knowledge transmission that link fishing producers and communities into wider socio-economic networks. The research enriches and expands our understanding of the various activities fishing livelihoods can entail and the forms of knowledge that underlie their reproduction. In doing so it contributes especially to anthropologies of work and labour, rural development and social change, maritime anthropology, and heritage and material culture studies.

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