The Letters of Reverend E C Alston

Part 6 – The 1973 Letters

I have to admit that deciphering Alston’s handwriting does not get easier, and I hope that anyone interested will find more in them than I am commenting on. I have to say, I always experience a sense of spine-tingling magic when I handle these pieces of paper, and read words that probably would not mean a great deal to those on the modern angling scene. Still, I hope there is interest enough for readers in 2021.

January 24th 1973

January 24th 1973

The January 24th letter is still concerned with Fred’s researches into mammoth pike, especially from Scotland, which in those days seemed to promise monsters beyond belief, certainly beyond what you might find here in England. If you doubt my word, the Reverend is talking about John Murray’s pike from Loch Ken caught in 1798. It weighed SEVENTY TWO pounds… perhaps!

Alston is evidently still in thrall to Richard Walker, and talks of stocking the river near to his home in Warminster. Of which more later.

March 15th 1973

March 15th 1973

The March 15th letter is especially long, covering four pages. Alston does seem to have stocked the river with a hundred trout, as Walker presumably suggested. He laments that the river is not in the best of health, and I presume he is talking about the Wylye perhaps, with large deposits of sludge and evidence of pollution. He mentions that Bristol University have undertaken surveys, and found sticklebacks, loach and bullheads. Not especially inspiring stuff, so perhaps this is not the Wylye at all, but a stream or tributary.

Mind you, in the late 1700s, the painter and traveller William Daniell described the Wylye as poisoned by filth and being the source of typhus, so perhaps it wasn’t that much better in 1973?  It is interesting also that Alston has joined the Anglers’ Co-operative Association, as it was inspiringly called then, but doesn’t appear to think much of it! What would he have made of Fish Legal today?

The saddest part of this correspondence is the fact that Alston appears to have lost his wheels. All advice, including his brother-in-law’s, seems to suggest that at the age of 77 he shouldn’t expect to get a licence to drive. You can taste the sadness in this letter from an old man starved of fishing opportunities. He writes “it makes me think I made a mistake in coming to England again. I might have got through the storm in Ireland and had plenty of fishing”. Little wonder Fred did all he could to get him out fishing again when possible.

March 16th 1973

March 16th 1973

I have covered the March 16th letter in part for the extravagant signature at the end! I am also interested in Alson’s “collection of old floats. I got them from the old tackle shop in Norwich before they were bombed in the last war. They have bone tips and some are made of Norfolk reed.” I’d love to know more about this tackle shop if anyone has information. Bone tips and Norfolk reed… was Andy Batchelor working in those distant days!?

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