9th August 1593. Study to be Quiet.

‘Study to be Quiet’ was inscribed on the Title Page of Isaac Walton’s 17thc treatise on fishing, The Compleat (sic) Angler.

Walton was  born Today in 1593, but his book didn’t appear until 1653, in the age of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, the author’s 60th year.(1)

Window at Winchester cathedral where he is buried.

Window at Winchester Cathedral where Walton is buried.

The book was not however the first in the field, but like many aspects of history, one name tends to be remembered.

It helps to be well-connected and Walton married firstly a great-great niece of Archbishop Cranmer.(2)

One of the early books of fishing genre is that of John Dennys (later Dennis), who died in 1609.

His ‘Secrets of Angling’, the earliest poetic treatise on Angling was published in 1613, having 4 editions up to 1652.

Before that, ‘A Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle’ was written in the first half of the 15thc , became a best seller in 1496 and was included in the second edition of the ‘Boke of St. Albans‘, a collection of gentlemanly field sports.

This was the first book printed in colour in England and also includes a list of Collective Nouns.

Earlier fishing was more about food, than gentlemanly introspection and serenity, more to feed oneself than recreational, and the sea would have been fished for herring, crab, porpoises, salmon, sturgeon, mussels, winkles, lobster, flounders, cockles and plaice, according to the Anglo-Saxon, Bishop Aelfric in his educational Latin Primer.

‘Which fish do you catch?’, asked the master in Aelfric’s schoolroom dialogue. ‘Eels, pike, minnow, burbot, trout and lampreys’, the pupil replied, playing the role of fisherman, who then describes catching by net, bait hook and basket.

If nothing else this account gives us an idea of the wide range of fish consumed in Saxon times. The ban on meat on over two hundred days in the year as dictated by the church, also caused many water animals to be consumed, including beaver.

Burbot also called eel-pout, was a flat-headed fish with two small beards on the nose and one on the chin.

The lamprey was even uglier sometimes described as a water snake and featuring a large sucker-like mouth with which it attached itself parasitically to other fish. Rich and oily it was considered a delicacy in medieval times.

Monasteries consumed large quantities of carp raised in stews or fish-ponds, and the medieval fish-house building at Meare is a reminder, standing as it does, on the edge of a 500 acre lake originally to feed the nearby Glastonbury Abbey.(3)


Old image of Walton's cottage at Shallowford, near Stafford.

Old image of Walton’s cottage at Shallowford, near Stafford.

Walton died and was buried at Winchester Cathedral, after living for some time with the Bishop. He left all his property to the poor of Stafford, where he was born.

The waters of the Meece Brook still trickle quietly close to Walton’s Staffordshire cottage, before linking with the Sow, Penk and finally the Trent.

(1) Walton’s name didn’t appear on the title page and later a newspaper advertisement stated that the book was ‘Written by Iz. Wa.’

(2) Walton fished in the Thames with Sir Henry Wotton, Provost of Eton, at the bend in the river called ‘Black Potts’.

(3) Carp are a memorial to vanished British appetites, but the monks found them undemanding feeders, fast maturing, plump, long-lived, prolific and easily tamed.

Ref: wikipedia.org.uk/image of cottage.

Ref: britsattheirbest.com/winchester window image.




About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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