FISHERMAN'S TALES FROM YESTERYEAR
Extracted from The Dorset Evening Echo Friday November 6th 1987 . "Portrait of a Village- Burton Bradstock" by Rene Gerryts and reproduced here by kind permission of the editor.
Burton men and boys grew up with the sea and as often as not made or supplemented their living by it.
One man who did that was Lou Brown who was born in the village more than 80 years ago.
"We were like otters- partly on the sea and partly on the land. In the summertime everybody was on the beach. In those days we caught more fish in one day than they do now in five years. There are no seines down there now. The fish are still there but there's no demand, you just can't sell them" said Mr Brown.
"There used to be 30 boats between here and Portland - 100 before World War !. And the sea had to be pretty bad to stop the fishermen going out. I've seen the boats standing on end sometimes when it's rough. Then two or three boats could catch 100,000 mackerel. That was in the late 20's - they couldn't sell them and they were on the beach for ages. In the end the council paid the fishermen to row them out to the sea again.." said Mr. Brown.
Often the fishermen would row their catches to West Bay to sell them and stopping off at The George was a welcome break before they row home. Beer 'on tick' was common and the landlord always knew he'd get his money when the fishermen had some.
The women used to sell the fish too. They'd sell it from the wall where the bus shelter is now or sometimes walk with their baskets to Bridport and back. They'd wear white aprons and bonnets.
The Dove - a 17th Century inn - was only a beer house then and the landlords of the other two pubs had their own boats. Their clients used to use them to go fishing.
"The landlord of the Three Horseshoes, Jimmy Samways, had his own boat and the landlord of The Anchor, a Mr. Churchouse had one. They may have been rivals as fishermen and fishermen might quarrel like anything on the beach. But you knew your deadly enemy would be the first to be there in any trouble" said Mr. Brown.
Having 'a jar' was an important part of the fishing. Usually some luckless person was sent to get it from The Dove -sometimes they had to walk from Cogden and back for 10 quarts of cider or beer. Cider or beer depending on how funds were. Cider was only a penny a pint but beer was 4d. The cider was made at the cider house Cowper's Lodge. It's been pulled down now and there is only one tree left from the orchard."
As well as making a living from fishing, Mr. Brown used to extract gravel from the beach - and go beach combing.
Those days are gone as are other aspects of village life. Burton no longer sees 100 dairy cows in five or six groups making their way through the village - eating the flowers on the way - twice a day to be milked. Most of the farms are now beef with only one still dairying.
The real characters are gone - " practically everyone was a character in their own way" said Douglas Northover, who helped his old friend Lou relive those days.
"There won't be another like old Symy W. Hutchins. There was nobody like him for a bit of fun. He was fisherman and a painter. Then there was Benjy Cottage - the only man who was exiled from Burton for poaching. He had to go and live in Beaminster. They were characters with real humour. They used to make one another laugh."
Ralph Wrixton sounds like another. He had to be in Bridport by 6a.m. to work at the brickworks. He' d walk over the fields to work and one morning he was chased by a bull. He was quick enough to leap a stile and even quicker to turn round and tie the tail of the bull to teach it a lesson! That was his story anyway!
Now there are a few locals left to remember the old characters of the old times. But there is one place some of them still meet and that is the Grenfingers Club. You still have to asked to join and you have to be a fisherman or allotment holder. The group is 'famous' for its annual feast - which hasn't anything to do with the very ancient tradition of a Burton 'vest' which has now died out. Now the Greenfingers Club meets only once a year wheels a barrel of cider to the Lookout accompanied by John Eastwood on bagpipes.
(Lou Brown lived with his wife May in Barr Lane and both have since died)
Ray West 2011