As the year draws to a close, we ask our friends and collaborators to look back on the past twelve months and share their significant moments. Today we hear from John Andrews:
This year I have been and remain haunted by three fishing tackle shops. Three fishing tackle shops all within a one hundred mile radius of one another, which between them span over two centuries of continuous service to the angler.
The first haunting was by way of a small one-doored concern that lay hidden amid a warren of dead end streets in Walthamstow, North East London, ‘The call came through late on a dark and wet Saturday afternoon. The next morning Nick and I stood in F. Clover & Son Fishing Tackle, an abandoned shop whose front door had been locked and buried behind fly tipping waste for over two decades.’ I did not know it at the time but the two days I spent in Clover’s, recording, archiving and finally clearing its contents was to leave an indelible mark upon my consciousness. I have found myself back there on many an occasion, usually when awoken in the small hours by a dream of the shop’s interior. An interior in which the air had been still for twenty years. It was as if we had uncovered a boarded up place of worship, a lost chapel, a place of Golems and mystery, a hidden space where an arcane religion was once practiced. I wrote about it for Fallon’s Angler and called the piece, The Shop on Holy Street, ‘Rays of pale early spring sunlight spilled in and illuminated the floor and the walls. We had come to document the shop and to clear it but my first thought was to call the priest to ask him to come at once, to bless this place along with those who had served in and shopped in it before it was changed irreparably forever.’
The second haunting relates to a fishing tackle shop that stood for over one hundred years at 40 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1, ‘nineteen doors from Holborn’. In a letter my old friend Dan McSweeney sent to me in November, he said, ‘On arriving in ‘County Camden via Cork-Liverpool (Toxteth) and lodging (note not living) at the King’s Cross End of Gray’s Inn Road, J. Peek was the nearest shop for the budding angler. Gamages, together with Ogden Smiths in the Royal Exchange and Hardy’s by London Bridge were for the City types when Saturday working was from 9-1.30pm. Hence, when Saturday work ended so did Gamages, but back to J. Peek, where despite my lack of money (although I was doing a milk round before school) I was always treated with the greatest respect as if I were spending pounds instead of shillings and/or sixpence and this is the memory I will always see when I see the name J. Peek & Son and pity it does not now read & Grandson & Great Grandson’. I was prompted to ask Dan about Peek’s after I received a phone call late one October afternoon, “Hello, my name is Bertie Peek, you may recognise my name, I am the great-grandson of J. Peek”. Bertie was researching the history of his family’s shop and wanted to buy a Peek’s catalogue from me just as Dan had many years before. I forwarded him my last remaining 1926 example along with a copy of Dan’s letter. It was the least I could do as he did not have much more to go on, ‘the shop’s contents were destroyed during the war so very little evidence remains of it, as such it would be a small piece of family history’.
The third haunting concerns ‘The Creel’ which stands at 36 Station Road in Aldershot. A shop that was due to close today, 31st December 2017. A place that is a small piece of my own family history. I have only just finished writing about it for my next Classic Angling Column, ‘Even now, writing those words I have to stop and take a breath. The Creel, 36 Station Road, Aldershot, Hampshire. A place that is loaded with meaning. The shop my father took me to after my first day at secondary school in 1978 as if to teach me a lesson that the years of my education ahead of me could not. The shop that made me an angler in many senses both then and later on when I re-discovered it in my early thirties. The shop where I take people as if introducing them to an old member of my family that I am desperate for them to meet. The shop at the heart of the town where my great-grandmother is buried in the cemetery on Gun Hill. The shop at the heart of the town where my grandfather taught at St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School. The shop to which I have made a pilgrimage every year for the last two decades to renew my annual permit for Farnham Angling Society. The shop that I telephone from time to time when I want to hear familiar voices, those of its owners Mick and Fran Borra. The shop about which I wrote in my book ‘For All Those Left Behind’, “A voice from another lifetime answered. It was familiar, as if in a dream, but so obviously real.” The shop at the heart of that town of other lifetimes, the shop that was due to close today, 31st December 2017. When I found out the news the phone call about Clover’s made sense, the phone call from Bertie Peek made sense, as if they were voices from other lifetimes, conversations imagined not real, each one containing a message, a prophecy, of the past slipping into the present for a fleeting moment, the sound of the bell on a tackle shop door banging in the wind of a passing year.
I had intended to visit The Creel before the month was out. To say my goodbyes to the shop, if not to Mick and Fran. They are retiring after five decades of opening up at 9am sharp six days a week, having both moved down from London and taken on the lease in the late 1960’s. My sadness in the passing of the shop is tempered by the knowledge that this is what Mick and Fran want. The shop shall close when they say so, at their behest, which is as it should be. Yes, I had intended to visit the shop but the month of December got the better of me. I was rescued not for the first time this year by my dear friend Stephen Parker. On 20th December he wrote, ‘Hello John. Popped into The Creel whilst visiting my Mum. I thought you’d like a reminder of the shop before it disappears’. A photograph was attached, of Mick and Fran behind the counter. A counter I had leant on many times when asking how Frensham was fishing and whether things had picked up on the Broomfield Cottage stretch. It prompted me to dial Aldershot 20871. Mick answered and we chatted for sometime before I plucked up the courage to ask him when the last day would be. ‘Oh, well. It should be the end of the month. But I’ll still be here. Just bang on the shutters if it’s all closed up. I’ll more than likely be upstairs, there is so much to sort out. Don’t worry, I’ll probably be here ’til next December’. I wished him and Fran a Happy Christmas and put the phone down. At the end of this year and the beginning of the next it was all I needed to know.
Quotes from ‘The Shop on Holy Street’ taken with kind permission from Fallon’s Angler Issue 9.
Quotes from ‘Trials of a Tackle Dealer’ taken with kind permission from Classic Angling Issue 111 – out in January. Quote from For All Those Left Behind – John Andrews (Mainstream Publishing 2002).
Photograph of Clover’s reproduced with kind permission from Nick Fallowfield-Cooper. Photograph of Parker outside The Creel & Mick & Fran behind the counter courtesy of Stephen Parker.