The first public screening of ‘Guardians of the Reef’, a Storylines project documenting some of the history of the South Devon shellfishing industry and local ways of life, recently took place at the Cricket Inn in Beesands in Start Bay, Devon, reports Martin Johns.
The project was the brainchild of South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen’s Association CEO, Beshlie Pool, and came into being after she began her current role with the association and found great difficulty researching information about the industry.
Much existed from further back in time but there was scant information available on the rapid evolution of the modern-day crabbing industry dating back 50 years or so.
Many of the pioneers of the modern industry have now retired and Beshlie realised that without being properly documented in some way, the stories of their working lives, the local shellfishing industry and anecdotes would soon become lost in time.
She contacted Sarah Chapman and Ali Roscoe of Storylines who were able to obtain a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £10,000 for the project. This enabled Storylines, in partnership with the South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen’s Association, to conduct a series of oral history interviews with current and former shellfishermen, many of whose families have fished for generations, transforming these into a series of digital stories, films and displays documenting this unique and largely unrecorded part of coastal heritage.
Once collated and edited, the interview soundtracks were linked with relevant old photographs and the results have now been uploaded to the Storylines website: bit.ly/2x5OT2o
Updates on the project will also be posted at shellfishermen.org
Some of those old fishermen and their families alive today still remember the days of horses and carts transporting crab, huers watching out for shoals of fish from the clifftops, and tarring clothes before setting to sea. They remember men who went blind in the war but still managed, with a little help, to weave the crab pots. They remember transporting their crab catches by train packed in wooden tea chests and apple barrels. They remember the hard, hand to mouth days of life in rural Devon.
The ubiquitous wooden tea chest, formerly used to store and transport crab, was a recurring theme in many of the interviews, so a few were obtained and, with old photos attached to them, used as props at the screening.
Community buildings such as a fishermen’s store, reading rooms and the local pub have acted as backdrops for informal interviews to collect these stories. For this reason, the project will use these buildings as hubs for events, interviews, screenings, celebrations and displays.
‘Guardians of the Reef’ has uncovered and shared stories of shellfishing in South Devon and will attend a number of heritage events, exhibitions and film screenings in the area, including Crabfest in Salcombe and Paignton Harbour Festival, supported by Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum and Salcombe Museum, which will provide archive photographs and handling objects from their collections to further stimulate stories and incorporate into the digital stories.
A longer-term exhibition will run at Salcombe Museum until October 2018 and a bespoke travelling display, constructed from a series of old tea chests and apple barrels, will tour local community festivals and events along the coast.
Main Image: Beshlie Pool, CEO of the South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen’s Association (centre) with Ali Roscoe and Sarah Chapman from Storylines.