Stop net boat making a catch.
Early records of this method of fishing for salmon are sparse - it is known that this type of boat was in use at the time of the Civil War - it is therefore likely that it would predate the 1600s.
The Forest of Dean on the west banks of the Severn grows some of the best oak in England. Both Drake and Raleigh visited the area. Timber was floated down to the shipyards of Bristol and Chepstow, as well as many of the smaller yards of the riverbank. Such was the wealth of timber in the forest to the English Navy that the Spanish Ambassador was sent instruction to destroy the forest by fire - the plot failed - no doubt due to the damp nature of the area.
In the 17th century, King Charles, short of funds, granted Sir John Winter a royal grant to most of the forest - its timber, iron, stone and coal mines for the sum of £26,000 plus an annual farm rent of £1950. The "Foresters" - traditional royalists, turned sides as they saw the exploitation of their homelands, and sided with Cromwells men who were encamped at Gloucester.
Sir Johns army, along with Prince Rupert, became entrapped on a peninsula formed by the Severn and the Wye. Winters in a bid to break the siege was surprised by a group of Roundheads and cornered on a noose of land formed by the Wye - the only means of escape was a 200ft sheer cliff down to the river.
The wirey Wintours made his escape down a hidden path, hailed a salmon fisherman in his stop-netting boat, thus keeping his freedom for another two years before he was finally imprisoned in the tower. To this day the cliff is known as Wintours Leap.
A thriving fishing community of the Severn during the 1930s.
Twenty four boats were authorised on the Severn and a further thirty seven on the Wye.
Over the following 100 years the numbers have gradually declined. By the 1960s only three boats remained fishing the Severn and stopnet fishing ended on both rivers in the 1980s.
Our stopnet boat before her restoration....
The net is hung on two stout poles called "rames" about 22ft long with the net opening of 30ft plus. The rear of the rames are lifted to lower the net into the current and held in place with a prop. When a fish hits the net it is felt by the fisherman through lines leading from the cod end at the rear of the net. The support prop is kicked out and the front of the net lifts out of the water, thus catching the fish.
Working across the current and carrying the heavy fishing gear required strength in the boats construction. Built on fifteen grown oak frames and planked with larch. The gunwales are built from ash providing the resilience for the stresses on this part of the boat through this method of fishing. The boats were pitched and tarred throughout with the exception of the sheer strake and the gunwales which are painted a blue/grey.
On the Severn, up to three boats would fish on a mooring wire across the flow of the tide, these boats were generally larger (22-26ft with a beam of 8ft) than boats on the narrower river Wye (20ft x 7ft). The boats which fished the Wye would moor with 30ft long poles driven into the river bed. The boats were propelled with a 15ft sweep sculled over the stem. Most of the boats were built locally using timber from the Forest of Dean.