The winkle market by Noel Pyecroft


When I was a young man, picking up winkles on the muds of Langston and Chichester harbours was a common sight in the winter. My father told me that a local man, Rueben Clark, born about 1853, picked up in South Gutner Lake , or as we know it, Verner Creek, 52 bushels of winkles in a season – September to April inclusive. Reuben received 2 shillings and 6 pence per bushel which he kept in a piano stool, shown to my father in 1923 or thereabouts.

Rueben’s father, William, had been imprisoned as he was in the import business illegally. I have seen the 1851 census which lists him as a smuggler. He did not die in prison as Rueben told my father.

The winkle pickers were mainly from Emsworth, several of whom served on yachts, others went fishing for mackerel and cockling. Most wore jerseys with names embroidered on their chest – ones that I remember are Seaflower, Candida, Endeavour, Shamrock and Nyria.

The Boats (See small books by David Rudkin, on sale at Chichester Harbour Conservancy)

The Nyria
The Nyria was owned by Mrs Workman (daughter of Sir Andrew Allen, owner of the Allen Shipping Line, Glasgow) who lived in Bacon Lane, here on Hayling, in Gothic Lodge. She employed one of the Diaper family as skipper from Titchner ferry, Southampton at one time. The Nyria was 79 tons and I believe, she was registered in Bermuda.

Mrs Workman also bred the first Alsatians in England. She employed Bill Copesman and Bill Scarrat as trainers.

The Merchants

At times, there were several shellfish merchants in the area of Chichester Harbour. Kennets of Emsworth, Russells of Langstone and JD Foster of Emsworth.

Kennets had winkle pens in Emsworth. Winkle pens were large wooden boxes similar to small sheds.

Russells of Langstone
Russells had winkle pens on Binness Island (Langstone Harbour) with their winkle market located at the end of Langstone High Street (near the start of the old wadeway to Hayling Island).

The last merchants at the winkle market were Gus, Horace and Percy Russel. They sent winkles to Mac Fisheries all around London. These were barrowed to Langstone station and were taken on the Hayling branch train to Havant, for onward shipping by James Stride.

Winkles were sorted and measured in wooden measures of 1 gallon to 4 gallons. There were smaller measures for more accurate measurement but the 1 gallon measures were the ones most commonly used.

I sold many gallons of winkles to Russells. These were sieved to remove the small winkles as only the larger ones were wanted.

Other outlets for my winkles

I first sold winkles to Jo Matson at Bedhampton. These I picked up on the muds on the west of Chichester Harbour on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.

Sometimes I went south of Thorney Island, on the muds but not on the sands. I once went to Winner bank but they clung onto old iron war defences of scaffold piping and were small with black shells. Some Emsworth men gathered these in their flats which were built similar to Portuguese dories but not so much bow to stern camber nor flared sides, useful little boats usually 15 feet long and 4 feet 6 inches wide. Treggusts had one 18 to 20 feet long.

Sometimes Jumbo Barter took a barge to Bembridge, IoW, to collect winkles from the ledge with several men and a lady cook although the barge, I believe, was named Recoil and another, the Mab, belonging to Littles from Langstone. These barges had only 4 feet 6 inches headroom below deck, or less and was sailed, poled or rowed into Bembridge Harbour when the tide came up. They went out when it ebbed again as it would  be no place for a barge there.

Russells also traded in oysters as did John Kennet and S D Foster who built several dredgers for the English Channel work. Here are some of the names of the dredgers – Sylvia, Una, Aura, Nonpariel, Ostrea, Echo, Thistle (lost same year as built, 1888), Evolution. The registered tonnage (RT) of these ranged from 22 RT to 69 RT. They dredged for oysters and scallops from Dorset to Holland, sailing from Chichester harbour.

John Kennet also had several channel dredgers including Guide, Iris and Gypsy Queen (sold to Warsash), used to transport live crabs, lobsters from such places as Brittany (France), Halsands (Devon), which had to be moved from Kerges (wooden boxes) in heavy rain as they do not like fresh water. Fresh water being lighter than salt water formed a layer above the salt water and could kill the catch.

I presume there are fresh water springs near Bembridge ledge as there was a Roman villa at Brading. Romans only built near springs although they did dig wells. One of the deepest I saw was at at Carnarvon (Wales) which was about 40’ deep. Winkles like a little fresh water in my experience. Oysters, scallops and whelks like deep salt water. Oysters are kept in beds but covered with salt water when dredged, cockles die if they are picked from mud, gravel or sand during thundery weather and kept overnight as they are always just under the surface. On the Gardesers or the winner bank, they also have sand crabs.

Russells bought winkles from Lymington, Warsash, Keyhaven and Southampton. Later these were sewn in bushel sacks and sent away by train from Langstone station. I helped them sew.
I have seen winkles eating slubweed in the summer like bees, thousands of them on the mud in Verner Creek (also known as south Gutner lake) and also on the concrete banks of the river ouse at Pidinghoe.

Best wishes

Noel A Pyecroft

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