August 2009 marked the 80th anniversary of the Huxley family moving to Hampton Ferry, the famous match fishing stretch of the Warwickshire Avon at Evesham. We look back at the development of this hugely popular fishery.
Hampton Ferry was first established by the Monks of Evesham Abbey in the 13th century when they decided to plant a vineyard on Clarkes Hill. It was a very long walk all around the river to tend the vineyard so they put a ferry in place and it has been running ever since and its now reputed to be the only “rope” drawn ferry in the world. Used by the Monks of course and local residents it has been made even more popular by the anglers who come from the far corners of the earth to fish this popular venue.
Fishing was not on the agenda when Ernie Huxley moved to the Ferry House 80 years ago. He was a nurseryman and grew all sorts of garden plants but was also a keen fisherman. When his gardening was done he would sit and fish while waiting for customers for the ferry and it was not long before people were asking “can we come and fish” and from that point Hampton Ferry Fishery was born. Ernie bought himself a set of beam scales and for the price of 3d (12d to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound in those days!) he would organise the contest and weigh them in. Many people went on the 8am train from Birmingham and of course when they arrived wanted a drink and sometimes something to eat. So, tea and sausage and bacon sandwiches were sold from an old caravan that was the very first café at Hampton Ferry. Using the crusts from the loaves Eileen made what has become the staple food at the ferry, bread pudding, now almost as famous as the fishing!
The years saw many changes. In 1954 the café was improved and seating was arranged for 16 people all at once in a wooden converted pig shed. And in 1979 the brick building that is used now was built.
The fishing became very popular and more waters were acquired and always on the second Saturday in October Dunlop would hold its inter-departmental annual fishing contest and required 220 pegs. No permanent pegs then. Just pieces of paper put on the bank with a six-inch nail, which Ernie’s kids had to go along and pick up during the match! Both sides of the river were used and Ernie when taking anglers over the ferry always counted them, which was very fortunate for two anglers as the river rose one time during the contest and they got stranded on Glovers Island. Ernie knew they had not come back so he went and found them in his pontoon that had an outboard motor. They were very pleased to see him as you can imagine!
Anyone who was anyone in the angling world has been and fished at Evesham. During the seventies and eighties it was a mecca for anglers. Ivan Marks, Kevin Ashurst, Clive Smith, Ken Giles, Max Winters, Billy Stroud, Barry Brookes, Ian Heaps, Frank Barlow and many others were all regular visitors to Evesham and most were legends in their own time. Mark and Paul Downes served their apprenticeship in fishing at Evesham, coming with their father George when they were very young and Ernie always found a peg for them to fish on even if there was very little room available.
Fishing was the base on which a thriving business was built. The café has flourished and because people wanted to stay overnight to fish on Sunday, camping was allowed and through the years camping turned into caravans and a well established site now sits on the riverbank with most of its occupants being very keen fishermen.
Ernie and his wife Eileen started a business without any pre-planning, it just grew and grew and is now run by the Raphael family, Sam, Robbie and Diana.
Diana Raphael is Ernie and Eileen’s youngest daughter who is very much involved with the fishermen today and organises many of the contests held at Hampton Ferry.
Celebrating 80 years since being established is quite remarkable and we are not aware of any older business in Evesham. With Robbie managing Raphaels Restaurant and preparing to carry on the tradition of a way of life at Hampton Ferry it looks very likely it could be there for another 80 years!