The Ketch Mistletoe Ship

Heritage of Porlock Bay Oysters

1836 An interview with a then 87 year old William Pollard published in the Somerset Times about 1946 gives a fascinating account of the origins and development of the oyster trade at Porlock Weir. It appears that William’s uncle John used to dredge for oysters off the welsh coast at the Mumbles. One day during the 1890’s returning home from the Mumbles, he just dropped his dredge in Porlock Bay, and it came up full of oysters. So was the start of oyster fishing in Porlock Bay.

1850s Within twenty years this had developed into a significant local industry alongside herring and line fishing. Oyster dredgers were built at Porlock Weir, holding pens or weirs known as ‘perches’ were built to hold the oysters before sending to market. Indeed one of these pens, known as Oyster Perch is still easily visible at low tide on the approach to Porlock Weir (photo?). So Oyster fishing was in full swing with 1200 being caught every day.

1870s The trade had continued to flourish and now came another big step forward. In 1874 The railway opened at Minehead giving fast access to the country and particularly London. It was said that oysters caught in the morning were being eaten in top London restaurants the same evening. Porlock oysters gained a nationwide reputation for taste and quality.

1890s Now we get to a remarkable chapter in the story, the theft and destruction of oyster beds in the Bristol Channel. It would seem that the oyster beds by Colchester and Whitstable were failing. So they sent a fleet of sailing ship dredgers to the Bristol Channel and simple stripped the channel beds clean. There was no law to stop them then and there were more of them than the locals. So that was the sudden and final end of oyster fishing at Porlock Weir. There were a couple of short lived ideas to revive it and see if the old beds had reformed but they came to nothing.

2013 – Nothing that is until 2013 and the setting up of the Porlock Futures group by Porlock Parish Council. Two members, Tony Kenyon and David Salter respectively had proposed oyster fishing. That proposal was adopted as a means of setting up a small cottage industry that would eventually give employment to half a dozen people, generate income for the Porlock Bay community, and enhance the local tourist industry. In April 2014 we started the trial by putting oysters in the sea at Redsands near to Porlock Weir. The oysters have been a spectacular success. They grew well, had a low mortality rate and have achieved the highest and best Food Standards Agency Classification namely an A. Ours is the first site in England and Wales to have attained this classification for Pacific oysters. So perhaps this is why historically Porlock Bay Oysters had such a fine reputation for quality and taste. We now carry on from where they were forced to leave off all those years ago building on the rich heritage of Porlock Bay Oysters.

Jan Pollard in 1906 – old sailorman of Porlock
Jan Pollard in 1906 – much respected old sailorman of Porlock
Porlock Weir seafares after the fish market
Seafarers at Porlock Weir after the fish market.
dock gates laureate ship at Porlock Weir
Oyster Fishing vessel Laureate taken in 1907. Last remaining oyster boat of quite a large fleet.