An interview with a then 87 year old William Pollard published in the Somerset Times in 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 1830’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.
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.
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.
Now we get to a remarkable chapter in the story, the theft and destruction of oyster beds. 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 brutal end of oyster fishing at Porlock Weir.
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.
The group’s initial trials growing pacific oysters in Porlock Bay were a spectacular success. They grew well, had a low mortality rate and achieved an A Classification, the highest and best Food Standards Agency rating. The first site in England and Wales to have attained this classification for pacific oysters.
Following the successful trials, Porlock Bay Oysters was established as a commercial venture and their oysters went on to achieve national and international recognition for their high quality and unique flavour.
The difficult commercial landscape forces the community venture to look for financial support and in 2019 local businessman, Mark Pendarves, an oyster lover and supporter of the project from the outset, bought the business with a view to putting it on a sound financial footing and continuing to bring the benefits to the local area. Porlock Bay Oysters continues to operate with the existing community team and has an ambitious plans for the future.