Night lines

Those wonderful Anslow brothers have been at it again and sent me a lovely bit of Walsall Wood history – inspired by the remarkable ‘Poacher’s Apprentice’ film I featured here a few weeks ago.

That film – made by Brownhills photography enthusiast and amateur cameraman Edgar Pritchard in 1952 has proven to be a real slow burner, and is turning up some wonderful threads – both follow on, like this, and some remarkable tangential stuff to come.

It’s always my pleasure and honour to feature the beautifully written recollections of John and Paul; as ever I’m indebted to them for allowing me to share their story. I really love the photograph with this one. There’s some living in those faces – both that of Joe and the dog!

Paul and John have made some absolutely remarkable contributions to our knowledge of local history over the years here on the Brownhills Blog; from the movers and boneshakers of times passed, to the solemn gravity of child labour.

Thanks to the lads, and if you have anything to add, please feel free: comment here or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

John Anslow wrote:

Joe Timmins

Joe Timmins – ace poacher and coalminer, believed to be taken in 1924 when the gentleman was 70. A remarkable image kindly supplied by John and Paul Anslow.

Hello again, Bob

Thank you so much for posting ‘The Poacher’s Apprentice’ film. I’m only sorry that Dad wasn’t still alive to see it: he would have loved it. The scene where the poacher is checking his night lines and the two lads are spying on him reminded Paul and me of the tales Dad used to tell us about his maternal grandfather, Joe Timmins.

Joe, a coal miner, was acknowledged in the Walsall Wood of the 1920s to be one of the most skilful poachers in the district. As children, Dad and his pal used to follow him, just like the lads in the film, and watch him as he set his night lines in the flooded clay holes around the area known as the Iron Dish. Dad told us that, no matter how closely he and his pal observed him, they could never discover where Joe had tied off his lines.

Joe was after pike. These days, very few people eat that fish, do they? Though only the other day I found a French recipe book from the 1930s that included “Pauchouse de brochet”, or pike cooked with herbs, garlic and wine. Dad didn’t say how Joe cooked his catch, but it wouldn’t have been with garlic and wine [To the best of my knowledge, pike is quite a rough fish to eat and tastes of the riverbed – Bob].

As might be expected of a poacher, Joe had a way with animals, rather like the “horse whisperers” and “dog whisperers” we read of today. The only photograph we have of Joe shows him with his daughter’s little dog, which he sometimes used to sit on a bar stool to guard his beer if he left it unattended in the pub.

Like many men of his generation, Joe walked for miles along the canals, calling at pubs from time to time. On one occasion, he came from the towpath into the bar of the Nag’s Head, at Little Bloxwich. He commented to the landlord that there were some fine hens in the garden he’d walked through and that he, the landlord, should take care no one stole them. The customers all agreed that no one would dare come into the garden when the landlord’s particularly vicious dog was loose. The following week, Joe entered the bar once again through the back door, this time with the landlord’s “vicious dog” attached to a piece of string.

Here’s the photograph I mentioned, Bob. We think it was taken around 1924 when Joe was nearly seventy years old. Forty years later, Dad was in the Hawthorn Tree, talking to and elderly fellow who told of an old chap he remembered who could handle any dog, no matter how apparently uncontrollable. Slowly, Dad realised that the reputation of his grandfather was still present in the Walsall Wood folk memory.

Dad was quite a skilled poacher himself, and in the last few years of his life grew to physically resemble his grandfather.

All the very best, Bob; and thanks again for the film; if it triggers any further recollections that might be of interest, we’ll pass them on.

John Anslow

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4 Responses to Night lines

  1. Pedro says:

    From the man himself, Old Izaak…

    “….yet I am certain this direction how to roast him when he is caught is choicely good; for I have tried it, and it is somewhat the better for not being common. But with my direction you must take this caution, that your Pike must not be a small one, that is, it must be more than half a yard, and should be bigger.

    First, open your Pike at the gills, and if need be, cut also a little slit towards the belly. Out of these, take his guts; and keep his liver, which you are to shred very small, with thyme, sweet marjoram, and a little winter-savoury; to these put some pickled oysters, and some anchovies, two or three; both these last whole, for the anchovies will melt, and the oysters should not; to these, you must add also a pound of sweet butter, which you are to mix with the herbs that are shred, and let them all be well salted. If the Pike be more than a yard long, then you may put into these herbs more than a pound, or if he be less, then less butter will suffice: These, being thus mixt, with a blade or two of mace, must be put into the Pike’s belly; and then his belly so sewed up as to keep all the butter in his belly if it be possible; if not, then as much of it as you possibly can.

    But take not off the scales. Then you are to thrust the spit through his mouth, out at his tail. And then take four or five or six split sticks, or very thin laths, and a convenient quantity of tape or filleting; these laths are to be tied round about the Pike’s body, from his head to his tail, and the tape tied somewhat thick, to prevent his breaking or falling off from the spit. Let him be roasted very leisurely; and often basted with claret wine, and anchovies, and butter, mixt together; and also with what moisture falls from him into the pan.

    When you have roasted him sufficiently, you are to hold under him, when you unwind or cut the tape that ties him, such a dish as you purpose to eat him out of; and let him fall into it with the sauce that is roasted in his belly; and by this means the Pike will be kept unbroken and complete. Then, to the sauce which was within, and also that sauce in the pan, you are to add a fit quantity of the best butter, and to squeeze the juice of three or four oranges. Lastly, you may either put it into the Pike, with the oysters, two cloves of garlick, and take it whole out, when the Pike is cut off the spit; or, to give the sauce a haut goût, let the dish into which you let the Pike fall be rubbed with it: The using or not using of this garlick is left to your discretion….”

  2. Clive says:

    Paul and John, lovely story enjoyed every bit of it, thank you.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    a super story. Did the gentleman have his own dog ,does Paul know, please?
    kind regards

    • John Anslow says:

      Sorry for the late reply, David, I’ve only just seen your question. At the time the picture was taken Joe was living in lodgings somewhere in Shelfield, having separated from his wife. I imagine that is why he used to take his daughter’s dog with him on his meanderings.

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