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History: The Tudor Fishing Fleet

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Shares: men, boats, nets, lines, master, vicar

The museum is on the lower
promenade between the piers

The Book describes the rules by which the catch of every boat was apportioned. The rules - or ancient customs - were different for each particular fishing fare.

The fishermen employed a system of shares, starting with the share - usually one share - for each man on board, and then allocating shares or a part of a share for the boat, for nets and lines, for the master of the boat, for the vicar, and lastly the quarter share. The value of the catch (in fish or coin depending on the fare) was divided by the total number of shares and distributed accordingly.

The vicar's share was used for the support of the clergy of the parish church.

After each fishing fare is listed and described in the Book, it is recorded that the two commissioners, Lord Buckhurst and Richard Shelley, met with the fishermen in the town on 23rd June 1580 and formalised all the rules governing fishing and the upkeep of the town's defences. The commissioners "with the consente of the saide ffishermen devised and sett downe in wryttinge certeyne orders to be hereafter for ever observed used and kept by all the ffishermen and inhabitants of ye saide Towne of Brighthelmston".

The quarter share was to be paid annually by boat masters on the feast of St Steven (26th December) to the churchwardens, who were to safeguard the money and use it for "building of fortes and wales [walls] towardes the sea for the Defence of the sayde Towne and for the provision of shott and powder and other furniture for that purpose & enterteinment of souldiers in tyme of wares and other publique service of the Prince and maynteinance of the parrishe churche."

The Book goes on to list the farmers and artisans (103 including 2 widows) by name and against each name is a sum of money in pence and / or shillings that each had to pay for the town's defences - to be paid each year before the feast of Epiphany (6th January).

A Few Statistics

The Book states that the town had 400 "able mariners". Many of these lived with their work on the beach - the so-called lower town, which was swept away by severe storms in the early eighteenth century. The Book lists the equipment of the fishing community as 80 boats, and 10,000 nets.

Interestingly it also complains about the rise in the cost of wood for boat building and maintenance as a result of the growth of iron smelting in the Weald. A ton of wood had risen from 3 shillings and 4 pence to 13 shillings and 4 pence.

 

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