The Sluice-house, a Regency fisherman’s paradise
I discovered the joy of fishing late in life, after moving to the lake-abundant state of Kentucky in 2013. My husband insisted we buy a boat (Why not, we’re retired!) and although I fully expected to spend my time on the lake reading a book, almost immediately I was hooked. Pun definitely intended! I’ve written a few blogs on the topic, even covering the use of angling as a plot device in Pride and Prejudice in THIS POST from 2017. So when I stumbled across a fishing reference, including the mention of Isaac (or Izaak) Walton, the famed English author of The Compleat Angler, my heart leapt!
This tidbit is in The Every-day Book and Table Book, v. 1 (of 3) or Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements, by William Hone for the year 1826. The entire book is full of fascinating slices of life from the period and fabulous illustrations. It can be read HERE on The Project Gutenberg (the best version) or on Google Books HERE. The snippet which caught my attention is from May 23. Enjoy!
Ye who with rod and line aspire to catch
Leviathans that swim within the stream
Of this fam’d River, now no longer New,
Yet still so call’d, come hither to the Sluice-house!
Here, largest gudgeons live, and fattest roach
Resort, and even barbel have been found.
Here too doth sometimes prey the rav’ning shark
Of streams like this, that is to say, a jack.
If fortune aid ye, ye perchance shall find
Upon an average within one day,
At least a fish, or two; if ye do not,
This will I promise ye, that ye shall have
Most glorious nibbles: come then, haste ye here.
And with ye bring large stock of baits and patience
From Canonbury tower onward by the New River, is a pleasant summer afternoon’s walk. Highbury barn, or, as it is now called, Highbury tavern, is the first place of note beyond Canonbury. It was anciently a barn belonging to the ecclesiastics of Clerkenwell; though it is at present only known to the inhabitants of that suburb, by its capacity for filling them with good things in return for the money they spend there. The “barn” itself is the assembly-room, whereon the old roof still remains. This house has stood in the way of all passengers to the Sluice-house, and turned many from their firm-set purpose of fishing in the waters near it. Every man who carries a rod and line is not an Isaac Walton, whom neither blandishment nor obstacle could swerve from his mighty end, when he went forth to kill fish.
He was the great progenitor of all
He neither stumbled, stopt, nor had a fall
When he essay’d to war on dace, bleak, bream,
Stone-loach or pike, or other fish, I deem.
The Sluice-house is a small wooden building, distant about half a mile beyond Highbury, just before the river angles off towards Newington. With London anglers it has always been a house of celebrity, because it is the nearest spot wherein they have hope of tolerable sport. Within it is now placed a machine for forcing water into the pipes that supply the inhabitants of Holloway, and other parts adjacent. Just beyond is the Eel-pie house, which many who angle thereabouts mistake for the Sluice-house. To instruct the uninformed, and to gratify the eye of some who remember the spot they frequented in their youth, the preceding view, taken in May 1825, has been engraved. If the artist had been also a portrait painter, it would have been well to have secured a sketch of the present keeper of the Sluice-house; his manly mien, and mild expressive face, are worthy of the pencil: if there be truth in physiognomy, he is an honest, good-hearted man. His dame, who tenders Barcelona nuts and oranges at the Sluice-house door for sale, with fishing-lines from two-pence to six-pence, and rods at a penny each, is somewhat stricken in years, and wholly innocent of the metropolis and its manners.