The Emsworth Oyster Fishery

Oysters had probably been fished in Emsworth and Warblington for many centuries, before The Emsworth Oyster Dredgers Co-operative was established in the 1870s to improve and protect the industry. In 1788. it is recorded that over 7,000 bushels of native Emsworth oysters, with a value of 1,500, were raked and dredged by a dozen master fishermen. The oyster industry flourished and the fishery was at its height during the last decade of the 19th century. In 1901 between 300 and 400 people, out of a population of some 3,000, were working in the Emsworth oyster trade, either for Foster or the other fishing masters, or engaged in the sale of oysters. Emsworth's important oyster industry on which so many relied for their living was devastated by  the great oyster scare of 1902, when guests at a Winchester banquet became ill and the Dean of Winchester died from typhoid attributed to eating Emsworth oysters at that event. Following inspection of the oyster beds gross sewage contamination was identified and the sale of Emsworth oysters immediately slumped.

 

By By 1878 approximately 50 vessels belonged to Emsworth - rowing boats for fishing within the harbour, and smacks of up to 30 tons and 50 feet in length capable of fishing in more distant waters. A small number of boats were involved in coastal trade with commodities including coal, corn and timber. For its size, Emsworth had a significant shipbuilding industry and the supported manufacturing of sailcloth, fishing nets and rope. Perhaps the most famous Emsworth shipbuilder was J.D. Foster who built cutters and fast deep-water ketches from 1880 onwards. Today, a century later, it is the 'Echo', Foster's fastest and largest cutter with an overall length of 112 feet, for which it is most renowned. It is reputed to have been the largest fishing vessel to have sailed out of an English port.


At the height of successful industry, over three million oysters a year came out of Emsworth to be distributed across the country. At the end of the 19th century half the population of Emsworth earned their living from fishing, oyster dredging or the industries that support the trade, such as boat building. Alas the industry collapsed when the Dean of Winchester died in 1902 and the blame was laid on polluted oysters. Since then the waters have been cleaned-up, but today only a handful of fishermen are still dredging the harbour for oysters.


At the height of the Emsworth oyster industry’s production boom, the town boasted an oyster shop, which has long since gone and today the site is home to an Indian restaurant, A Taste of India.

 

 



Emsworth's Oysters from Millstream Productions on Vimeo.



 

Funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Directed by Daniel Musty
Cinematography by Ben Cloud
Additional Camera by Rebecca Curd
Produced by Millstream Productions