The National Federation of Anglers organised its first ever canal All England on the Gloucester and Berkeley in September 1937. Little did the competitors imagine that just two years later the world would once again be at war and after the 1938 match, the All England Championships would not be held again until 1945.
As a by-pass for unnavigable stretches of the River Severn below Gloucester, initial preparations for the construction of the Gloucester & Berkeley Canal started in 1793, but the final ‘cut’ was only completed in 1827. It is impressive wide, deep water, running almost parallel to the A38 Gloucester to Bristol Road, with the River Severn running majestically close by.
At the time of this match in 1937, a heavy volume of commercial traffic used the waterway, but many local anglers fished the canal through necessity as other waters were few and far between. The great Gloucestershire angler Max Winters (pictured) recalls that commercial traffic was still plentiful on the cut when he was growing up in the 1950s.
The Berkeley was thought to be a fair venue with all sections virtually the same. There were no bream holes or concentrated pockets of roach and so it particularly suited the small fish men from the north of England, especially those skilful cut men from around Manchester and other parts of the north west.
Locally based Gloucestershire anglers used tiny size 20 hooks to 10x gut bottoms with sour milk and bran special maggots for the hook, targeting small roach, bream or perch and maybe the odd bonus tench or carp.
The Daily Mirror reported: "From well before dawn until the start of the match, some 700 competitors were never in doubt as to what they should do, or where they should go. That's efficiency! Before eleven o'clock every angler was at his peg, the first man in 'A' section being nine miles from the last man in 'L' Section. The transport service from the Prince of Wales Hotel, Berkeley Road, where the draw took place, worked perfectly."
Groves and Whitnalls, a brewery team from Salford, won the Daily Mirror Cup Team Championship and gold medals with a team weight of almost 24lbs (10.89 kg). Groves’ Joe Gauntlett finished in second place with 9lbs 6 ½ oz and in third was another Groves man, Bill Cronshaw, with 7lbs 5¾ oz.
With team positions decided on aggregate weight, two anglers in the top three individuals almost guaranteed a team win. But Yorkshire side Doncaster AA were hot on their heels and just failed to pull it off with a second placed total of 23lbs to take the silver medals. County Palatine, another Manchester team, finished in third place with almost 20lbs.
Nobody in the 700-strong field that day could match the performance of one particular Jones, namely Harold Jones. Fishing for the County Palatine Anglers Association, Harold won the prestigious title of All England Individual Champion. Harold drew peg K9, the famous milk factory peg at Frampton. Walking over the bridge he turned upstream and after 100 yards saw fish topping everywhere in his swim. He set up a short 11-foot rod, a special loaded float and a small size 18 round bend hook to 8x gut and waited for the all in.
Using his home-bred medium-sized annatto maggots, Harold was into fish from the off, taking as many as a hundred tiny roach, fishing very shallow, just three yards from the bank. The milk factory then discharged dirty water into the canal and the resulting scum put Harold’s fish off for nearly an hour. Once it had cleared he continued to catch more small roach. A large crowd of spectators gathered and one remarked he had seen Harold catch 40 fish but had not once seen his float move.
At the weigh in, Harold recorded 9lbs 9½ oz, comprising 169 roach and a solitary bream of 4oz. Harold later reflected with disappointment that his lean spell in the middle of the match had cost his County Palatine team the championship title. He won an individual gold medal, the Daily Mirror Cup replica and a place in the history books.
The catches of fish fell much below the high standard that was expected and in three sections of the nine-mile stretch, 130 anglers failed to land a single fish. The total weight caught by all the teams was just over 464lbs, not much more than 10oz per man.
That may be why the National Federation of Anglers did not hold another National on the Gloucester & Berkeley or any other canal until 1963. It is interesting to note that in this All England, the only lady taking part out of a total field of 700 competitors was a Mrs Poole who fished for North Staffs AA.
Last date edited: 21 January 2021
John Essex was a key member of the legendary Leicester Likely Lads match team of the 1970s, picking up five Division 1 National team medals. John coached the Leicester juniors to five NFA junior titles and chaired Leicestershire Angling Federation for nearly 30 years. Still fishing weekly at club level, John is an avid collector of books and old tackle, and has written a book about the history of the National. John blogs for us about angling history and heritage.See more blogs from this author