A Birmingham lad and the start of the BAA
Born in New Street Birmingham in 1877, Alf came from a humble angling family. His father had assisted in forming the Birmingham and District United Anglers Association following the inaugural meeting on 7 June 1883. This meeting was held at the Old Green Man pub in Lancaster Street, Birmingham, with the objective of obtaining reduced train fares for anglers at weekends. The United Anglers Association later became known as the Birmingham Anglers Association (BAA).
By 1906 Alf had been elected to the BAA Executive. Alf took over from the first BAA president, Mr Thomas Coles, in 1909. He served in the post for 37 years before finally retiring in 1945.
The history of the National Federation of Anglers began with the Northern Anglers' Association, a body which drew its membership mainly from Lancashire and Cheshire. Mr TW Redford, one of its officers, wrote to Alf in 1903 making the suggestion that there should be a meeting in Birmingham of anglers to discuss a Fisheries Bill which was then before parliament.
The meeting took place in Birmingham in May 1903. Present that day were representatives from Northern Anglers, Sheffield and District Association, Sheffield Amalgamated, London Anglers Association, County Palatine (Lancashire), Provincial Anglers, Hull and Birmingham. They represented a total of 46,000 anglers. Not only did they discuss the Fisheries Bill but at that meeting they also resolved to form a national body of anglers.
Alf's contribution to the National Federation of Anglers
Thus it was that the National Federation of Anglers (NFA) was born. Alf chaired the inaugural meeting which was held at the Birmingham Arms Hotel. John F Gorrill was elected as the first president. Alf was elected as the fifth president in 1932 and remained in post until 1955, thus becoming the longest serving of all the 14 NFA presidents by a considerable margin.
In addition he served on the committee for 46 years, with 8 years as secretary from 1913 to 1921, and another 8 years as vice president, thus contributing more than 50 years of national service to our sport.
Pollution fighter and pioneer of fish restocking
Alf was at the forefront of a protest against river pollution in 1927. He gave evidence at Whitehall prior to the establishment of the River Boards and then protested in the Commons about the major Witham pollution of 1929.
During his time, he led one of the greatest conservation crusades ever seen in British freshwater fisheries. In those bygone days, unwanted coarse fish were destroyed. Alf's stories of netting escapades to restock the Severn plus other rivers, canals and ponds from unwanted reservoirs are encapsulated in his book 'With Nets and lines' (and there is also 'Few and Short', for those who enjoy a good read).
The fish were transferred in large barrels by horse and cart, covering many miles in the midst of harsh winters. There was no Environment Agency or Canal & River Trust sitting in the wings to assist. It was fish preservation in the raw.
Media links and Alf the angler
Alf pioneered links with the media, giving a total of 122 angling talks on the radio from London, Bristol, Birmingham and other places. He was angling correspondent for the Birmingham Mail for almost thirty years.
In his presidential address to the NFA conference in May 1950, Alf said, "We have done much together to protect and improve our sport; let us keep steadily on with that worthy intention.”
Alf fished for the Birmingham Anglers Association in the National championships at least seven times, so he wasn't a bad angler either. He often sported a waistcoat chain bristling with solid gold medals. Sadly Birmingham Anglers Association never won the All England during Alf's tenure.
Alf was awarded an OBE in 1953 by Queen Elizabeth II in her first birthday honours list, for his 'Services to Organised Angling', becoming the first angler to receive official recognition for his connection with angling. The OBE presentation also coincided with the NFA's 50th anniversary.
Interviewed in 1964 during his retirement Alf had this to say.
“I am proud of all we have achieved for the working man angler over the years...(this) has been a life-long battle against pollution – the struggle to keep the waters clear of the fish-poisoning matter which ever-growing industry cast carelessly on a national heritage.”