Origins and Post War Years
Less than a year after World War 2 ended, a band of Angling friends, or Brothers as they dubbed themselves, sat down in the Old English Gentleman public house on the banks of the river Lea to begin a new Angling Society. These anglers fished the Lea at Waltham Abbey, and often retired to the Old English for a pint and a chat when the fishing was done. These regular gatherings gave rise to the suggestion of forming a club. One of the first to emerge with a plan for the fledgling club was Bert Rudge. In common with other early members Bert was a roach pole man with much experience on the Lea and Thames. His feats of making large catches of Barbel from the Lea made him something of a local legend. He also caught a rare crucian carp from the Lea which was put in a case and graced the walls of the Old English for many years.
So it was in March 1946 in the midst of post war austerity Abbey Cross Angling Society (A.C.A.S.) was officially formed, taking its name from Waltham Abbey/Waltham Cross the area where most of the founding members resided. Bert Rudge became the first Chairman of Abbey Cross and steered the Society through its first two years which at times where quite stormy. On retiring the Chair he gave up fishing to concentrate on his other hobby of pigeon racing. Meetings in those early years were held regularly at the Old English, the first committee meeting however was held in Lou Mapps front room at Queens Drive in Waltham Cross.
Membership was first restricted to anglers who lived in the Abbey and the Cross with special dispensation for anglers who lived in Loughton. This was granted as these Anglers regularly fished the Lea at Dunlop’s Corner after a day’s work in the Dunlop factory, Dunlop’s had once had a Factory in Loughton when this closed the Loughton workforce transferred to the Abbey site ,among them a few Anglers. Membership numbers were restricted to 40 seniors plus juniors with subscriptions set at 6d (2.50 new pence ) per week payable on a monthly basis at meetings, juniors paid half this amount.
Other founder members were Fred Chapman, Arthur Tulley, Reg Brayne, Harry Godfrey, Lou Mapp and Alec Leslie. Some of these names are still present in the Society appearing on match trophies such as the Reg Brayne and Arthur Tulley Cups . The less obvious being the Fishpools Trophy which came courtesy of Alec Leslie, for many years the Manager of Fishpools second hand furniture store in Waltham Cross.
The Society’s first President was Len Power of the local firm of L W Power. Despite being a non-angler Len gave the Society his full support in its formative years. He attended most Society functions and Mrs Power presented trophies at the annual dinner at Waltham Abbey Town Hall. He handed over the Presidency to James Proudlove in 1949 but kept in contact with the Society for many years after.
Probably the Society’s most controversial founder member was Harry Godfrey; first Secretary of Abbey Cross. Harry had very firm views about most things and was never shy about sharing them, which often upset some of the less radical members. During Harry’s tenure as Secretary the Society experienced some of the most hectic years in its early history including a massive revolt at a meeting when it was attempted to remove the junior’s right to vote. Nevertheless the Society became a close knit brotherhood in those formative years, often addressing each other as brother in a probable crossover from the masons and “brothers of the Angle” from Izaak Walton’s Complete Angler. In those early years the Secretary did almost everything, laying himself open to criticism from many fronts which gave rise to some very lively meetings. Harry was ever present at every function until he resigned in 1949 and went to live in Australia, reportedly returning to the UK in the sixties to live in the Midlands.
In the early years the Society was very much a Match / Club Competition organisation with coach outings twice a month. Food was scarce during these times of rationing , as a result the coach would often return home with more chickens, potatoes, marrows etc than fishing tackle. On one occasion a member purchased a live chicken from a Riverside Inn, this bird spent the day with one leg tethered, happily scratching while the angler attempted to carry on with his fishing.
Bait selection was also very limited with many items unavailable, the Anglers News and Sea Fishers Journal of April 30th 1949 via the editorial column reminded Anglers it was still illegal to use bran, sharps, bread and wheat for bait due to food shortages. Ex –Army greatcoats and canvas ammunition bags were the order of the day as far as Angling apparel and luggage were concerned, the more affluent anglers having a large wicker creel that could easily be mistaken for a pigeon basket. Those early coach outings and matches involved fishing to the old size limits rules based on either the local fishery boards byelaws or more often the rules of the London Anglers Association of which Abbey Cross very soon became an associate club. The practice of size limits meant every fish had to be measured to ensure it was eligible for weighing- in; every Angler of the day carried a ruler for this purpose. Those early weigh-ins involved taking fish to one central scales man, requiring anglers to transport fish often quite long distances along the bank in keepnets, periodically dunking the net and fish in the water to improve their chances of surviving the journey to the scales.
This practice which seems barbaric to the modern angler resulted in many dead fish, some of which would have been eaten or in some cases fed to the pigs. This practice and the used of knotted cotton nets soaked in linseed oil was not a fish friendly environment, however it was to continue for many years. Small improvements such as carrying fish to weigh-ins in canvas water buckets improved the fishes’ chances, as did the rule banning the weighing-in of dead fish.
A few months after formation the Society obtained its first fishery, a small gravel pit behind the Sawmill at Cheshunt Railway Station. Alas the pit has since been backfilled and rather like the Sawmill no trace of it now exist. This fishery was obtained on an informal basis for free with just a “nod” from the owner allowing the Society to fish it.
1947 saw the acquisition of another local fishery, a large gravel workings known as Twickenham Pit situated between the Lea and the railway line ,just south of the Dunlop factory at Waltham Abbey. It was accessed at the time via Station Road, opposite the Britannia Pub, a handy refuge after a few hours fishing. There was no formal lease on this fishery the arrangement being made with the pit manager Cliff Flint. The pit which was two areas of water joined by a narrow channel was known for its big Rudd in one half and Roach in the other. It eventually received some unofficial Bream stocks which arrived on an ad hoc basis following coach outings to the fens. With more fishing available membership was increased to 50 seniors.
Club Competitions at Twickenham pits caused some controversy over the years, with the peg in the channel joining the two halves being banned from matches as it was a guaranteed winning peg. On one occasion when the Roach and Rudd were reluctant to feed, a previous match on Twickenham pit had been won with four Rudd for 8lbs 8ounces, junior member Mick Brayne found he could catch gudgeon very easily and proceeded to fill his keepnet with 7 lbs of them. At the weigh- in he was the clear winner and took the Proudlove Cup. At the next society meeting a very heated debate arose as to the legality of weighing-in Gudgeon, the match result stood but Gudgeon were banned from matches thereafter. Twickenham pit was backfilled in the 1970’s and the M25 now crosses where it once was.
Meetings were often stormy affairs, but none as bad as the coach outing that began with a punch up resulting in one member being sent home and another being taken home with damaged ribs, all before the coach had left the Abbey. One AGM was particularly heated with two juniors seating themselves on top of the piano out of the way. Early in the ‘election of officers’ an uproar began over a nomination, tempers flared all round the room, members where jumping up and down with resignations coming in from all quarters, the two juniors remained quietly where they were. As time ran out it was decided to abandon the meeting and reconvene a week later. There were two people who claimed to be the only members during the intervening week.
The reconvened meeting duly took place, with more members present and tempers cooled the difficulties were overcome and soon it was business as usual.