Fish and Fishermen

Fred Buller - Fish & Fishermen in English Medieval Church Wall Paintings

Medlar Press £25.00
ISBN 978-1-899600-98-4

Yes, I wouldn’t have imagined that it was worth trolling around the country peering into damp, deserted churches in the hope of catching a glimpse of a medieval fishermen in a wall painting either, but then neither did I expect the lady in the pew behind me at a christening to suddenly shriek, ‘I say, what fantastic graffiti, darling!’ causing the babe to burst into tears and the vicar to follow suit, but then religion has strange effects on some people. This book has strange effects on people too, because by rights it should be as dull as ditch water and I doubt that the coffee-table publishers would have taken a second look at it, but it turns out to be a rich source of information about fishing in the Middle Ages, with some of the paintings dating back to the twelfth century if not before.

Given that one of the substantial early references to fishing dates to the beginning of this period - Aelfric’s Colloquy, which was written in about 1000 AD - Fred’s book does much to fill in the gap before the late medieval texts appear and it does so in the most appealing manner. Although many of the murals are fading, Medlar's expert treatment of the many photographs bring out the most amazing detail, good enough to identify individual species of fish, not to mention showing how anglers dressed and the type of tackle they used. It is true that all this information is available elsewhere, but it would take a pretty assiduous search to gather together 150 heavily illustrated pages of it. I wouldn’t call it unputdownable and neither is it exactly mass market stuff, but Fish & Fishermen exerts a curious fascination all of its own - with the added bonus that as you turn the pages, you can almost feel Fred holding the lantern at your side, saying, ‘Just look at the size of that sturgeon!’