Manchester Anglers Association was founded in 1878 as a fishing and literary society. For the first few years members sought fishing where they could and gathered together in Manchester monthly to recount their experiences.
An early decision was taken to try to find suitable trout fishing that the club could lease and a number of locations were assessed for their suitability including the Derbyshire Wye and North Wales. One of the criteria used to evaluate such waters was ease of access. Another was the ready availability of friendly accommodation. Remember that these were days before motorised transport and rural roads were still fairly primitive.
The overriding need was to find waters that could be readily accessed by rail and eventually attention was drawn to the headwaters of the Ribble that had recently come within easy reach of Manchester as a result of the activities of the Midland Railway who had in 1875 completed their new Scottish mainline extension via Ribblesdale.
Scouting parties reported a river with great potential and no resident club. Also available was an abundance of accommodation in two inns at Horton and farmhouses dotted along the river.
The MAA arrived at Horton in 1882 and immediately began to establish a presence by securing a club room at the Golden Lion (the rod rests survive in the entrance hall to this day) and making plans for the preservation of brown trout. These were found to be in short supply despite the river offering good habitat and conditions. The reason for the limited stock was discovered to be the presence of the very railway that enabled members to reach Horton from Manchester so readily.
During construction of the line it had not taken the vast army of navvies long to work out that their monotonous diet could be supplemented with fresh trout. Frequently on a Sunday the river would resound to the blows of hammers and the dull thud of dynamite as the navvies went about their unique method of fishing. Pools were dynamited and large rocks given a hefty blow with a sledge hammer to stun the fish hiding under them.
With the zeal typical of Victorian gentlemen plans were drawn up to replenish the stocks of native trout. Key to these plans was the development of a small trout hatchery situated on Horton Beck (Douk Ghyll) opposite the school master’s house. This hatchery became the pride of Robert Walker who was appointed to be the club’s first river keeper or beckwatcher. Several thousand trout fry were raised here and put into the river.
By 1906 the hatchery was struggling. There was no room to expand operations and more critically the water supply from Douk Ghyll head often failed in summer. A search was on to find an alternative site and this was quickly found close to the source of Brants Ghyll a mile further up the river.
Here a hatching house was built and a number of concrete lined ponds excavated to allow fish to be grown on for up to three years. The hatchery was initially highly successful and provided many thousands of fish both for the river and the Tarn at Newhouses which the club had acquired.
The hatchery continued in operation until 1946 when the cost of the operation combined with issues about its effectiveness forced its closure.
The old ponds remain to this day and recently two have been brought back into use. One to provide a native crayfish refuge and the other to facilitate experiments with trout breeding.
Over the past five years two members of the club have devoted untold hours to researching, compiling and publishing the extensive history of the club. This material includes a series of original manuscript books, lavishly illustrated and containing much that may be of interest to social historians as it paints a lucid picture of lfe amongst a group of gentlemen during the final quarter of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. The history is available to all members and we are presently seeking ways in which we can conserve the books and make the material more widely available to those genuinely interested in Manchester life and sporting interests one hundred and thirty years ago.
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