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It was Once Upon a Line ... A Potted History
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It was Once Upon a Line ... A Potted History

Keith Wilson our former Honorary Secretary (1971-1987) and current Vice President wrote the following.


IN THE BEGINNING

At the end of World War II the surviving young men, from the Crowborough & Jarvis Brooks Districts, returned home from serving in HM Armed Forces. A number of them once again took up their old practice of Sea Fishing together, in an informal group. They soon began freshwater fishing again, as they had done as boys and young men in the late 1920’s and throughout the 1930’s. Then in 1948 they decided to make their informal angling group into a proper Angling Club with its Headquarters based in The Social Club, Croft Road, Crowborough, and thus Crowborough & District Anglers’ Association was born.

In the early years the Club’s activities were limited to Sunday morning freshwater trips to fish day ticket stretches of the River Medway or Eastern Rother. Alternatively there were saltwater trips to the beaches at Pevensey Bay, Langney Point, Norman’s Bay, Cooden and Dungeness. There was also an annual trip to fish off the Breakwater at the entrance to Dover Harbour. At that time it was very convenient for the Club that it’s first Executive Committee Chairman Mr. Gilbert happened to own an elderly Char-a-banc.

In the early 1950’s the Club gained its first “Grace & Favour” rights to fish from two local members of the aristocracy. Firstly, as Lord Winstone was having his haircut by barber and Honorary Secretary Bert Taylor, the pair discussed local angling facilities, or rather the lack of them. Lord Winstone then offered to “have a word” with the ninth Earl de La Warr on the Club’s behalf. This meeting soon led to the Club gaining the right to fish The Main Lake, Buckhurst Park in conjunction with it’s sister club, The Dorset Arms Angling Club. In addition the Club gained the sole right to fish the “Half-Moon Stream” from the Half-Moon Pub down to the Main Lake. Then through the “good offices” of one of the Club’s founder Members (who was employed on the Rotherfield Estate) Lady Ellis was persuaded to grant the Club the right to fish the two small lakes on the left-hand side of the driveway into Rotherfield Hall. Subsequently, the Club gained from Redlands, a further “Grace & Favour” right to fish the “Brickyard Lake, Jarvis Brook.

The Sunday morning trips continued right into the early 1970’s but by that time the modes of transport had changed to commercially hired coaches for the freshwater trips. A coach was also used for the annual outing to Dover. On the way back it “stopped” at a convenient hostelry and so it would be a very jolly group of Anglers who arrived back outside the Social Club late on a Sunday evening.

EVOLUTION IN THE EARLY 1970’s

So the first two decades of the Club’s history passed with relative tranquility, until the autumn of 1969 when an event took place that some would say “altered the course of the Club” forever. Messrs. PJ Boorman and KJB Wilson were elected to membership of the Club by simply going and having their haircut! At the subsequent 1971 AGM Keith Wilson was “conned” into being elected to the post of Honorary Secretary when in fact he thought he was going to be the Club’s first Assistant Honorary Secretary.

The now former Honorary Secretary Bert Taylor (a Club founder member) continued on as Assistant Honorary Secretary for another year prior to finally retiring at the 1972 AGM, having been in Office for twenty-two consecutive years. He was subsequently appointed the Club’s first Honorary Life Vice-President, which was a post he held until his death in May 2005, thus ending an unbroken run of fifty-seven years of continuous service to the Club. At that same AGM of 1972 Peter Boorman was elected to the post of Assistant Honorary Secretary and thus began a period of continuous service, which has lasted to the current day.

The Club’s long serving and original Honorary Treasurer, Arthur Sellings (another founder member) continued in office until 1973 before finally retiring, having completed twenty-five consecutive years as Treasurer. His record of service to the Club is remembered each year by the awarding of the  “Roachman Trophy” (Arthur’s “Nom de Plume” and favourite fish). A young Keith Williams who had joined the Club as a junior member and had “come up through the ranks” succeeded Arthur.

The 1970’s saw major changes in the way the Club was administered, with Sub-Committees being appointed by the main Executive Committee, to take on the tasks overseeing various aspects of the Club’s growing activities, responsibilities and membership size. For the first time two junior representatives, with full voting rights, were elected to sit on the Executive Committee and represent the interests and issues concerning the junior section of the Club.

The growth in the Club’s membership and activities along with the increase in associated costs were not welcomed by all of the Club’s “long time members.” At the 1972 AGM Keith Wilson and Peter Boorman proposed that the Club’s annual subscription be increased by 100%, from two shillings and six pence to five shillings. Two veteran members immediately proposed that they should be taken outside and “hanged!” Present financial Officers please take note.

ENLARGING THE PORTFOLIO

It was at this time that the Club started to rent waters and under its first Water Management Officer, Don Plummer, the Club created its first fishery at Scaland Wood in 1978. It took a great deal of work to make the water fishable, but under Don’s leadership a wonderful fishery was created.

Under Don’s successor, Henry Russell, the Club created its second fishery at Wirgol. The first pond was opened in 1985, with the second following a year later. As with Scaland Wood it took a great deal of work to make the water fishable. It was also during Henry’s watch as Water Management Officer that the Club gained the “Grace & Favour” right to fish the Sandhill Farm stretch of the Eridge Stream. Fortunately for the Club, the owner of the river was also Henry’s boss. Henry and a few of his Water Management Team used to pay the Club’s “rent” for this fishery by helping out at Sandhill Farm during harvest time.

The Club also joined the Rother Fisheries Association and this provided access to fourteen miles of the River Rother as well as some stretches of the Royal Military Canal. So as the 1980’s came to an end the Club had a portfolio of waters that totalled twelve. Whilst it had taken a great deal of effort to compile the portfolio, the Club was firm in the belief, that it offered something for everyone. And while the portfolio has changed over the years, the Executive Committee remains sure that the Club still offers something for everyone.

ANGLING ADMINISTRATION

During the 1980’s the Club began to take an active participation in the wider angling world, joining the Kent and Sussex Fisheries Consultative Associations, the Wealden District Sports Council and the Anglers Co-operative Association, which in due course eventually became the Angling Trust.

When the Eridge Stream was polluted five times in fifteen years it was the Anglers Co-operative Association who provided the advice the Club needed to ensure the Redgate Mill works improved their standards. The Club had also built up a very good working relationship with the senior fishery personnel at the Kent and Sussex offices of the Environment Agency (as well as all of those organisations predecessors). This meant that each time the Eridge Stream was re-stocked, it was at no cost to the Club. During the 1980’s the Club joined forces with the residents of the St.Johns area of Crowborough to protest at the pollution of the Half Moon Stream on Bunkers Hill. As a result, the sewer had to be replaced.

In 1970 the Club fished its first match against another Club, which in this case was the Dorset Arms Angling Club. The Warren Shield has been fished for every year since. Since then the Club has branched out and fished matches against other Clubs and sometimes, members companies.

Throughout the Club’s history, membership gradually grew from less than 100 members in 1970 to peak around 350 members in the mid to late 1990’s. It’s a little lower these days, but remains healthy and vibrant. As the Club grew in size, the Executive Committee enlarged accordingly and even though at times, the running of the Club impinged on peoples time, many remain to this day, as keen as they were, twenty, thirty or forty years ago.

AS ONE ERA ENDS, ANOTHER BEGINS

 

The 1987 AGM saw the next milestone in the Club’s administrative history when Keith Wilson retired from the office of Honorary Secretary to take up the less demanding post 
of Vice-President. Subsequently, following the death of the tenth Earl De La Warr and the resignation, after a year in the office of President, of the eleventh Earl De La Warr, Keith was 
appointed the Club’s third President. Meanwhile at the 1987 AGM David Errey was voted into the post of Honorary Secretary and he would serve until 2003.

It was on David’s watch that the Club obtained the rights to the very popular and now much missed, Holts Lakes. Newick Lane Lake and Underhill were also acquisitions gained under Dave’s stewardship. In the mid 1990’s the Club embarked on its largest fishery development project to date. Roger Funnell and his small team of dedicated assistants successfully masterminded the successful application for a National Lottery Grant to help finance the creation and subsequent stocking of Pennybridge Lake. The project took around two years to complete and was ready for the start of the 1997 season. Many years later Pennybridge remains a jewel in the Club’s crown and many members are just happy to sit and take it all in, and if they are lucky enough to catch a fish, so much the better.

The Club continued to prosper throughout the 1990’s and while the portfolio of waters evolved over time, the Committee remained strong with many of the same old faces still turning up month after month and year after year to keep things ticking over. Linda Colvin became Honorary Treasurer; John Manktelow had become the Fund Raising Officer, Dave Cottington had evolved into the Water Management Officer and Robert Veitch who happened to be sat in the wrong place one evening in 1991 when Linda Colvin pointed at him and said “you can take the minutes tonight” became the Minutes Secretary – he’s still doing them!

In 1998 the Club reached its Golden Jubilee, which was a scenario many of the founding members may never have expected. In 1999 the Honorary Treasurer Linda Colvin, and her husband the Freshwater Match Steward Graham decided to sell up and move to South Wales. For many years they had run the original Crowborough Tackle shop together and it had become an unofficial home for Club members to chat, gossip and exaggerate about their catches, over a cup of tea.

So the Club celebrated the Millennium along with the rest of the World, having great hopes and expectations for the decade ahead. Unfortunately, like so many other Clubs, CDAA started to see a decline in membership as the rise and rise of the day ticket fishery lured the anglers’ eye in their direction. For a year or two the Club had to do the unthinkable and for the first time in its history, use the cash reserves to cover a small trading loss on the year. Life was certainly challenging for the new Honorary Treasurer Peter Gammon.

ALL CHANGE

More change was just around the corner in 2001 when Keith Wilson retired as President, to be replaced by Peter Boorman. Cris Millis who was keen to leave the Committee in the late 1970’s became Chairman and remains so, to this day.

At the 2003 AGM Honorary Secretary David Errey announced his retirement after having served with great dedication and devotion for sixteen years. His successor Geoff Wicks had the rather odd distinction of becoming Secretary on the same day he was elected to the Committee. Geoff would go on to serve until 2012.

For the Honorary Treasurer Peter Gammon life was tough, but at his suggestion the Club undertook some cost cutting and let go of Hole Farm Cackle Street. In addition, Roger Funnell instigated a successful membership campaign and set up the Clubs first website. Fund Raising Officer of the day John Kelly then organised a very successful New Year raffle in 2004. By the time of the 2004 AGM the Club was back on track with a trading profit.

During 2004 a new tackle stand opened up at the Lye Green Nursery, but soon it moved to Jarvis Brook and then to it’s current home in the centre of Crowborough. Under the entrepreneurial Sandra Lawrence the shop became the second Crowborough Tackle and just like it’s predecessor, an unofficial home for the Club and a place where the kettle is always on.

Around this time the Club’s annual Junior Day began to grow from a small-scale event to the annually oversubscribed event of today. Such is the popularity of the event that even the Environment Agency coaches the Club use, pencil it in to their diaries one year ahead. From this developed the current summer series of junior matches. If you read the Angling Mail or watch Carl and Alex Smith online, this is where they started!

In 2006 the Club obtained the rights to the charming Danesfield Wood and although the dam has had to be reconstructed and the water restocked it’s become an idyllic hideaway for those who fish it. The rest of the portfolio from the turn of the century was retained and with the addition of Weirwood Reservoir, the Club still had something to offer everyone.

At the AGM that year, the man responsible for putting the Club back on a sound financial footing Peter Gammon retired. He was succeeded by the Clubs second female Treasurer and seventh in total, Sandra Lawrence.

In 2008 the Club celebrated its Diamond Anniversary and to mark the occasion Keith Wilson wrote a book about the Clubs history. It was titled “Once Upon a Line… And Other Stories” and Keith was presented with the first copy, signed by all of the Executive Committee at the AGM that year.

That same year the Executive Committee heard that the 94 year-old owner of Scaland Wood Mr. Dodds was planning to sell up and emigrate to New Zealand. After much discussion the Committee decided to try to purchase the lake and in the process, secure the long-term future of the Club. Under the leadership of Honorary Secretary Geoff Wicks the Club was successful and in 2009 the Club became landowners. Since then many improvements have taken place on site and no doubt there will be more in the future.

MOVING FORWARD

At the 2012 AGM Geoff Wicks stood down as Honorary Secretary. He was presented with the President’s Trophy and became only the third recipient of the award since its’ inception in 1987. Dave Stanbridge replaced Geoff and in the process became the Clubs fifth Honorary Secretary. By the autumn Dave had got himself off to a great start as the Club obtained the rights to Gabriel’s Fishery and the 40lb+ Carp water the Committee had searched for, for so many years. As Christmas approached the Club then undertook the creation of its second (and some would say new and improved) website.

During 2013 the Club installed it's first on site toilet at Pennybridge, in time for the 11th Junior Day that June. That same year saw the Club host a pack of Crowborough Scouts and help them in their attempts to pass their angling badge. In October, Scaland Wood underwent it's greatest transformation since 1992. Under the guidance of Dave Cottington and Dave Flint the banksides were improved beyond recognition in an attempt to improve both the general environment and the water quality. By the summer of 2014 the improvements were regarded as a great success.

Not content with one transformation, the Club then embarked on attaining the fishing rights to Mill House Farm at Maresfield and spent many long hours clearing the bankside and making the water a viable fishery. It was opened to the membership in 2015. By the beginning of the 2016-17 season the Club had moved forward once more, with agreements in place to fish at More House Farm Fishery and Bough Beech Reservoir. On a sadder note Honorary Secretary Dave Stanbridge announced his intention to stand down at the 2017 AGM, after completing five successful years as Secretary.

21/05/2015

Sadly Keith passed away after a short illness in October 2017. The following was written by another long serving Committee member, Robert Veitch, who knew Keith better than most of us and includes parts from a eulogy given by our President Pete Boorman at Keiths funeral.

KEITH WILSON

Keith Jon Bromley Wilson was born on 12th December 1938 in Lewisham, the son of a cobbler and chiropodist. Evacuated to Cornwall during the War, it was an idyllic childhood with his formative years influenced by the surrounding countryside. The family moved back to London, to Catford after hostilities ceased. Keith began his working life at an Australian Bank in the city, taking a break to do his National Service with the RAF in Norfolk. After the RAF it was back to the bank and it was here he met Christine who would become his wife in 1969. The newlyweds relocated to Crowborough, and moved in next door to (current Club President) Peter Boorman.

 

Keith’s application to join Crowborough and District Anglers’ Association was accepted. With his enthusiasm well fuelled he dragged Peter along too, first as an ordinary member, then onto the Committee before the year was out.

 

At the 1971 AGM Keith was “conned” or “shanghaied” as he sometimes said, into being elected to the post of Honorary Secretary when in fact he thought he was going to be the Clubs’ first Assistant Honorary Secretary. His predecessor Bert Taylor had been Secretary since the Clubs’ inception in 1948 and was party to the ruse. Membership numbers at the time were around 100.

 

Barely a year into the job with membership numbers and expenditure both rising, Keith and Peter Boorman made a proposal to the 1972 AGM – that the annual subscription be increased by 100%, from two shillings and six pence to five shillings. Two veteran members immediately proposed they should be taken outside and ‘hanged!’

 

At a later AGM, Keith took wise council from the Clubs’ first Treasurer, Arthur Sellings. Arthur leant across to say quite quietly “Keith, we Executive Officers, whilst on one hand holding tight onto the purse strings must always do it in such a way that does not discourage members from making their proposals. No matter how wildly unrealistic most proposals might be, just once in a while a member does actually come up with a ‘cracker’ of an idea that could be of huge benefit to the CDAA. We must never be seen to stifle the flow of ideas.” That was a lesson that Keith carried with him for the rest of the time he served as Honorary Secretary.

 

Keith had periods of doubt about the effectiveness of his stewardship in 1977 and again in 1978, when he considered resigning. But there was no apparent heir and so rather than get disheartened, he re-doubled his efforts and drove the Club forward into the 1980’s.

 

Keith’s reports to the Executive Committee had a fondly remembered notoriety of their own. He had an ability to study long academic and political reports that were relevant to angling and to this Club, always noting the most salient points. It was a task that other Committee members were happy to pass over, most of them losing interest in these documents long before the end of the introduction.

 

Keith would turn up at Committee meetings and hand out photocopies of his hand-typed monthly report to all who were present. He would then proceed to read the whole thing out. This usually gave some Committee members time to visit the toilet, replenish their drink, have a chat at the bar and get back to their seat long before the oration was complete. Meanwhile Keith carried on regardless, head down, focused, reading out loud with that distinctive burr in his voice. The reports were always detailed and well researched. His exploits with rod and reel would often elicit a snigger or two as every tiny detail of his trips would be reported; From the departure time, to the venue, the companion, the equipment, the bait, the size and species of every fish caught and what time he got home again.

 

During the late 1970’s under Keith’s stewardship the Club became more active in the wider world of angling administration, joining the Kent and Sussex Fisheries Consultative Associations, the Wealden District Sports Advisory Council, The Rother Fisheries Association and the Anglers Co-operative Association, which in due course eventually became the Angling Trust. Keith met his great friend, Tony Barnard at a Wealden District Sports Advisory Council meeting. Tony later remarked in the preface to the book “Once Upon A Line… And Other Stories” – “I consider it a privilege to know him and an honour to have worked alongside him.”

 

During the early years of the 1980’s, the Club had to endure five pollution incidents in fifteen years on the Eridge Stream. Working with the Anglers Co-operative Association and both the Kent and Sussex offices of the Environment Agency, Keith endeavoured to ensure the adjacent Redgate Mill sewage works improved their infrastructure, and that the stream was re-stocked each time. There have been no pollution incidents since.

 

Another pollution incident occurred in 1986 at Bunkers Hill, behind the Horder Centre, when raw sewage spilled into the Half Moon Stream. A stream that was on the Clubs’ portfolio of waters at the time, and one that flowed into the Main Lake at Buckhurst Park, which in those days was the marquee water. Keith was down there like a shot with his camera, gathering the evidence, which was promptly brought along to the next Committee meeting. Southern Water were judged to be responsible for the leak and had to replace the sewer. They didn’t have much choice.

 

In 1987, after the closure of the Brickworks Lake on what is now Farningham Road, it was Keith, along with Peter Boorman who liaised with the Council to ensure that a ‘new lake’ was created within the Country Park. The Council never honoured that agreement, but they came good in the end, helping the Club purchase Scaland Wood in 2009. That muddy pool, first stumbled upon in 1977, now guaranteed that there would always be a Club in perpetuity.

 

During his time as Honorary Secretary Keith’s AGM reports would become a highlight of the evening. They were typed in full and followed a familiar pattern that never really changed over the years: Introduction, Water Reports, Sea Angling, Matches and Competitions, Working Parties, Regional Angling Administration, Finance, and finally a long list of thanks. No Secretary before or since has given such an authoritative and well researched annual report. The final one, his fifteenth, was delivered on 29th April 1987.

 

Club membership was around the 300 mark at this point in time.

 

His successor Dave Errey commented as much in his first annual report in 1988 “When I took over as Honorary Secretary the one task I felt least capable of matching my predecessor, Keith Wilson, was in the presentation of the Hon. Secretary’s Annual Report. Not only did Keith always manage to give such an in depth and comprehensive report, but he had an uncanny knack of making each one that bit longer than the last. Well I make no apologies, but this one will be the shortest Annual Report for some while.”

 

Keith accepted the less demanding post of Vice-President at the 1987 AGM, vacating it to become the Clubs’ third President at the 1989 AGM when the 11th Earl De Warr resigned. He retained the role of President until stepping down at the 2001 AGM when awarded a Life Membership and at the 2002 AGM he accepted the role of Honorary Life Vice-President.

 

Despite the ‘reduced’ role and desire to take a ‘back seat’ Keith continued to work for the Club. Not with the zealous enthusiasm of previous years, but still at a frequency that a few others on the Committee struggled to match.

 

Peter Boorman remembered Keith playing a pivotal role in the Clubs’ application for a National Lottery Grant in 1995, when the Club had the pipe dream of turning a swampy overgrown hole on London Road into a fishery. Keith knew the right people to talk to and the grant was successful, making CDAA the first fishing Club in the country to receive such a grant. The resulting fishery – Pennybridge – is the Clubs’ marquee water today.

 

One notable report Keith made to the Committee involved an angling trip to Underhill. What he first thought was a bite and then thought to be a snag, turned out to be something that slowly started to move. But it wasn’t a fish and it wasn’t a snag. It turned out to be bags inside bags, securely tied and weighed down, containing ladies underwear, jewellery and money. The bags were later handed to the Police.

 

When the Club celebrated its’ Diamond Anniversary in 2008, Keith marked the occasion with a book, titled “Once Upon A Line… And Other Stories.” It was conceived as a way to record the history of the Club, particularly the earlier years, while those who were there at the time were still around to remember it. This seemingly simple task took four and a half years to complete, Unbeknown to Keith, the first copy was printed just for him, signed by all the Committee members and presented at the AGM.

 

Not content with completing “Once Upon A Line… And Other Stories” Keith set about creating the Clubs’ digital archive – A complete record of everything ever recorded, that still remained in existence. It became known as “The Wilson Library” as a tongue in cheek, yet affectionate joke. But the name stuck and the name remains. It’s a fitting tribute.

 

Keith last attended a Committee meeting in November 2011. It was a routine evening for him. He reported on the near completion of the digital archive, he produced a risk assessment report for Rosemary Lakes, he commented on protocols surrounding changes to one of the membership categories, he reported on his most recent angling trip and commented ahead of the 2012 AGM. Maybe, most close to his heart was the news he announced, that Mark Barnard had donated a trophy to the Club in memory of Keith’s great friend, Tony Barnard. That evening, like many others, would have ended with a glass of whisky after the meeting. There was always one last drink after the meeting before the walk home.

 

Tony’s son Mark recalled at Keith’s funeral “Keith continued to keep in touch with me after my father’s death, for which I was really grateful. Keith and I often went fishing until bad joints and ill health took their toll. Up until quite recently we would enjoy the occasional beer at the Bricklayers Arms.”

 

Peter Boorman recalled at Keith’s funeral “I always regarded Keith as the conscience of the Club because he would advise the Committee on all matters legal or otherwise. During his time on the Committee he was very much our ambassador raising the profile of the club throughout the angling fraternity.”

 

After his final meeting Keith offered monthly apologies for a while, then reported from afar with a gradually reducing frequency as he slowly eased himself away from the universe at which he had for so long been the centre. His final report from afar to the Committee was in January 2017, pointing out an error in the previous months minutes. That, for anyone who knew him was very Keith, very apt, and it raised a chuckle in the room at the time.

 

The last line was cast on Tuesday 10th October 2017, after a short illness and a stroke. Keith left behind his wife Christine and his children, Sharon and Duncan. His legacy is all around you.

 

RV - March 2018

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