Withy Lore Oral Histories

Posted on: 30th May 2024 No Comments

With the Withy Lore project now underway, we have been enjoying spending time with people who have experience of making withy pots- willow pots to catch shellfish. Only a handful of people with this skill remain, so now feels like an apt time to capture oral histories from a time when making withy pots remained the predominant way of catching shellfish. We join others in a renewed interest in this craft and hope to add to the bank of knowledge available through both archiving oral histories at Kresen Kernow and sharing extracts of these through the Withy Lore project, delivered in partnership with Anna Pope and the Royal Cornwall Museum.


George Chambers, Porthleven

George Chambers with his pot stand

George Chambers with his pot stand

Aged 94 and still making a withy pot each winter, George has proudly passed the skill of pot making down the generations of his family. Arriving in Cornwall from Birmingham, George learnt how to make pots in Porthleven at a time when it was commonplace in the village. Starting, as many did, with the backbreaking task of trimming out and then bottoming pots, George progressed to have his own boat and thus making the pot tops. It was fascinating to hear about this learning journey and gain an insight into the social history of Porthleven’s fishing community. Clearly skilled with his hands (small models and paintings by his own hand adorning the walls) George takes pride this craft, declaring the Porthleven pot the best!


Nigel Legge, Cadgwith

Nigel Legge in his workshop

Nigel Legge in his workshop

Another talented artist and pot maker in Cadgwith based Nigel Legge. With a family history of fishing here going back through the generations, Nigel was able to share a wealth of inherited knowledge and stories. Growing up repairing bashed up withy pots so that he could earn a few pennies by selling lobsters to tourists, Nigel progressed to making pots from scratch. Encouragement and the odd prodding with a withy from old timers, provided a means of learning which has been played out for decades. The importance of community came across strongly in our time with Nigel, with a network of fishermen, farmers, merchants and village elders exchanging skills, materials and support.


Richard Ede, Porthgwarra, Penberth and a far!

Withy pot maker Richard Ede

Richard Eden making a pot in May

Following up on our filming of Richard Ede crafting a pot in Newlyn last Spring, we had the pleasure of hearing more about his experience of making and fishing with withy pots. Richard’s passion for sharing this skill was clear, indeed many people will have seen his demonstrations on the harbour in St.Ives. The adaptations he’s made to his pot design were fascinating. Renowned locally for his risk taking, we also heard tales of daring pot retrievals and boats pushed to their limits. Richard’s passion for wildlife also came across strongly and was coupled with his acute awareness of the damage we are doing to the environment.


A model cork boat in Nigel’s workshop, similar to those he remembers being made in his childhood by fishermen. Stories still remain of communities releasing a fleet of these handmade cork boats into the sea in a ritual to bring good fortune.


A deep connection to nature

This awareness of the seabed, sea life and environment has been echoed across the oral histories. Fishing with withy pots is entwined with the seasons and patterns of nature- something which many of us have now lost touch with. Withy pots don’t damage the environment in their making and are biodegradable, meaning if they are lost at sea, as many pots are, they cause much less harm. There is also something gratifying about crafting a pot from natural materials and then making a successful catch, perhaps tapping into our inner hunter gatherers. With this awareness of nature comes care for the environment, and there is a lot we can learn from listening to those who know their patch intimately.

Barry Mundy, Mullion

We also revisited Barry Mundy, who we conducted a fascinating oral history with earlier in the project, as well as filming him make a pot with students from Cornwall College. We were delighted to learn that Barry had continued to make over winter, and now had a quiet a collection of pots in his store room at Mullion Cove.

This project has been made possible with thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, FEAST Cornwall, Cornwall Community Foundation, Cornwall Council, the St.Aubyn Foundation and the Fishmongers Company.

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