Dick Squire would say that peeler crabs were the one catch that could be relied on to keep a man off the dole. They were to be had all the year long and they never failed. In the days when the trains would still carry them up country they regularly journied with British Rail, limp but living and in shiny silver tins with holes in the top and each tin neatly labelled, from Lympstone to Dover and Folkestone and Hastings and such other places where they were desired for their plump bodies and their long and beautiful legs… five pairs of them! Thirty years ago I remember seeing old Sam Squire wheeling them by the barrowload, and it was a splendid, old , creaky, painted, wooden barrow too. The tin cans were wheeled up to the old station to travel in the guards van to Exeter and so on their way.
To harvest peeler crabs, hubbers are laid in a row three or four foot apart along a mudbank. 'Hubber', or perhaps 'ubber', is the village name for the pantiles or Spanish tiles or short lengths of guttering or, best of all, ridge tiles that are laid out on the mud or sand of the Estuary for the crabs to hide beneath. The little green crablings, shed their horny skins several times as they grow to crabhood and at the same time their watery innards change to firm flesh and they become prime provender for birds and fishes and the ultimately desirable bait for fishermen who want to take flatfish from the bottom. These soon to be naked crabs, those that are about to shed their carapaces, have learned to hide away and wait for their new armour to harden and if they see a hubber they think themselves lucky and scrabble underneath it quick and lie low.
Tomorrow: A word about bootlegs.