Wednesday, 25 August 2010


A serious young ‘gentleman’ by the name of Stephen Reynolds who aspired to be a writer of books came to live and work as a fisherman in Sidmouth in the very early years of the twentieth century. He took lodgings in the house of a fishing family called Woolley. Reynolds was a graduate of Manchester University and was only twenty two or so when he started this adventure. In 1908 was published his successful book, A Poor Man’s House, in which he wrote about the Woolleys and their hard lives.

Thankfully in this book he confirms and preserves many of the words that were part of the everyday language of the fishing community here in the Estuary as well as along these coasts at that time. ‘Wrinkling’ for ‘periwinkle gathering’ we have discoursed upon before. “Taking out frights” for the taking to sea of pleasure parties,’frights’ being a corruption of ‘freights’, is new to me. Below is Stephen Reynold’s description of the Woolley’s mackerel lines:

“…the upper part consists of 2 – 3 fathoms of stoutish conger line, to take the friction over the gunwale,and 5 – 6 fathoms of finer line, to the end of which a conical ‘sugarloaf’ lead is attached by a clove hitch, the short end being laid up around the standing part for an inch or so and then finished off with the strong neat difficue (corruption of difficult?) knot. A swivel, or better still simply an eyelet cut from an old boot, runs free just above the lead, between the clove hitch and the difficue knot. To the eyelet is attached the ‘sid’ – i.e. two or three fathoms of fine snooding; - to the sid a length of gut on which half an inch of clay pipe stem is threaded, and to the gut a rather large hook, The bait is a ‘lask’, or long three-cornered strip of skin cut from the tail of a mackerel…”

Now ‘snoods’ are the shorter lines attached at regular intervals to a long line and ‘snooding’ is the appropriate thickness of line for snoods. ‘Sid’ and ‘lask’ are, I suspect, forgotten words. They both seem to defy etymology but every word must be supposed to have one, just as every man must be supposed to have a mother.


  1. A Poor Man's House is, incidentally, online in full at Project Gutenberg here. There's a deal more in the same vein in his 1912 fiction collection, online at the Internet Archive: How 'twas; short stories and small travels. Generally the stories are set among fishing communities in East Devon locations fictionalised as "Seacombe", "Salterport", etc.

  2. PS: "lask" is in the Oxford English Dictionary. First citation: "1864 COUCH Brit. Fishes II. A hook baited with a slice (termed a lask) from the side of a mackerel". They think the etymology may be from Middle Dutch lasche, as it matches modern Dutch lasch, piece cut out, flap. Then again, where that came from ...?