Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life has recently teamed up with Friends of the River Exe to undertake a project together recording people’s memories of the river as part of this year’s Festival of the Exe.

A man standing on a river bank holding a large pike fish. He is wearing a white short sleeved shirt and brown trousers and has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. There is an old stone bridge behind him. The fish must be heavy because he is holding it with two hands.

Jeff’s friend Bill Williams with a fish caught by the Fisherman’s Cot.

The memories captured included people’s experiences of spending their leisure time by the river, as well as some of the major events that occurred around the river in Tiverton including the 1960 flood and rebuilding the Exe bridge. Jeff Townsend shared his memories of managing the Fisherman’s Cot at Bickleigh between 1963 and 1980. His memories of the wildlife highlight the losses that have occurred within a lifetime. In Jeff’s time the Fisherman’s Cot primarily catered to guests who fished along the river. Jeff remembered salmon being very prolific and it being possible to catch one weighing 40lbs. It was quite a common food in those days, and if staff at the hotel caught a salmon it went straight onto the menu. The river was also home to trout, pike and eels. In Jeff’s time he saw mink escaping from a nearby farm in the early 1970s which damaged local wildlife. He also remembers the salmon being badly affected by ulcerative dermal neurosis, a chronic skin disease, which caused a huge decline in numbers of the fish in the Exe. Jeff recalled a friend who used to catch one hundred salmon in a season from the Exe, and in the early 2000s caught just three.

End of a black metal spear with 6 sharp ended prongs used to catch eels.

Eel spear used in the River Exe from West Exe, 1886.

The museum has spears in the collection which were used to catch eels from the river (in shallow, muddy areas). Worldwide, eels have declined by 95% since the 1980s due to pollution, hazards in rivers such as dams and weirs, and changes to ocean currents caused by climate change.

The full recordings from Jeff’s interview and the others will be kept in the archives at Tiverton Museum, and it is hoped that they will be made publicly available in the future.

A man standing in front of a brick wall holding a fish on a hook. He is wearing a suit wity jacket and tie, shiny shoes and a hat. The photo is black and white and is dated 1879, the clothes are of this period. He is holding the fish at about waist height and it reaches all the way to the floor.

Mr. George Duckham with a trout caught in the River Exe in 1879

For more information on how you can support the varied work that the Friends of the River Exe do, please visit https://friendsoftheriverexe.org/  FORE have their next River Conversation in Tiverton on Monday 13th November 6.30 – 8.30pm at St George’s Extension as well as Exeter 23rd November 6.30 – 8.30pm at Mint Methodist Church Centre, and Exmouth 28th November 6 – 8pm at Exmouth Railway Club.