Even the most resolute Faversham Remainer in the recent referendum vote must have secretly saluted Bluey (Barry) Walpole, the as he sailed past the Palace of Westminster in the pro-Brexit flotilla. It was a particularly quixotic English protest. ‘I took part because I want to be controlled by England. It was good to see the fishing fraternity joining together,’ says Bluey, of Hollowshore Fisheries, adding ‘It was a fantastic day.’
Ever since Bluey’s father began fishing in the early ‘60s the family has played a key role in supplying fish to the denizens of Faversham and far beyond. ‘We are passionate about what we do’ ,says Fiona, Bluey’s daughter who left school at 14 to run the fishmongers they once owned in Preston Street. ‘I used to go round all the villages with my grandfather selling fish in an old ambulance fitted with a stainless steel table in the back. I liked ringing the bell’. Fiona’s brothers are both skippers, one does night-fishing off Queenborough and the other is a qualified marine engineer and he fishes as well.
After the shop closed the Walpoles sold fish from a garden shed at their home in the evenings. These days Bluey and Fiona sell fish every Friday and Saturday from a stall hidden away down a lane in Oare from 8.30am – 3pm. ‘We close a bit earlier if we have sold out but in the summer we try and keep the boat at sea over the weekend so that there is always fresh fish available’, says Fiona. ‘We don’t advertise. Our customers come from far and wide, some even arrive with poly boxes to be filled to take back to London. We have cut back on supplying fish to restaurants because of the escalating price of fish’.
‘From the time I knew things moved in water, I was hooked’, says Bluey, who was apprenticed in Lowestoft. ‘They were calling out for young people to get involved in our valuable fishing industry in those days’. He reminisces: ‘We would spend 48 hours ashore after 12 or 14 days at sea. In my time off I poached along the coast. There’s many a pheasant I got from the Benacre estate’.
‘When I had saved enough money for a little boat I worked from Faversham Creek and became friendly with the Tester family, another fishing dynasty’. Mrs Tester’s son is also called Barry. ‘We were muckers from early days. When Mrs Tester used to get asked for Barry she would say, “Who do you want, my Barry or Barry Blue?” which explains my name.’
‘We try and cater for everyone,’ says Fiona. ‘Eating habits are changing, in part thanks to TV cooking programmes. I can guarantee if fish features on Master Chef, everyone will run out and say “Oh I want this.” There are definitely fashions in fish. Men are more adventurous than women. Everyone used to get stuck on cod and haddock but these are now less in demand. Sixty per cent of our summer income is from skate, bass and Dover sole. There is call for a lot of stuff that we don’t catch here like squid and yellowfin sashimi tuna.’
Not surprisingly, Bluey has strong views on the state of fishing. ‘Rules are made by people who have never been on a boat and probably haven’t a clue about what is in the sea and haven’t a clue about what needs protecting and what doesn’t need protecting. It seems like they put it in a hat and pull it out and go, “right – put a ban on this”. For example, there are plenty of bass. We now have to buy two thirds of our fish, which is caught by European vessels in our seawater, landed in Europe and shipped back to us’.
In the winter they sell huss, cod, whiting, sprats, oysters, smelts, dabs and plaice.
Today, 16 September, at midday at high tide, ‘Fish on the Quay’ on the Creek (behind the Sea Cadets on Conduit Street by the swing bridge) kicked off the Faversham Food Festival. The Walpoles will be selling fish off the boat and filleting then and there for customers.
Bluey was awarded ‘Faversham Food Hero’ at the Faversham Food Festival dinner on the 17th September.
Text: Amicia. Photography: Lisa