Colin Cross, Going Postal
Eugenie and Joe (cap at a rakish angle) Penstock circa 1949

Joseph Penstock was my mother’s father. He was a great man who died far too early. He was wise, funny and generous and I never remember seeing him really angry.  He was a small businessman who counted miners, shopkeepers, travelling salesmen, local politicians and doctors as his friends. He treated all his customers in exactly the same way whether they wanted segs fitting to their pit boots or their best brogues soling and heeling. He bought and sold furniture, leather goods, hats, buckets and many other things (he even put me up for sale once) but what he mostly did was repair shoes and boots.   

The shed he worked in was shared with his son Roy and a chap called Wilf Robson. Roy had served in the RAF during WW2 and would later go on to open his own cobblers shop in Harworth. Wilf was a single man who suffered from Kyphosis (a severely humped back) which caused him to stoop quite markedly. He was a strong as a bull though and was a more than proficient cobbler.

Joe was in the enviable position that small businessmen often found themselves in in those days. He had reliable and loyal people working for him which allowed him to pursue his outside interests. He was active in the British Legion and was a member of the Conservative Club, whether he was a member of the party or not I have no clue but he would be defined, politically, as a small “c” conservative.

His real passion though was coarse fishing, something he indulged in whenever he had the opportunity.  Something of a creature of habit Joe fished, for the most part, in one of three or four favourite places on all the occasions that I accompanied him. He always had a car and during the mid to late 1950’s he drove a “shooting brake”.  I don’t remember the make but it was bigger than a Morris Traveller with similar wooden side panels.

Stockwith Basin

West Stockwith basin is an inlet off the River Trent which feeds (I think) into the River Idle, it was accessed by locks at either end and is now a marina. My granddad used to take me and my cousin there and while he fished we explored the barns and the local area with the lock keepers son. I don’t now recall his name but he was a year or two older than us and he was very adventurous. He had blonde curly hair and was a good friend for the short time we knew him.  His dad, a good pal of my granddads and also a keen angler was lock keeper and also the landlord of the pub which stood on the side of the basin. We were never short of pop or crisps. I’ve often thought that this combination of jobs, in more sedate times would have been the perfect way to make a living.

The basin, fed as it was by the Trent, was well stocked with all manner of fish but Joe was generally after tench. He used a range of baits including worms, maggots, bread and cheese and would sit for hours, occasionally reeling his line in and casting out into the centre of the basin.

I don’t remember exactly what year it happened, it must have been 1957 or 58, but a large pike got into the basin and proceeded to cause havoc, I clearly remember seeing a large fish floating on the surface of the water by the lock gates with a large section of its body missing. It looked like one bite had been taken out of its mid section. The story goes that not only was the pike taking fish but it had scared all the water fowl away, having dragged a couple of birds underwater.

Joe decided that no fish was going to get in the way of his leisure time and made up his mind that the pike needed to be caught and despatched.  His plan involved catching a decent supply of live bait (small roach and the like) and then rowing out into the basin and staying out there, with the occasional toilet, refreshment and nap break, until the miscreant was hooked. He slept in his car, ate and drank at the pub and took the fight to the pike. No one still alive knows how many days and nights it took him to catch the beast, it might have been two or three, certainly no more than four, but he stuck at it, that’s the man he was.

I often stayed round at my cousin Steve’s when it wasn’t school, mainly because they had a television. Joe turned up; it was just turning dark and he called us to come outside with him. It might seem strange but there are quite a number of incidents that I remember vividly from my childhood and this Is one of them.  Our granddad was dressed in the usual way, trousers and sturdy shoes, a shirt and tie (I think) and a jacket, the obligatory flat cap set on his head at a rakish angle. He opened the back doors of his “shooting brake” to reveal the largest fish I had ever seen in my life. I must have been 7 or 8 and when he lifted it out by the gills it was longer than me from tail to the tip of its beak like mouth.

He had the fish stuffed and mounted but I have no idea what happened to it.  Knowing Joe, if someone offered him the right price he would have willingly sold it without a second thought. All he had wanted to do was catch it and in doing so restore a little order to his world.

The Idle at Bawtry

If you drive into Bawtry from the direction of Doncaster and turn onto the A631 towards Gringley on the Hill you will cross over the River Idle. There was little traffic about in the 1950’s and Joe often used to park just off the road by the bridge and walk back along the river, creel over one shoulder, rod bag over the other until he found a spot to his liking. This story developed over the years and although I was there when it took place my recollection isn’t perfect although I believe that the general gist of it is close to what actually happened.

On this particular day, which must have been early in the season, there was only the two of us, it was unusual for us not to be a “Gang of Three” but not unknown. I think I’m right in saying that at the time (mid to late 1950’s) rivers had either wardens or bailiffs that were employed by either the Corporation or the River Authority. Joe was well known, Bawtry was only about 5 miles from where he lived and he was on better than nodding terms with the chap that was responsible for this stretch of the Idle.

I’m not sure how long we’d been there; by this time in my life I was learning, not too enthusiastically, to become an angler so we both had lines in the water with quill floats attached. For the uninitiated the float served two purposes. It kept the baited hook from sinking to the bottom of the river (in the swim) and it served as a signal should there be a bite from a fish.

Along came the warden wearing a leather strap over his shoulder with what appeared to be a bus conductor’s ticket machine attached.

I don’t know what his name was but the conversation, part of which I remember and parts of which were re-told (and no doubt embellished) over the years when we reminisced about Joe, went something like this;

“Now Joe, now young un’ how’s tha’ doin’”?

“Ahm alrate, ow about thee”?

“Grand thanks, now look Joe tha sees this here machine, well it’s for me to give out tickets t’ people fishing on this stretch of t’river.”

“Oh aye, what’s t’idea a that then”?

“Well Joe, tha sees, folks as are fishing ave to pay now, its t’ new bylaw”.

“Tha means thars tellin’ me I’ve got t’pay t’fish in stretch of river I’ve been fishin’ in for bloody years”?

“Aye Joe, waters owned by authority and somebody as t’pay for t’upkeep and like”.

“So thars tellin’ me that some bugger owns t’ stretch of water my lines in, thars talking bloody stupid”.

“That’s about top n’ bottom on it Joe, thas got to pay a shillin’ for a ticket to fish for t’ day”.

“Well I’ll tell thee what tha can do, tha can bugger off if that thinks I’m paying. This water’ll run down t’ Trent and then on into t’sea. Come time it’ll turn to cloud, float back inland, drop its rain on t’hills and run back through t’streams and back to t’river. No bugger can own it, it dunt make any sense, now bugger off and leave me and lad alone”.

I’m going to be honest here; I don’t know how much of this is true, although it often got talked about as I was growing up. I don’t know if Joe ever paid to fish in the River Idle or if he ever bought a rod license when they came out, I do know that this is the kind of attitude he would have had to what he saw as petty bureaucracy.

The Lake at Clumber Park

Clumber Park, just off the A1 in Nottinghamshire was a favourite Sunday destination during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Joe would sometimes park up by the cricket ground, sometimes just off the long road through the park by the rhododendrons and sometimes by the lake. I am certain that this was a place, even then, where you would have had to pay to fish. Joe would have got that though, it was after all a lake of sorts. I don’t ever remember us fishing there with him but I do remember his favourite spot. It was in a tree shaded place directly opposite where cars could easily park. I think he like the solitude, not everyone was willing to carry a large creel and a rod bag through the woods for nearly a mile just to find the right spot to fish.

Not long after Joe died Steve and I were in Clumber Park with the rest of the family. They were picnicking and playing ball games by the cricket pitch while we wandered off, still raw from our granddads death and wanting to be on our own.

My Nana had decided to run a car, although she couldn’t drive and Steve’s dad (Bill) was designated driver. We walked to the lake and we could see someone fishing in our granddads spot, although at that distance we couldn’t make him out. It’s impossible to say just how much we wished it could have been Joe so in our collective minds we made it be him. Without speaking, (we were very close and had been together just about every day for our whole lives up till then), we dared each other to walk around the lake and see if it was the ghost of our granddad fishing away in his favourite place.

Whoever it was he was obscured by trees and bushes for the 15 minutes or so it must have taken us to walk round the lake side. When we got there the space was empty but we were convinced that we could see the marks in the grass where an old rattan fishing creel had been used as a seat by an angler enjoying his last ever day with a line in the water.  We never mentioned it to anyone else and we rarely talked about it. Wishful thinking or a glimpse into another world, who knows?

The Trophy

After Joe died the British Legion angling section had a trophy made. It was called the Joe Penstock Memorial Trophy and was eligible for anyone under 14 to fish for on an annual basis. My memory is sketchy, I can’t remember where the competition was held or how often Steve and I fished in it, although we did so every year that we could. Neither of us had been very enthusiastic about the sport of angling and we never did get into it properly.

Needless to say we never got anywhere near winning the trophy and I suppose like many things from that era it will be stuck in the back of a cupboard somewhere or possibly even in a glass cabinet in a British Legion Club somewhere in South Yorkshire.  I would like to think that one of my old school mates has it on a shelf in his house and gives it a polish now and again but that’s just me.

© Coloniescross 2018

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