Grandad Ally (Legge): Part Three

Ray Starling

Ally Legge, grandson of Chafer Legge, son of ‘Boozer Legge’. You will notice that his features are typical of a true Fenman; short, wiry, an eagle-like nose and he had jet black hair. I recall as a youngster that he had many many visitors over the years who would come and talk to him about his life as a fisherman, shooting, netting game and fish and a host of other outdoor activities. I spent many an hour in the evenings with him when he would be knitting pheasant nets. He and his wife Mary are buried in Southery cemetery.
Photograph donated by Ray Starling, grandson of Ally Legge

Continued from part two.

Grandad Ally had great knowledge of fishing and shooting which would have been gained from his days of having to provide food for the family. I often found him knitting pheasant nets and fishing nets. The game nets he knitted were mainly for pheasant netting, and I spent many an evening with him while he knitted pheasant nets. Once he allowed me to knit one myself under his guidance; I still have in my little treasure box of his memories one of his knitting pegs and spool. The pheasant nets I seem to remember were about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide, the net consisted of little mesh squares about three inches square and the nets were made from a special twine.

A thick cord

Finally a thick cord was interwoven around the perimeter of the net in and out of the square mesh’s, this was known as the net being ‘reined’ the word having a similar meaning to that of a horses ‘rein’. The net, when in use, had a long wooden pole, one and a half to two inches in diameter similar in length to the long poles used for rakes or field how’s and probably bought from the local carpenter or blacksmith.

The wooden poles were attached either side at the front of the net which was then used for pulling the net over for example sugar beet fields. The net when used was pulled by two people, one each side of the net, with the 60 foot length between the two people. When the net was dragged over any pheasant or partridge which lay under the sugar beet crop the noise of the net passing over would cause the bird to fly upward but would then be caught in the net. The net was then immediately dropped and the bird taken from the net where it was entangled and killed by breaking its neck.

I recall grandad Ally telling me about his pigeon nets which he made after visiting someone near Whittlesey, Peterborough, who showed and told him how to make them and set them up. The wood pigeon is much larger than the collar dove which we are more familiar with today. The wood pigeon was good family food which was either roasted or pot boiled. The breast was particularly meaty and very tasty and made good gravy.

Active during the winter

The wood pigeon were active in big numbers during the winter particularly when snow was on the ground and any green crop like sprout and cabbage attracted them. Peas during the summer was another attractive crop to them, however, there were no doubt other reasons why large numbers of pigeon would flock to a particular field. Decoy pigeons (artificial replicas of a pigeon made from wood or rubber) were often used to lure pigeons to a particular spot where they could be netted or shot.

The pigeon net trap was a large knitted net, made from the similar special netting twine as that for pheasant nets. I’m not sure what the measurement was but I guess they must have been at least 30 by 40 feet. The net had a long wooden pole either side of the net. The net was laid in position on the ground with a similar sized area aside it so as when the net was sprung it would cover the clear area left. The clear area would most likely have decoy (artificial) pigeon positioned in this area. Stakes were put in the ground near the corners of the net. A long length of thick strong cord was then placed and positioned in such a way over the corner of the wooden poles and stakes the cord being continually tightened. The cord finally ended where the person was sited for example in the bottom of a dyke out of sight of the pigeons. When the pigeon where finally lured into the open space aside the net, the cord, which had been continually tightened, was given a final tug which sprung the net over the pigeon and trapped them underneath.

Catching eels

I remember a large tin chest in the back room of grandad’s bungalow which contained a number of different types of nets for catching birds. These included nets to catch linnets and larks which I guess were sold for house pets. I also remember grandad owning a long ‘bow net’ for catching eels. I guess it was at least 12 feet long and which was made up of with a series of circular bands hoops, made of willow, which went smaller and smaller down the length of the contraption. The net was knitted with a very small mesh which was necessary to stop the eel’s escaping. The long net was tapered in design and the circular hoop bands, spaced equal distance apart, were reduced in size down the whole length of the net. I’m pretty sure that someone talked him into selling it which I think he regretted after a while. Grandad told me about the different nets which were made to drag for fish in the fen drains and the river Great Ouse. The net used for catching fish in the rivers I think were weighted at the bottom of the net with lead so as it sunk near to the bottom.

One end of the net was attached to the bank and the other end was taken out into the river by a boat and then dragged around and back to the river bank and any fish that was in that area of the river were caught in the net. Grandad told me of one system used for netting the drains. Two nets were placed in the drain side by side, one in front of the other, across the drain and fixed to both sides of the banks. The front net was made with a much smaller net size mesh than the back net which was quite a large mesh size. Another net which was a small mesh size was then dragged toward the other two nets. When the fish arrived at the two nets they would push the small mesh size net through the large mesh net which would then act as a pocket and would trap the fish. It was always known to me as a ‘pocket net’ for catching fish.

I can remember two large brine pots in the pantry of grandad’s bungalow, one contained salted down fish the other salted pork. I can’t however remember regularly eating meals with fish or pork from the brine pots. It may be that I was never told or I just ate what was served up to me on a plate without me asking any questions.

Part four continues here.

See also