Let me take you back to 18th century England a place of
those who have it, Land owners, Noblemen, and the Gentleman
traders, and those who have not; the Peasant farmers,
Tradesmen, and Labourers.
Angling was not a sport for the 'have not' population; more
a means of putting food on the table. As most of the land,
rivers, and lakes, belonged to those who have, practising
the art was illegal and termed poaching if done by the 'have
Let's put ourselves in the poacher's shoes. We would need a
moonlit night as we would be walking through forest and
undergrowth that may hide man-traps and trip wires. We
would be carrying rod and line, plus tackle that would
make moving quietly awkward, and if the moon gave us light
to see, it also gave the gamekeeper and his bullies light
to see us. If we were caught we would certainly be in for
a beating and with a chance of deportation or even a date
with the gallows.
So poaching was a serious business, the ingenuity of the
human spirit however seems to rise to a challenge and so
it was in this case.
It is not clear who devised the Belly Pirn but I would guess
it was some wily old villain in a bawdy run down tavern
somewhere who had suffered a few beatings at the hands of
the local squire's henchmen.
The Belly Pirn was a large drum reel mounted on a stout
leather belt worn around the waist. This gave the poacher
freedom from a cumbersome rod. Bait could be carried in
coat pockets making the walk to the water quieter and easier
with hands free, and more chance of dodging the keeper and
Once at the waters edge the job of poaching could begin.
The line was cast out by hand and worked slowly through
the clear stream reflecting the moons light in eerie shadows
around the dark wood; any catch despatched quickly into
concealed cavernous coat pockets.
"What's that?" Dogs and voices moving through the night
coming this way, quickly reel in the line, button up the
coat and move off as quietly as possible to make your escape.
Once on the road, safe, no tackle left on the bank to say
you had been there, just an innocent fellow walking to the
tavern for his supper, coat buttoned against the cold
wondering what all the commotion is by the river.
When asked, "Hey you! Have you seen anyone with fish or
tackle running on this road," you can honestly, well with
a twinkle in your eye, say "no mate, I am just off for my
supper," and think to yourself, with a brace of fresh trout
in your pocket, "and boy am I going to enjoy it."
What better, after a hard stressful day, of doing the modern
day demands of that timeless necessity of putting food on the
table. Than relax with a mug of your favourite brew sitting on a
Belly Pirn coaster which reflects anglings rich and varied
history and wondering at the cunning and ingenuity of those
long past poachers. ~
Steve Sheppard, UK