Saturday, 31 May 2008

On the nature of westness

In Essex much litigation revolved around the definition of the indeterminate definition of “westness” to define the boundary of the fishing, a term which was continually attacked by successive landlords around the estuary who also coveted the fishing rights. Oysters it seems inconveniently did not always flourish most where the boundary makers might have hoped they would, so there was always new cause for agitation and profit. Claim and counter claim, petition followed by petition continued until 1758 when finally everyone agreed to an Act of Parliament but even that was hardly binding on the waters, especially at night, or not at all to a boat from France or Holland.
The list of misdemeanours was long. Fishermen were accused of summer dredging, using a smack sail instead of a row boat, staking off exclusive beds in creeks, selling oyster spat to foreign traders, exporting oysters especially to Flanders; threatening the bailiffs and even the mayor. But the oyster poachers had a reliable defence declaring simply to the East Mersea magistrates that any offences were committed outside the court’s jurisdiction… and they walked free