History Of The Peterboat
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When the old "Peterboat Inn" in the High Street, dating from before 1695, was burnt down in 1892, there was revealed an unsuspected large underground room having a waterside entrance, and relics of its contraband use were brought to light. This store-room adjoined the Alley Dock from which a narrow path once led up-hill and across country, a branch running to Daws Heath. Daws heath was a notorious rendezvous for highwaymen and it was believed that much brandy and tobacco there by connivance of the Leigh fisherman. Leigh was made a coastguard station about 1840: the old Watch House, a sqare wooden erection, was demolished when the goods sidings adjoining the old Leigh Station were constructed.
The Peterboat Name
The boats used by the fisherman were much smaller than those to which we are accustomed. The earliest type seems to have been the peter boat, originally a double ended boat, without gunwale or rim, strong and safe as a fishermans boat should be. In later times the term came to be used, principally on the Thames and adjacent coasts, for a decked fishing boat of small size. The earliest known reference to a "peter boat" occurs in petition to the Court of Admiralty in 1540 concerning an alleged robbery of fish at "Lye".
These been the injuryes and wrongs don and committed by one John Pope of Lye in the countie of Essex ageynst and to me Elys Sharp ffysherman of Stebynhythe (Stepney) in County of Middlesex.
First where I the said Elys Sharp about Easter last past was a twelvemonth being in a certain petyr boat comyng towards the towne of Lye aforesaid to buy such vytales as I liked as I was nye to the lande syde there upon the land was the said John Pope whiche said unto me the said Elys Come a land. And I supposing he wold have bought some ffysh of me came at his bydding. And as sone as i was arryvyd to the shore the said John Pope toke hold of one of the owers and stept in my bote.
And upon that he toke the tronke in his hands and hallyd it up to the land and there put forth all the fysh that was in the tronke into a basket and toke what plesyd hym of the same ffysh to the quantytie of a pek and gave me the rest that he had left which were but few and alle the smallest and worst. And gave me nor proffyred me one penny therfor and also as he was goying away with the said ffysh he said What knave I shall never ryd the country of you. That moche other wrongs and injuries that I and others hath been misused in times past whiche to long to rehers whereof I desyre your masterships to have redresse.
John Pope was the tenant of Leigh Hall and his defence was that the fish were taken in a creek in the Manor of Leigh and therefore belonged to William Stafford who held the Manor in right of his wife.
Dating form before 1695 it was in the possession of John Osborne. He was followed by his son in 1739 and by his grandson John in 1781.
Fishermans Provident Societies
The earliest of these appears to have started about 1830, takings its name from the Kings Head where it was held. How long this society existed is uncertain but it was ultimately transformed into or succeeded by the Druids. According to tradition the meetings were roisterous and merry. One of the attractions of the friendly societies appears to be the wearing of regalia, and the "Leigh Comicals" which came into existence in about 1850 and had 150 members.
This club met at the Peter Boat and on the first Wednesday in July a feast for the members was held. The charge was 3/6. a head and absent members were fined 5/. Old Leigh people still chuckle at the remembrance of Fredrick Cotgrove being fined a similar amount for throwing a hot potato at Tom Plumb during one of these feasts. The feast was followed by a ball for wives and sweethearts.