We all know who Billy Connolly is and I’m sure many of us are watching his latest 3-part series on ITV of his travels round America – ‘Billy Connolly’s Great American Trail’. The latest episode saw him in the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where some of the discussion centred on the history of the town’s fishing industry.
Apparently it was not uncommon for Gloucester fishermen to sail to the north in search of cod, and one of the prime locations was in the seas off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada.
All very interesting, but what’s it got to do with Eastington?
Remarkably, one of our local landmarks played a very important but completely overlooked role in the Newfoundland fishing industry. The landmark in question was Fromebridge Mill, now well known to all of us as an inn and restaurant. The mill has had a remarkably long and varied career stretching back to Domesday, when a small corn mill was recorded on the site. Over the centuries, it was rebuilt and converted to other uses on countless occasions.
At different times it was used for woollen cloth manufacture, as a malt mill, and for producing animal feedstuffs. However, the most interesting period in its history was when it was the home of the Fromebridge Company, set up in 1759 for the production of iron, copper and brass wire. The Company also went on to manufacture pig and bar iron and became of national importance. For example, they were granted a number of patents for manufacturing stronger ships bolts and developing improvements in the process of iron founding.
When it came to wire, they became so important that when it was ordered from other manufacturers, it was often specified that it should be made to the ‘Fromebridge Standard’. In 1779, it was recorded that Fromebridge Mill was……
….…one of the most complete works in the country for making iron and steel wire.
And where was one of the biggest markets for the wire they produced?
It was used to produce countless fish hooks destined for the Newfoundland fisheries – so there’s our link!
Newfoundland fishermen. It was a hard and dangerous way to make a living. Thousands lost their lives and it was written that “the history of the Gloucester fisheries has been written in tears”