Nobby’s Tackle

A Dawson's Avolon rod, a customised Mitchell 408 reel and some old tackle with an obligatory wide-brimmed hat for summer fishing

A Dawson’s of Bromley ‘Avolon’ rod, a customised Mitchell 408 reel and some old tackle, with an obligatory wide-brimmed hat for summer fishing

A collection of images of old English fishing tackle for both reference and enjoyment follows.




avatar3 Nobby Clark 2015


nobby's best floats master


Ready to go back………

Home made floats…..a passion or an obsession?

A collection of home-made floats….it’s all too easy to find yourself making far more floats than one angler could ever need as you descend into the uncharted waters of Archimede’s Principle and the just plain luck that something actually worked004 (3) This can all too quickly become a search for a float to do a specific job on a specific day that you will probably forget to use as you continue the search for the ‘perfect float’ 005 (3) .006 (3) Since any fish that sees your float is going to exit stage right rather quickly, I’m not sure why some of us feel the burning desire to make our floats so pretty…… Floats Floats2 Floats3 But there you are.  It’s clearly an infatuation!

Close-ups of floats….some might even get wet one day.


Balsa and cane, ….silk and varnish….and paint…lots and lots of paint in secret mixes and finishes.

floatmaking 007

floatmaking 008

floatmaking 009

floatmaking 014

floatmaking 015

floatmaking 016

I said it was an obsession, didn’t I?

Fortunately for my sanity some of these actually worked and caught fish, though many just caught the eye of other anglers who walked away muttering……

To be perfectly honest, these early attempts caught just as many fish and produced a lot less muttering:


Reels. We need some reels.

Like floats, an angler can never have enough reels. Ambidex Mk III FP 014An early JW Youngs Ambidex, this is a second version and has the ‘new’ “flexible pick-up”…a two piece bale arm designed to copy, but get around Hardy patent on the invention. Hardy insisted it breached their patent, though and Youngs had to wait until it expired in September 1954 before marketing the reel. Hardy had been more flexible before, allowing Youngs to make the first Ambidex with a worm-gear drive that breached another of their patents, provided the Hardy patent number was displayed on the Youngs reel. They also took out an advertisement in the angling press reminding makers that they held the worm-gear drive patent, apparently.

These early ones are often called ‘humpbacks’….the ‘hump’ concealing a cam-follower type arrangement that Youngs patented.

Here is an image of an early first version of the  Ambidex and it does indeed bear the Hardy worm-drive patent number:

Ambidex with hardy patent number

The majority of Ambidex reels were made with a new shaped body, some times called ‘slopebacks’

AmbidexMark42piecebalearm This has the new body, but still has the two-piece bail arm.

mark nine A later Ambidex reel, the Mark Nine. Every single internal part has been re-designed to create a reel that can retrieve line onto a wider arbour, to improve casting. These later reels are often referred to as ‘swan-necks’. This third body shape was designed by Ted Young and first made for the new Delmatic reel ….see later image, but was soon given to the last versions of the Ambidex so that there are Mark Sixes in both body shapes. The Delmatic release was timed to accompany the merger of Allcocks and Youngs….a disaster which I will cover later under the heading ‘And in the end’.

Strangely, the top of the range Match reel was only made with the old slope backed body, even though it only came out near the end of production with the Ambidex Mark Nine.:

ambidex match




Occasionally Youngs badged these reels for other companies, but one reel, the Delmatic2, was made just for Allcocks, as an economy model. It’s name derived from the use of a new plastic, Delrin from which the grey spool and the internal gears are made, replacing the earlier Tufnol ones of the Ambidex. Later Ambidexes also got the Delrin gears which were very smooth…sadly they are not interchangeable with earlier ones as they use a different gear-tooth pitch.

Here is a rare ‘loan’ reel version of the Delmatic intended for dealers to provide to an angler whilst his own was sent off for repair;….it has a plastic rotor and the same plastic component made up the main worm drive gear…OK until it wore or got damaged which the earlier brass one on the metal rotor never did.

Delmaticloanreel There wasn’t a Delmatic 1….possibly the reel was given the 2 appendage as Youngs had already made an earler humpback Ambidex version for Allcocks called the Duco?






But JW Young’s real forte was the centrepin:

Young's Perfection Flick 'Em Harris and Sons Perfection Flick 'Em1

Invariably these reels were named and badged for other companies, this is a rare one badged for Youngs themselves. They called it the “Perfection Flick-em” and made them up until the Second World War.   During the War they trebled their work-force and produced the firing button for Spitfires to a Dunlop design:




spitfire aa

An advert telling of the famous ‘plane’s firing button, and here is one in the flesh:


Doesn’t that turning safety ring look like an Ambidex rotor……:-)


Post War they offered the Rapidex,… improved casting methods enabled them to create a simpler reel:

Rapidex second version queryLater following up with a similar looking Trudex reel




But where J W Youngs really shone was with their famous Aerial reel

aerial aerial2

And the Holy Grail……a Rollerbackaerial3 If you look at the back of the reel you can just make out 4 rollers for the back of the spool to run on. I cover these Aerial reels in depth a little later under the heading of “It all started in Pomfret Street, Nottingham”

What?  You want more floats?? OK 014

The elephant in the room

OK, I’ve spoken about reels and floats…. but it’s surely time to talk of fishing rods now. I’ll mention cane culms and how they are split to make built and split cane rods later.But  I should also point out that some rods are made of whole bamboo, or cane, sometimes with smaller diameter canes inserted, or ‘spliced’, into them. Rods are usually lighter to hold and less flexible when made of whole cane giving a faster action when ‘striking’ to set the hook. Some are made not of cane at all but of a thick, rather dirty looking reed called Spanish Reed, though it invariably came from France.

Once British rod makers started to make rods in split cane, after Allcock’s first such rod built in 1879 by Alfred Willmore in Canada, they really made it their own and particularly so in what is known as ‘coarse’ fishing….fishing for the species that are no longer eaten and therefore not ‘game fish’ such as trout or salmon.

Not just in Redditch, respected rod makers sprang up all over the country. Eggington’s in Merton, Surrey, ‘Bob’ Southwell in Croydon, Surrey who learned his craft from Jack Young and eventually became more famous than his tutor. Ted Oliver in Knebworth, Hertfordshire who learned his craft from an ex-Southwell employee, Mr.Howson. Jack Young in Harrow, Middlesex as mentioned, and his adopted son Clive, who employed Ted part-time as a young man and previously to that had trained Bob Southwell. Chapmans of Ware also in Hertfordshire and they are still making rods now, brothers John and Brian are the sole employees now. edit January 2017, Brian has now retired, John is working from home and the machinery sold to Andy Green who trades as Arcane Products.

There was Cliff Constable in the Kentish suburbs of London and nearby Peter Dawson, who set up very close to his old employer Modern Arms, later called Marco. Norman-Agutters in Ashford, Kent and JB Walker in Deal in the same county. B.James in Ealing, London …actually owned by a James Bruce who reversed his own name and has thus been confusing folk ever since!  Incidentally, he was a brother in law to Jack Young in Harrow and lived just over the road from the Young family.

Incidentally, determined to confuse everybody further, Jim Bruce named his son James too and then moved to Cambridgeshire and started making fibreglass rods with a Mr.Walker ( no not that one!) and the new firm was called Bruce and Walker. Their very first rods were labelled as Bruce and Walker in association with B.James….so he was associated with himself! 

No wonder  then, that when Richard Walker wrote to him ( yes that one this time) about making his famous Mark IV carp rod he addressed him as Mr. James…..

J.Bernard and Sons in Jermyn Street London W1 had employed Mr.Edwin Eggington and took on his sons Harry and Christopher as his apprentices, before he moved to Merton after World War One to start his own firm, with his two sons, in 1920.

Eggington’s were so famous, so respected, that visitors to London would seek them out to have a rod made there….General Eisenhower, for example! Interestingly, Eggingtons were able to make superbly light rods due to a ‘secret’ American glue recipe given to them by a visitor from that land, though it only worked well when someone else suggested adding acetate to it.

Mr. Eggingtons sons were the last two apprenticed rod makers in the country, so their advertisements claimed ….and carried on until 1972 when Christopher, the last brother to survive, decided to retire at the age of 80. He had been making rods in Merton for 52 years! His daughter Molly had run the shop making three generation in Merton. Christopher had worked at the Woolwich Arsenal during WW1, his brother had served in Europe with the Royal Artillery.

T.H. Sowerbutts were also in London, off to the East, great grandfather to great grandson through at least 4 generations and they made some seriously good rods too, but they became equally famous, perhaps even more so, for their  London ‘roach poles’…long, long hollowed out whole cane sections ( tremendously hard to do without breaking through the thin bamboo when working it blindly from within ) that fitted together to make fishing poles up to 20 feet long. For a time a son had a separate firm nearby, he closed shop in 1964 but the old family firm, with no actual Sowerbutts left there, carried on until 1980.

Now fishing rods are the very devil to photograph and any images I put here aren’t going to show you much, but I’ll do a few and the rest will have to be close-ups if I’m going to show you any detail. Reversa float rod 002 This is a Reversa float rod. Nobody knows who made it but it was probably inspired by the Craftversa rod by Milwards. You can see the handle section, or butt, the middle section or joint and the tip section. Rings for the fishing line are whipped on with silk known as whippings and then the whole rod is sealed in varnish to make it weatherproof. Two aluminium bands slide along the cork handle to fix a fishing reel on with and each rod section fits together to the next by means of tubular brass sections which slide inside one another called ferrules. Often the rod makers details are placed on the cane just above the handle with a transfer of handwriting. In the case of this rod it is the handwriting of the rod maker who restored the rod, the late Clive Young, adopted son of Jack Young of Youngs of Harrow who marketed Otter Brand fishing rods. It just says Reversa Float Rod and Mitchells of Dalston E8, a London tackle dealer. There is no mistaking Clive’s writing and it was purchased from Woody’s of Wembley from where Clive restored rods when in semi-retirement, before moving to Wales where he still refurbished rods. It’s an unusual rod in both design and has Hardy ferrules and an agate-lined butt ring in German nickel-silver. It has a flexible butt that starts to taper thinner again after the butt ring, a little like the aforementioned Milwards Craftversa . The rod suffered an accident after restoring and was rebuilt all over again by Paul Cook the modern day rod maker, author and artist and features his famously fine silk work Reversa float rod 005 The Hardy butt ring with its milky agate liner and fine silk whipping by Paul Cook finished in varnish so fine it looks like molten glass. Here is the original Craftversa entry in the Milwards catalogue explaining the unusual design which was actually granted a European Patent craftversa catalogue entry Note the original rod only tapered smaller inside the cork handle and was a two-piece rod, not three. More of the Craftversa later………..

How it’s made:

culmsPerhaps a few words on how split cane rods are made. I mentioned a culm….Here are some culms, after baking them dry and being split in half with a hammer driven knife, as illustrated. They are split down further and further …and then the long thin strips remaining are heated and bent straight, their leaf-nodes heated and pressed flat,  before being clamped in a special long adjustable former in which they are planed to triangular, tapering strips. glued strips Six strips are taken and glued together, bound tight with string whilst the glue cures. Above is the long former, the wood plane and three lots of strung and glued strips forming an hexagonal rod blank, ready to build a three-piece rod. 011_zpsc63dd733 Rings are then whipped-on and ferrules fitted to the ends of each section that will join another.

003_zps15398bea The brass ferrules are blackened with acid to prevent corrosion

. 010_zps1a99e119 The finished rod awaiting varnishing after a cork handle with rubber button and two reel-mounting bands  is slid on and glued in place. The handle is assembled from a number of drilled ‘bungs’ called shives. The handle is turned down to the required handle shape. This three piece blank was made for me by a generous and talented friend and I then finished it off. Other friends supplied bits like the rare red-lined butt ring and matching tip ring, the brass end cap to take the red rubber button and yet another designed the transfer that gives the rod its name; “The Redfin” 003_zps40b2bbce

I then took days sealing the silk whippings to prevent the varnish staining them black before giving the rod many, many coats of varnish

. 009_zpscc13e46f 010_zpsf924e45a 011_zps12c556de 006_zpsf57381b6 007_zps2fd1e5c2 017_zpsce55a733 The last shot is the gadget that helps me whip the silk on tightly and the diluted banana oil that was used to seal the silk before varnishing…get the sealing wrong and days and days of silk-work just goes black! Primary colours and fancy multi-coloured silks called twists are the worst for this.

In the beginning ……..

The town of Redditch in Worcestershire grew up around Bordesley Abbey, a Cistercian order and soon built up a steady industry making sewing needles. Around 1770 some firms switched to making fishing hooks which involves a fairly similar process. Two firms stand out, that of Henry Milward and S. Allcocks, but there were many, many more smaller firms and gradually they started to make other items of fishing tackle until there wasn’t an item that they didn’t all each make. allcocks factory clive roadThe huge Allcock factory, an artist’s impression. In 1926 they were recorded as employing over 1000 staff. Starting like most from humble needle-making and then fish hook making, the firm of Allcocks really prospered under the ownership of Samuel who followed his father around the country selling tackle and took over this chore at just fifteen years old earning himself the nickname ‘The Boy Salesman’. He even expanded the company into North America.

. This  situation later of everybody making everything, rather than specialising in a particular item of fishing tackle may have proved the downfall of all with so many companies duplicating each others products. Because by the time other firms based elsewhere started importing cheap foreign-made fishing tackle in the 1960’s the market virtually collapsed.

Notable amongst all these companies in Redditch was that which was founded by a supremely gifted ex-Allcocks employee, James William Young. His firm, JW Young ended up making fishing reels for his old employer Allcocks and most other British companies too, but the collapsing home market saw them  re-join with Allcocks in 1963 as Allcock-Young and later another firm, Lee Products, to form Top Tackle, only for the controlling company , Cope Allman International, to sell the lot off a few years later to the American company Shakespeare. More of these shenanigans soon…….

The new American owners soon closed the joint venture down and shifted manufacture to the Far East where it remains to this day ….with one exception which I’ll come to shortly.

The genius reel engineer James William Young, incidentally, had died whilst on holiday  on The Isle of Man in strange circumstances which were barely investigated back in 1921. He was just 51 years old and still developing further modifications to his masterpiece the Allcocks Aerial reel. When he followed his father into the workshops at Allcocks he was just a boy. Within three months he was in charge of the department and also working into the late evening soldering together tin boxes in the box workshop. He was reputed as a child to have once made a miniature bicycle with 400 hand-made moving parts….

After a mix-up with hotel reservations when on holiday on the Isle of Man, he had nowhere to stay but was placed in the drawing room on the second floor of Carlton House and given a temporary bed. The next morning he could not be found, but was later discovered dead in a pool of blood in the buildings basement. How he got there was never discovered………

The Coroner’s Jury in Douglas later recorded a verdict of Accidental Death.

That  merger with Allcocks story is more complicated though;  as Cope Allman International was created by re-naming  Midland and Northern Counties Investments who themselves had only been given that name in 1963,….. previously they were the Leeds Consumer Ice and Cold Storage Company of whom Leonard Matchan was chairman from 1960.

Matchan  owned all the other companies mentioned  too and had already bought heavily into JW Youngs in 1961.

So, Allcocks ‘merging’ with JW Young was not quite what it seemed…it was more like opening the door to the wolf than closing the door to competition……. Lee Products probably had no idea what they were getting themselves into

. A couple of years later Milwards too stopped making fishing tackle all together, though they still to this day make sewing needles.

The one exception I mentioned is JW Youngs. Although Shakespeare recently launched a range of fishing rods under the JW Young name ( though that firm had never made fishing rods before ) they did allow an ex-employee, Jim Young, to start making reels again using his forebears name. I have read that he worked for Swift Engineering of Redditch after the original JW Youngs was closed by Shakespeare and that he ended up taking that firm over when the earlier owners retired.

This second JW Youngs company was later acquired by tackle makers Masterline, themselves part of Normark, a company set up in America by Laurie Rapala the famous fishing lure manufacturer.

Americans again!

Shakespeare later sold off the Allcocks name to a fishing tackle and outdoors shop in Ireland, Dennett Outdoor Ltd, who still make a few lures under that name and also use the name of the failed joint venture, Top Tackle.

Many members of the tackle making families broke away over the years to form their own little firms, some married the children of other firms and the whole town became involved in fishing tackle with relatives working in most other firms in the town too.

Indeed Samuel Allcock himself,…. under whom Allcocks had prospered so much, married a Miss Playfair, whose father was a famous rod maker in Edinburgh.

Here are the names of some of these firms….. all gone now.


WA Allcock


Martin James

Lee Products

Edgar Sealey ( There’s records of Sealeys as fishing float makers supplying Allcocks once)

Bernard Sealey ( also trading as Precision )

Aspindale. Only formed much later in 1946 the two founding brothers James and William soon parted company in 1949 and each ran firms separately; … James Aspindale traded as Aspindale and Son, with his son Peter, …. and William traded as Aero, the name of most of their rods when they had been together, but both closed for very different reasons.   James and Peter were joined by ex-Allcock employee Tony Croft. When he left for pastures new, James closed down when son Peter was desperately ill after an horrifying car crash

Later the name was taken again up by a former employee… Tony Croft, formed Croft Competitive Rods with his brother and he was later joined again by Peter Aspindale the now-recovered son of Aspindale founder James, as the new firms accountant. They decided to revive the name and James Aspindale and Son was re-formed yet again.

In the meantime the other brother, William only produced rods for a very short time before going broke, using equipment he retained from the Aspindale Brothers days and using bought-in labour, as he was just an accountant himself.  When the firm went under he sold the tooling to Ken Johnson who created Falcon rods, making rods almost identical to the Aspindale rods of 1946 to 1949, and the famous Aero Wizard.

Later Tony Croft and Peter Aspindale too had to close down for financial reasons. It seems accountancy was not the forté of the family. Tony Croft went South  and eventually started his own firm after working for Davenport and Fordham, but he then went on to set up a factory in China for Berkeley, the American giant!

Peter now learned to make rods himself and traded as Aspindale and Son again, the name having yet another life. As well as his own brand rods he made rods for tackle shops, such as Tom Watson of Nottingham, for whom he is thought to have made the ‘Wasp’ rod, which bears an uncanny resemblance to his father and uncle’s Aero 890 rod from 1946!It’s also possible that Ken Johnson was making the Wasp rod for Tom Watson…I have one and I’m still not certain!

Forgive me for this indulgently long history of the Aspindale name, but it’s too important to miss out and it answers so many questions. This is the first time all this has been recorded in print. If you think it’s confusing so far you’d better be sitting down….Tony Croft and his brother worked briefly for William Aspindale, before Tony went to Aspindale and Sons to work with ‘Jimmy’ and Peter….. Jimmy had learned the craft of making dam-less hollow-built rods at Milwards before the War, where he was rod-making workshop foreman.

Martinez and Bird

J Warner

RS Bartleet

Albert Smith

Allcocks also expanded into North America under Samuel Allcock, where they formed Allcock and Laight. Charles Laight was a Redditch  manufacturer too and the new venture was based in Toronto in Canada. Some tackle was imported from the UK but the fishing rods were made in Canada. The first manager sent out from Redditch to run the new business was a Mr.Milward! He was replaced by Mr.Westwood who later bought Mr. Laight’s share of the business. The company was re-named Allcock,Laight and Westwood and it was in this guise it built its first rod made from ‘split cane in 1879’.

This momentous rod was made by Mr. Alfred Willmore who had joined the rod making department in 1863.

An American invention, split…and the somewhat similar ‘built’ …cane involved splitting long stalks, or culms, of bamboo into six long, thin, tapering triangular strips that could be glued together to make a light, strong and flexible, hexagonal fishing rod. Sometimes the cane was planed on the ‘inside’ edge too to create a hollow section of built cane thus:

hollow-built cane section Looks like a pencil, doesn’t it?

More of split cane, built cane and hollow-built cane later………….much, much more.

Allcock,Laight and Westwood also imported un-finished American lures from the famous Creek Chub Bait Company into Canada. It wasn’t certain if they made them or finished them, but I recently found some notes online where an ex-employee at Creek Cub speaks of the white ( undercoat paint only ) lures being boxed up and sent to Toronto.

Here is the American product…this is a ‘Pikie’ alw pikie

And here is an Allcocks, Laight and Westwood lure in its later box alw lure

I have one such lure…a Pikie like the first image….(which holds the world record of taking the biggest pike ever incidentally),… in an Allcock, Laight and Westwood box, but I obtained it from Sweden of all places. So it has travelled from Garrett, Indiana to Toronto, Canada then on to Sweden before coming to me here in the U.K. It is a most treasured possession.

As my research continues I have come across some more information about Allcock,Laight and Westwood;

Sadly it appears that Frank Westwood, the son of the firm’s co-owner Benjamin Westwood was murdered when he was just 18 years old at the door of the family residence.

This from a record of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto:

westwood murder1

westwood murder2 (Custom)

I can’t help but think that if young Frank were shot by a woman dressed as a man, whom he knew he’d have said so before he died……………………