‘Where the Bright Waters Meet’ – Harry Plunket Greene
I found this book in my local Oxfam shop several years ago. The black and white photos transported me back a hundred years to a time when gentlemen anglers wore tweed suits and moustaches. I didn’t know the author. Skues and Halford had overshadowed him.
Harry Plunket Greene was 6’ 4”, handsome and a celebrity singer for over 50 years. He was a key figure in English music, working with the famous English composers. He was born on 24 June 1865 in Ireland. He was a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music and a member of the MCC. He was also a keen fly fisherman.
I have read Where the Bright Waters Meet several times. It describes his fishing experiences between 1902 and 1912 during which time he lived in Hurstbourne Priors and had a rod on the River Bourne. The Bourne is a feeder to the Test. It rises at St Mary Bourne and joins the Test near Whitchurch.
He kept a detailed fishing diary and although the book was not written until 1924, it paints a vivid picture of an idyllic lifestyle beside the river. In the beginning he praises the Bourne, “the finest small trout stream in England“. Three miles of crystal clear, shallow water stuffed with big trout.
However, between 1902 and 1904 he and the other rods overfished the Bourne. He estimated that 1,000 wild trout were removed from the river in 1904 alone. The river could not sustain that abuse. In 1905 the rods decided to restock the river. They introduced 2000 yearling brown trout, 500 two year olds and 200 Loch Leven browns. That was far too many fish.
They ruined the fishing. The average size of the fish plummeted as they competed for food and starved to death. He wrote that the fish were ‘pitiable’ and that the river ‘can never be the same again’. From 1909 to 1912 he hardly fished the Bourne, he played cricket instead.
In 1923, just before the book was written, he complained of tarred roads polluting the river, watercress beds abstracting water and that the river was overstocked with non-native fish.
He was correct on all counts. During the 1990s Vitacress Salads Ltd., a large producer of watercress, discovered that the cress washing process released phenylethylisothiocyanate, a naturally occurring mustard oil. The toxin dispersed the invertebrates and the trout disappeared. The company now recirculates the cress washings and the water is cleaner. In 2007 a survey of the Bourne found good levels of invertebrates and fish.
The old Test trout had been replaced by the ‘yellow bellied’ Kennet fish they had stocked in 1905. He wrote that the true Test trout were short, deep fish with a diminutive head, tremendous shoulders and were bright silver.
Last year the Bourne was described as “unusual among chalk streams in that it holds only wild brown trout and in the 2014 season, several of those caught weighed four pounds or more. Two pound fish are almost commonplace.” The ‘wild’ fish are the offspring of Harry’s stocking and therefore not truly wild Bourne fish.
In the last chapter of his book he wrote “somewhere, deep down, I have a dim hope that one night the fairy godmother will walk along the tarry road . . . the little Bourne will wake and open her eyes and find in her bosom again the exiles that she had thought were gone for good — the silver trout, and the golden gravel, and the shrimp and the duns.”
Harry Plunkett Greene died on 19th August 1936 and is buried in Hurstbourne Priors Churchyard between the cricket ground and the River Bourne. If he were to return to fish the Bourne, I think he would be pleased to see that river has regained most of its former glory. His headstone is inscribed . . .
HARRY PLUNKET GREENE
1865 to 1936