Listen: Mike Bennett
Mike Bennett records his memories of growing up in the Thornbury area with interviewer Stephen Carroll
Mike’s great-grandfather farmed land at Shepperdine and began fishing for salmon, shrimp and eels on the River Severn at Berkeley in 1907. Each year he made 300 putchers, kypes and forewheels, selling 200 of the putchers to Welsh fishermen. Mike’s grandfather Harry continued combining farming and fishing and was known locally as Fisherman Bennett. Mike’s grandparents bought the cottage where Mike was born and has lived ever since.
Mike remembers his grandfather teaching him how to make a putcher, which, once mastered, he could do in 30 minutes. Neighbours who helped make and set putchers were paid in rough cider from the Bennett’s orchard, which produced 500 to 1,000 gallons a year. Fish catches were delivered to a cousin’s pub at Shepperdine, the Windbound Inn. Shrimp were cooked by Mike’s grandmother, who also paunched rabbits as a sideline, while his father and aunt would make deliveries. The Bennett family continued making putchers and fishing until 1957, when Berkeley power station was constructed.
Mike left school at 15 to work for a local farmer. He inherited the cottage and farm and also acquired land at Shepperdine. He has farmed cattle, sheep and pigs, and can remember his father and grandfather walking cattle to Yate market nine miles away. Mike talks about his fondness for traditional farming, love of looking after livestock and local characters. He also describes why he dislikes changes brought by urban expansion, modern farming techniques and having too much official paperwork.