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J.W. Martin

Martin was born in about 1852, in the heart of the fen country of Lincolnshire, but despite having to leave school at the age of ten, he grew up to become one of the best known coarse fisherman of his age and a hero to working men. Before he reached his teens he was working as a labourer and yet he still found time to learn to fish - even that had to be done the hard way. As a boy, Martin had no choice but to make his own rods, plait his own lines and dig his own bait, but he somehow found time to educate himself and his books are as good as anything Francis or Pennell wrote - better in many respects.

The Nottingham Style of Float FishingMartin opened a tackle shop in Newark in the late 1870s and only a few years later, Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington published his first book. It was called Float Fishing and Spinning in the Nottingham Style, and as a deeply practical volume priced at only two shillings, it sold so well that a second edition appeared only three years later. You can download a copy from the library by clicking on this link. For many years, this small volume was the bible of Nottingham fishermen and it caught the attention of R.B. Marston, the editor of the Fishing Gazette. The Gazette was the most influential angling magazine of the age and Marston became Martin's patron to a large extent and helped by sending the struggling young tackle dealer books that he would never have been able to afford otherwise.

Martin never forgot his origins and in many ways his life became a mission to make life easier for working anglers. He never forgot the trouble he had had learning how to fish and although he published many books in his lifetime, he made sure that they were published as cheaply as possible, so that ordinary people could afford them.

Although Martin did everything he could to keep the price of his books as low as possible, he did well enough out of writing and the tackle trade to move his shop down to London, where he opened in the early 1900s. Every famous angler of the period visited his premises and it says something about the man that H.T. Sheringham wrote a fond memoir of him. Martin's autobiography, My Fishing Days and Fishing Ways had never gone out of favour and is available cheaply in the Medlar Classics range - if you want to read more about Martin himself, he is one of the anglers featured in Andrew Herd's fascinating book, Angling Giants.

One of the ironies of Martin’s story is that, apart from a short-lived revival led by Jonathan Cape in the twenties, he was very quickly forgotten and had become a shadowy figure by the sixties; the total eclipse of the Nottingham style by the fixed-spool reel probably had a lot to do with it.