Leeds nostalgia: Long and fishy tale of a very old trout

David Clay with preserved trout that was cuaght at Paul's Pond in 1899 by his great great grandfather William Paul.''Fish taxidermy
David Clay with preserved trout that was cuaght at Paul's Pond in 1899 by his great great grandfather William Paul.''Fish taxidermy
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David Clay landed more than he bargained for when he was given a very fishy heirloom by one of his relatives. Here, he tells Times Past in his own words how ....

It’s always nice to have family possessions passed on to us but surely a rare thing indeed to receive a preserved fish in a glass case.

David Clay with preserved trout that was cuaght at Paul's Pond in 1899 by his great great grandfather William Paul.''Fish taxidermy

David Clay with preserved trout that was cuaght at Paul's Pond in 1899 by his great great grandfather William Paul.''Fish taxidermy

Just before Christmas I was delighted to have such an item offered to me by a family member but I wasn’t prepared for the story that came with it and the Leeds link to one of my ancestors.

When I went to pick this item up from a relative’s house in Harrogate I must admit I wasn’t expecting it to be so impressive and I felt even better when I saw that across the glass front there was an inscription giving the date and location of capture, the weight and the name of the fisherman.

The taxidermist’s label inside the case gave me enough information to colour in a remarkable picture from the past.

It turns out that my forebears, the Pauls, used to live at Cookridge Hall and that there was a sizeable lake there called Cookridge Lake which is now called Paul’s Pond.

The fish, a 3lb 8oz indigenous brown trout - and a real specimen if ever there was one - was caught in 1899 by my great great grandfather William Paul, who ran William Paul Ltd., a large tannery business in Kirkstall.

I’d like to think that he caught it on a fly rather than in a net.

In the Victorian age the pond would have been stocked with fish for the hall kitchens and would have also been used in the winter to generate ice in the days before modern refrigeration.

In 1899 this beautiful trout would have been considered a magnificent catch (as it would be today) and William Paul would have gone to great lengths (and considerable expense) to have this fish carefully packed and dispatched down to London where it was masterfully preserved by J. Cooper & Son, who were the renowned taxidermists of the time.

Although frowned upon in some quarters today, taxidermy was certainly a Victorian passion and Coopers would have been busy preserving not just fish but other game trophies and domestic animals for those who wanted to hang onto these remains for decoration and remembrance.

A visit to most country houses open to the public today will reveal many of these desiccated and arguably morbid relics.

Whether you approve or not, this fantastic example of Victorian craftsmanship has made a 116 year journey from Paul’s Pond to my living room and has passed through four generations.

It’s unlikely that I will catch a bigger one and in another hundred years time I hope that my descendents will be admiring it.

The brown trout (Salmo trutta) is a European fish and is not to be confused with the rainbow trout which originated in North America.

Beautifully spotted, it is a prized game fish and a brown trout weighing over three pounds is a great specimen.

Do you have a story with a nostalgic twist you’d like to share with us at Times Past? Or perhaps you have some old pictures of the area. If so, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us at the usual address or drop us an email at neil.hudson@ypn.co.uk

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