Tanfield Angling Club was founded in 1892,with just 20 members. due to the zeal of Maximilian Wallbran (1851- 1909), a very enthusiastic fly fisherman. He was a man with a dream.
This makes us the oldest private fishing club in Wensleydale. He believed that a 6 mile (10 km) stretch of the River Ure around West Tanfield would provide excellent game fishing: the waters were already particularly noted for their head of grayling.
Maximillian was an established writer, journalist and purveyor of fishing tackle in Leeds. He published widely including:-
- “Grayling and how to catch them: Recollections of a Sportsman” 1894
- British Angler: Salmon Trout and Grayling 1893
- Contributions to The Field and The Fishing Gazette and the Leeds Mercury.
- Complete Revision and editing of Theakston’s “British Angling Flies.”
In 1884, he was a founder member of London’s Fly Fishers Club . He knew and fished with both Frederick R Halford, the” father of the dry fly”, and G M Skues (George Edward MacKenzie Skues) who pioneered the nymph and wet fly. He was well aware of the difference in their approaches to fly fishing.
Maximilian’s father, John Richard Walbran (1817- 1869), was a wine merchant in Ripon, but who had established himself as a very famous Antiquarian. As such, he investigated local archeology and religious artifacts. He supervised the excavations of Fountains Abbey in 1846, amongst other activities as well as producing a history of Ripon Cathedral. These activities must have exposed the family to high society and for his family, the countryside around them.
Maximilian chose the River Ure in North Yorkshire “where the fish were plentiful, the scenery was good and the environment eminently suitable to the angling fraternity”. Rumour has it that he may have been referring to the two public houses in the immediate vicinity! The village was accessible by rail (until the 1960s).
He approached a number of friends and customers. After a meeting in the Queens Hotel, Leeds in March 1892, they formed Tanfield Angling Club. The subscription was 4 guineas a year (when the average manual wage was 30 guineas/annum). Maximilian Walbran who was voted in as the first Secretary, had already negotiated a lease for 21 years of fishing rights over the full extent of the Tanfield Lodge Estate with the riparian owner, Mr Thomas Arton: this was later extended. At the meeting the Chairman, Mr Arthington Worsley proposed a toast “Every success and long life to the Tanfield Angling Club and tight lines to its members wherever and whenever they may angle.” The Marquis of Ripon was appointed President.
As the River Ure is a northern spate river and our stretch has no breeding streams for wild fish, the club had decided in 1893, to enhance the river annually with their own reared trout. This has continued ever since and perhaps we are the oldest club to be still operating this way? It was this forethought t that has made the club so successful and also almost unique.
Maximilian died in 1909 by drowning on his favourite stretch, just at the end of the grayling season. He is buried in West Tanfield church yard- his headstone is notable.
Tanfield Angling Club’s history is part of the uniqueness of this club and tradition plays it’s part.
River Keepers – The Sturdy Dynasty
We have employed full time river keepers and the current holder is Bobby Horseman
However the Sturdy dynasty is worthy of note. In March 1899 the club appointed Tom Sturdy as Water Bailiff on £1 per week.’
Silent Tom’ and the ‘Sturdy Dynasty’ were to become part of the Club until 1992 – for almost a hundred years! Tom was credited with the ability ‘to train fish to be free risers to the fly’ but no one has ever worked out how. Perhaps it was something to do with his ‘Sturdy’s Fancy’ a particularly successful grayling fly he designed! (Tying instructions are given in the September 2016 edition of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying). Tom retired after 50 years and handed over the reins to his son, Norris. Some 4 years later, his nephew William (Bill) took up the reins. Norris’s twin sister continued to sell guest tickets to members until 1992.
At the centenary dinner in 1992 a newly commissioned fly called the ‘Sturdy Centenarian’ in memory of the Sturdy family was designed and tied by Mr Stanley Schofield.
The main centre of population locally is West Tanfield, mentioned in the Domesday Book. e