Perchines and Eels: Wray Castle at War 1939-45 (Background: Claife)
Freshwater Biological Association scientists spent the war years in Wray Castle, helping to feed the country.
After the National Trust bought the Wray Castle estate in 1929, the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) became a tenant (alongside the Youth Hostels Association (YHA)) in 1931. With the departure of the YHA to a new hostel near Windermere in 1935, the FBA took over the whole castle as laboratories and accommodation for its scientists.
With the outbreak of war in 1939 science was a reserved occupation. However some of the senior FBA scientists left to pursue other scientific work, and the research of those who were left was redirected towards work to improve the nation’s food supply, which in the FBA’s case meant research on increasing fisheries.
With the German occupation of The Netherlands, the supply of eels, a favourite food in the east end of London was interrupted. FBA scientists set about trapping eels at night on some of the local becks and by the end of the war they had trapped some 11 cwt. Perch were also trapped in Windermere and Coniston Water and sent to Leeds for canning and marketed as ‘Perchines’. Large numbers of perch were caught - over one million in an eight week period in 1941, and during the war half a million tins of ‘Perchines’ were produced.
The scientists were viewed with some suspicion in the area and initially the local Home Guard unit refused to enrol any of the Wray Castle scientists until the threat of questions in the House of Commons forced its commander to change his mind. One of the scientists, Dr Marie Rosenberg, was a Jewish refugee from Austria and was interned during 1940 and not allowed to return as she was banned from setting foot in Lancashire, a coastal county. Joan Storey, an MSc student from Manchester University and later a ‘wartime research worker’ who was working at the Castle could only visit her boyfriend, who was a German Jewish refugee and thus also forbidden to enter Lancashire, by cycling to Clappersgate or rowing across the lake to Waterhead, both of which were in Westmorland. Windermere Station could be reached by cycle or rowing a boat across to the Waterhead Hotel and catching a bus. Because of the seaplane factory at White Cross Bay much of the eastern side of the lake was off limits to civilians
During the war the FBA also played host to the insect collection belonging to London’s Natural History Museum. The insects, along with their curators, were hosted by the FBA to keep the collection safe from wartime bombing raids.
E.Y. Haworth, ‘Wartime at Wray Castle’, TCWAAS, vol.21 (2021), 290-294.
T.T. Macan, Recollections of the Freshwater Biological Association or what you will not find in the annual report, Feshwater Biological Association, 1985.
J. Talling, ‘Joan Everard David (née Storey, 1920-2000) and her contributions to the wartime era’, Freshwater Forum, Vol. 14 (2000), 31-34.
Text by Rob David
Photo: Cara Shannon