Richard Hewitt takes a trip down memory lane to look at some of the highlights from 175 years of selling the finest tackle.
A visit to Farlow’s emporium at 9 Pall Mall in London’s west end is a joy for all country lovers. The store stocks the world’s finest products on both the fishing and clothing side. And for anglers, there is something for everyone, whatever type of fishing you enjoy. The common factor for 175 years has been the drive to provide the very best tackle and advice available. There is nothing worse than travelling thousands of miles to an exotic destination and finding you are ill-equipped. Unsuitable rods, lines and leaders can lead to the loss of a fish of a lifetime – or you may not get a take at all!
Historically, Farlow’s has made its own products, though it added the best from other makers and more recently, it has stocked many quality brands that are often made abroad. But the wheel is turning slightly. As part of the 175th celebrations – and its future policy – a range of British-made products has been introduced for both fishing and the countryside. Flagship products include limited-edition split-cane rods and a range of reels.
Farlow’s is to reintroduce ‘marks’ used in the past. the team has a wealth to choose from, including names such as Sheringham, Pashley, Barrett, Ritz and of course, many of the river names that were adopted such as the Itchen. The famous Holdfast mark is already being used for a range of lines and the new limited-edition British-produced reel is named after the popular trout and salmon reel, the regal, first manufactured by Farlow’s at its Croydon factory in the 1930s. the new regal also reintroduces the iconic fish logo that Charles Farlow himself stamped on his early reels.
Farlow’s Vintage Tackle
An 1846 Charles Farlow catalogue of prices gives a valuable insight into the fishing of the day. With the last recorded “natural” salmon caught in the Thames in 1833, local fishing was largely restricted to coarse and trout fishing in rivers such as the Thames, Mole, Wandle, Brent, Lea, Ravensbourne and Crane, as well as ponds on Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common.
Early pages in the listing focus on various rods made from a range of woods like hickory, bamboo and greenheart, covering bottom fishing, trolling, specialist roach rods and “pocket rods” as well as a popular item of the day, walking- stick rods. It is only when you reach page 10 that fly rods are mentioned at all.
You could buy an 18ft, six-joint hickory salmon rod with two tops for 45 shillings, which may not sound much but at today’s prices, it would be nearly £300. Best silk and hair fly lines could be purchased from 3 shillings and 4 pence. Gimp cost just tuppence a yard, and you could buy a bait kettle for 10 shillings plus a dozen live gudgeon for 1 shilling. (In those days, angling for pike was considered just as elite as salmon fishing.)
Pannier straps for your bicycle (remember, a day’s fishing until 1840 was limited by where you could reach by horse and carriage, bicycle or on foot, with the rail network starting to grow from that date.) cost 1 shilling.
The 3 1/2in brass winch shown below, which is engraved 221 strand near temple Bar, is an extremely rare model and would have cost just 10 shillings. It will set you back a lot more today – if you are fortunate enough to find one.
As the fledgling business developed and Charles’ brother John (at one stage a rival business) moved on to other ventures, so did the size of the catalogues increased, though it was in the number of pages rather than in overall dimensions. For many years, Farlow’s persisted with a pocket-size catalogue that not only carried the items that were for sale at the shop, but also increasingly offered advice on how to fish. It is from these catalogues that we can trace the changes in trading name, various patents and much of the company’s history.
The first Farlow’s patent was for “an improved Fishing rod winch”, which was approved in 1884. This application was in the name of Charles Farlow. An additional 15 patents have been registered by the business, with 14 being applied for by Charles Fitzroy Farlow and one from Charles Paas Farlow.
In addition to fishing inventions, the entrepreneurial Charles Fitzroy Farlow, a qualified engineer, clearly had other ideas worthy of being patented. One, in 1900, was for “improvements in and relating to explosion motors for automobile machines”. Another was for an “improved Key for the opening of tins Containing sardines and the like”. The latter is not perhaps as bizarre as it sounds. In 1846, Henry Cholmondeley-Pennell gave instructions on how to store dead gudgeon in a sardine tin in The Book of Pike Fishing.
A List Of The Farlow Patents
A range of Farlow tackle from the previous century (and older) is shown over the next few pages.
Patent Lever Reel
The earliest patent in 1884 resulted in the highly popular patent lever reel. (See below and right). This related to an adjustable check in the form of a regulating screw on the backplate. Tension could be increased or decreased to adjust the drum tension. Farlow’s patent lever salmon reel was available in either gunmetal or aluminum. Nearly 3000 of this pattern of reel had been sold by 1910.
Billiken Bait-Casting Reel
One of the most important inventions from Charles Fitzroy Farlow, who was not only an engineer but also an enthusiastic tournament caster, was contained in the Billiken reel, covered by two patents 15670 and 14871. The multiplier style reel incorporated a fan brake in a compartment on the backplate that slowed the reel when the spool was traveling too fast for the line, so avoiding an overrun and unwanted “bird’s nest”.
This reel was designed for overhead casting with short, light rods, a style of fishing imported from the US and one that was becoming increasingly popular at the time. The Billiken was widely used for tournament casting and is highly sought after by collectors.
The Billiken was introduced in 1911. This reel is circa 1930s.
Farlow’s Tournament: Having a diameter measuring 3 1/8in, this Billiken-pattern tournament casting reel would probably have been built for use in a 70gm distance event.
Small Billiken, showing its fan-braking system, a feature especially useful for tournament casters.
A 2 1/4in Billiken in a presentation box.
Turntable Light Bait Casting Reel
This reel, produced from 1924 to 1937, was promoted as a sidecast spinning reel. Its advantage over other sidecasters was that when a lever was pressed, the reel came round instantly into position for direct winding. A silent drag was fitted instead of the normal ratchet. The reel was purported to be suitable for salmon spinning, but with a diameter of just 2in and line capacity to match, an interesting fight would have ensued with any decent-sized fish.
It was in 1930 that Edward R Hewitt, famed American author of many fishing books including A Trout and Salmon Fisherman for 75 Years, granted an exclusive licence to Farlow’s to manufacture his unique and popular Genuine Hewitt stained Gut.
Mosquito Repellent And Net
Featured in an early Charles street catalogue, the gentleman on the right was obviously taking no chances with bugs biting him.
Farlow’s sold a large range of salmon fly wallets made from pigskin. They were available from 6in to 9in in half-inch increments. The example here, embossed with the initials TS, was formerly the property of Sir Thomas Sopwith, the yachtsman and pioneering aviator, after whom the famous Sopwith Camel fighter was named.
Farlow’s Combined Disgorger and priest was made of brass with a lead-filled handle. It cost 2 shillings in 1910.
Farlow’s New sea reel was available in 4in and 5in. it was advertised as being “thoroughly strong and trustworthy”. An unusual feature is that the reel was fitted with two Bickerdyke-pattern lineguards, as opposed to the usual style. Circa 1910.
The tradition of carved fish trophies started in the late 1800s. the Fochaber’s studio made models for Charles Farlow & Co, based on measurements and photographs supplied by customers. These are highly collectable and scarce to find. The collection of carved fish now displayed in Farlow’s, including the British record Game Fish collection, was carved some 15 years ago by Nick Podolski, a Russian fishing manager who used the dark winters to produce startling models of trophy fish. Tragically, Nick was killed in a private dispute while taking care of his summer school for young people near the White Sea, east of Umba on Russia’s Kola peninsula. He was 53.
Farlow’s made a variety of winders designed to dry lines, especially those made from silk, so that the air would pass freely through to every portion of the line. The Sextile and Wilson-Wetherall were popular models. the heavy-duty line winder shown here is stamped Chas Farlow & Co and dates from 1887. these elegant winders still have a use today, though they are more likely to be used for changing and temporarily storing modern fly lines.
First Published in the Farlows 175th Anniversary Year Book 2016.