Sellick, Brendan (b.1934)
Brendan Sellick is a fisherman in the village of Stolford, on the Somerset coast near Storgursey. His family have lived in the parish and fished for generations. Brendan works on the mud flats using an ancient sled called a ‘mud-horse’ to catch shrimps and other fish from his nets. In this excerpt Brendan describes fishing and his earliest memory of going out with his father.
Brendan Sellick, mud-horse fisherman. Brendan Sellick, mud-horse fisherman.
Sound File
Listen to Brendan Sellick - 2.65MB Duration 5:46 min.

KL: Well in the days when your father was fishing and you took it over from him, what kind of boat did you go out in?


BS: Well we’ve never used a boat here; we’ve always used the old-fashioned mud-horse that’s been going back to Roman times, for hundreds of years we’ve used the same implement.  We call it the mud-horse or the sledge and it’s just a simple device that we’ve been using all these years. Never had anything different and we still use it today.


KL: Tell me how you use it to catch the fish.


BS: Well, again we don’t use that to catch the fish, we use the implement to go from the beach across the mud flats to the fishing grounds, which is about a mile to two miles off shore, right out on the sand bars.


Well to get across those treacherous mud flats there was no other way of getting there only by scooting across the top so that’s how the mud-horse we’ve always used the mud-horse to get from A to B across a mile of soft treacherous mud and that was the means of getting to the fishing grounds to bring back your catch.


KL: You leave your nets tethered?


BS: Yeah, tethered onto stakes, oh like I said, a mile to two miles offshore and we go out two hours to low water enabling us to get two hours work done and then if you haven’t done your work you have to throw it back or get back because once the tide turns well then you’ve got to come back, because the tide come in, it creeps in behind you and it floods the whole area in no time at all, so you’ve only got a certain amount of time.


KL: Did other people have the mud-horse as well?


BS: Oh yes, they all had the mud-horse, like when I started there was... really it’s a pity we haven’t got records of it because there were seven or eight mud-horses going across the mud flats and if you could have looked now forty, fifty years later, it would have been a bit of a scene really that people would have said  ‘My goodness, look at that’, now in this day and age.  Back when we did it, back in those days, it was just everyday what you did but pity it wasn’t recorded back then because all the activity with the mud-horses going across the mud would have been fascinating to anybody.


KL: How do you bring the fish back?


BS: Well we take baskets and nets out and whatever we can put in the nets and in the baskets we pack them onto the mud-horse and scoot back across pedalling with your feet across the mud flats, that’s why I say it’s hard work so you have to be able to do it, fit enough to do it.


KL: Do you still pedal it back?


BS: Yeah, still pedal it back, not so much as I did do because Adrian, he’s stronger and younger and able to do it better than I can, but yeah I can still do it, but I wouldn’t like to say for how much longer like.


KL: And when you, I was going to ask you about your father, when you left school and when you started going out with your father, what was your earliest memory of going out with your father?


BS: Well I think my earliest memory was I could not much been about three years old when he put a big army coat round me, wrapped me up and sit me on the sledge and go out in the very early evening and sometimes late in the dark he’d take a torch and one particular time stands out when I was on the mud-horse about two miles off and I wasn’t no more than three year old I wouldn’t have thought.  And he said ‘Now hang on there’ and he runned across the mud towards because one of these great, a couple of great big conger eels had slipped out of the net and was slithering all across the mud out going into the water edge into the tide and my father jumped off and I can see him now rushing across the mud leaving me on the mud-horse and he catching this big conger eel, yeah.


KL: In his hands?


BS: Yeah, in his hands, well we always deal with them, if you know how to handle them, you course they can be vicious things, but if you know, it is like a big snake, if you know how to handle them, it’s alright.  And he used to, we just used to get them into a net and then you could deal with them alright, we didn’t ever used to knife them or anything like that, bring them in alive, but, and then once they’ve been out of water for several hours they die, but some people would think about hitting them, but you know they’re a very strong animal, all muscle.


But yeah that was one of the earliest remembrances, my dad used to take me out on the mud-horse, and another time I can remember when we went miles down.  It was midnight, right in the middle of the night, moonlight night, it was in September time when we had a terrible lot of heavy rain and thundering and lightning and when you are right out there miles out it’s so frightening to see the flash, the flash of lightning.  Then you can look and you can look right in and see Weston or Cardiff and the sky would light right up, and he, I always remember him saying ‘You ain’t going to hurt son, you’, and I was under this.


He always used to put a big army coat wrap me up because when you’re young like that and you’re cold and he said ‘Don’t worry nobody’s going to hurt you out here’.  But I remember being scared when the flash of lightning, whooff really like, and you can look right across out there in the open skies.  It’s amazing what power that lightning you don’t seem to see it when you’re inland because of the you haven’t got the space but out there in the open sea you can look for miles and it just lights up the whole skies.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Kate Lynch in 2002. Photograph ©Ann Heeley Collection. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.