Each month the team at Gloucestershire Archives delve into our diverse collections and put together a piece that appears in Cotswold Life magazine. Articles often include - Photograph of the Month, Spotlight on Maps, Documents of the Month and Gloucestershire Character.
This Document of the Month article was written by John Putley and appeared in the May 2022 issue.
Gloucestershire Archives D45/F15
This page from the household accounts of the Whitmore Family of Lower Slaughter records restocking fish (eels, tench and carp) into the Manor House ponds for 1762 to 1764. Since medieval times, the keeping and eating of freshwater fish was the realm of the aristocracy or the monasteries as they were luxury items requiring land and ample water – although most villages had a pond, these were for watering stock animals.
Fish played an important role in the diet of the upper classes because church rules frequently forbade meat consumption (not only in lent, but also on Fridays, Saturdays, and the vigils of many religious festivals). This didn’t affect the lower classes (who rarely ate meat or fish as these foods were too expensive) but in aristocratic households, plentiful amounts of fish were deemed a necessity on non-meat days. The bulk of these were marine species, but freshwater fish made up about one-third of the total.
Although fish consumption dwindled after the renaissance, private fishponds remained a mark of social status and helped reinforce class differences well into the 20th century. The fish in these accounts were probably intended both for sport and the plate, as by this date, the pastime of angling was very popular in the upper classes.