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The Traditional Survey of the
Waterworks and Fishing Feast


Saturday 14th July 2012



This was not a Dartmoor walk but an attendance at a very old civic function by kind invitation of the Lord Mayor of Plymouth. The event is initiated by the invitation of the Chief Executive of South West Water to the Lord Mayor, as SWW now manages the water supply to Plymouth.

Invitations are offered to individuals who are considered to have made a contribution to the civic life of Plymouth: my wife was invited due to her long-standing service to the City of Plymouth Festival, each invitee may bring a guest of their own.

The event is to remember the bringing of water to Plymouth by means of a leat, which started flowing in 1591. Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) was Mayor of Plymouth and a Member of Parliament. He chaired a Select Committee that resulted in an Act of Parliament in 1585 "For the Preservation of the Haven of Plymouth". The town was authorised .....

"... to digge and myne a Diche or Trenche conteynenge in Bredthe betwene sixe or seaven ffoote over in all Places throughe and over all the Lands and Grounds lyeing betweene the saide Towne of Plymmowth and anye parte of the saide Ryver Mewe als Mevye, and to digge, myne, breake, bancke and caste vpp, all and all maner of Rockes Stones Gravell Sande and all other Letts in anye places or Groundes for the conveyant or necessarie Conveyange of the same River to the saide Towne ..."  Source: Wikipedia - Plymouth Leat.


Drake's Plymouth Leat on Roborough Down, originally running from the River Meavy - the take-off point is now under Burrator Reservoir.


Drake Reservoir, North Hill/Tavistock Road (at far end of the reservoir), up the hill from the University of Plymouth. Originally, it was fed by the leat but now it is fed by pipes. The reservoir is actually two reservoirs (now joined) built in 1823 and 1828 when the last of many water conduits were done away with all over the town but presumably more houses were getting piped water.

The proceedings are thought to date back to an annual survey, first recorded in 1603/1604. The Fyshinge Feaste is believed to have started some time between 1696 and 1717, during the Recordership of another Sir Francis Drake, described as grandson to the famous Elizabethan seaman (source: The Fishing Feast on the now sadly-defunct web site) although it is known that he died without issue.  This was probably the grandson of Thomas, Sir Francis Drake's older brother, who inherited his estate and then passed it down his line.

The leat was superseded with the opening of Burrator Reservoir in 1898. However, it can still be seen, being particularly well-preserved across Roborough Down. I can make a claim towards this, being in a team of volunteers who cut gorse etc. to keep it from being overgrown, as it recently was in parts. Aspects of this can be seen on the Dartmoor Preservation Association blog - look for "Plymouth Leat" (we also work on the nearby Devonport Leat).

Guests are normally invited to the Head Weir at Burrator Reservoir, commencing e.g. at 11.30 am. This year, because of the bad weather and flooding at the Head Weir, the ceremony took place at the Moorland Garden Hotel, where the feast was to be held anyway. Normally, on the day, there is a one-way traffic system around the reservoir.

When the guests are assembled, a goblet is filled with water from the Reservoir by the Operations Manager of South West Water. and handed to the Chief Executive of SWW who then presents it to the Lord Mayor, inviting him to drink a toast .....

"To the pious memory of Sir Francis Drake"  


The cup is then passed among all the guests, with each guest repeating the toast.

A second cup, filled with wine, is then presented by the Director for People, Plymouth City Council, to the Lord Mayor who then drinks the toast .....

"May the Descendants of Him Who Brought Us Water Never Want Wine"

This cup is then passed among all the guests, with each guest again repeating the toast.


After the lunch, the Lord Mayor and the Chief Executive of South West Water Ltd. propose a final toast and the two Loving Cups are passed among all the guests again as each pledges .....

"Unity and Prosperity to the Town of Plymouth"

The guests are requested to remain seated until the Lord Mayoral party have left.


Waiting in line .....


Drinking the first toast.



The following text is used by kind permission of Plymouth City Council .....


R N Worth, in his 'History of Plymouth' states that the Fishinge Feaste probably originated during the recordership of Sir Francis Drake (the second) 1669-1717. It was customary, however, for the Mayor and his company to ride forth and make an inspection of the leat and of the head weir each year.

In the Receiver's accounts for the year 1603-64 it was recorded, 4 14s 0d was given to Mr Walter Elforde his freedome and one hundred of dealbordes in regard of the inheritance of the Weare Heade of the water that cometh hether to Plymouth, where the Maior and his brethren do usually ride once a yere.

The Fishing Feast was for many years linked with the 'Mayor's Annual Survey of the Waterworks' but there is reason to believe that the 'Survey' is the older custom.

Under the Water Act, 1973, the functions of the Plymouth City Water Undertakings were transferred to the then newly created South West Water Authority and the reservoir and installations associated therewith vested in that Authority as from 1st April 1974. Under the provisions of the Water Act 1989 the Authority became South West Water Limited.

South West Water desire to preserve this ancient Ceremony, which has such important local significance and has been happy to invite once again the Lord Mayor and guests to join with them in the arrangements for this year.

The Ceremony is being observed on 14 July 2012 at the invitation of the Chief Executive of South West Water Limited, Mr C Loughlin.



Silver-Gilt Hammered Body engraved with the Arms of Plymouth and those of the donor
Inscription: The Guift of Sir John Gayer, Alderman of London
Ano Domini 1648
Maker's Mark: A Hound Serjant


Silver-Gilt Fluted Baluster stem chased with Fruit, etc. Three heads in relief on the body.

Inscription: The Gyft of John Wyht of London Haberdasher to the Mayor of Plymouth and his Brethren Forever to drink crosse to ye
other at their feastes or meetings who died 5th June 1585
Makers Mark: WC Conjoined. Date 1584 - London.



NB1 - "freedome" - given the freedom of the borough
NB2 - "dealbordes" - deal boards and oake boards are used for flooring in old descriptions of buildings
NB3 - See footnotes concerning other Francis Drakes
NB4 - The goblets are also described as Loving Cups. From Encyclopaedia Britannica: loving cup, large, two-handled cup, often made of silver, that may take many forms. In the past, at weddings, banquets, or meetings, a loving cup might be shared by a number of persons for ceremonial drinking, symbolizing friendship and unity. Loving cups are often given as trophies to winners of games or other competitions. The French coupe de mariage is a somewhat shallow form of loving cup.



Place cards at table




Front cover of the programme


The menu for the feast


Programme of Music & the Toast List


Rear cover of the programme




Photo taken as the first goblet is taken along a line of guests


The room before the guests filed in, as an aside we had this room for our daughter's wedding reception!


A cup that was on our table, near the middle of things ..... this is one of two Loving Cups used for the last toast: it appears to be the Gayer Cup (because of the three loops protruding from the stem) and not the Union Cup. I believe there was a small mix-up in the labels. There was one cup for each half of the gathering. 


The notice pertaining to the cup. Actually, it is possible that the labels were mixed up because the stem of this cup has a more enlarged section which agrees with The Gayer Cup on the rear cover of the Programme.


The second course, smoked trout roulade, came on what appeared to be a slate slab, it was all rather nice!


Another cup, further up our table towards the Lord Mayor - it was not possible to get a photograph of the cup without disturbing people, but they passed me the notice for it



Photo taken towards the end of the feast.


This Loving Cup came back temporarily on the end of our table before the final toast, here it is charged for the toast with warm orange juice, rum and another drink, which I forget! It reminded me of honey or mead.


Notes concerning several Francis Drakes

NB1. There were several Francis Drakes, the original died without issue and his title and estate passed to his older brother, Thomas, and then to his nephew (Thomas' son) called Francis.
NB2. The Sir Francis Drake Family offers Sir Francis (1st, b. 1545/1546-1596), Sir Francis 2nd, of Buckland (nephew) b. 1588, created 1st baronet; Sir Francis 3rd, b. 1617 2nd baronet; Sir Francis 4th, b. 1643, 3rd baronet; Sir Francis Henry 5th, b.1693, 4th baronet.
NB3. Wikipedia-Francis Drake (disambiguation) gives ..... Francis Drake may also refer to:

  • Francis Drake (15731634), nephew of the Sir Francis Drake above and Sir Richard Grenville
  • Francis Henry Drake (16941740), son of Sir Francis Drake; MP for Tavistock
  • Francis Drake (antiquary) (16961771), English antiquary and surgeon
  • Francis William Drake (17241787), third son of Francis Henry; British Admiral and Governor of Newfoundland

NB4. RN Worth's "History of Plymouth" (1871) can be seen on Google Books HERE. page 307 et seq. I see nothing to support when the Fishing Feast started. The only mention of the feast is on page 310.



Burrator Head Weir

Link to Google Satellite view of the area - the Head weir is in the centre of the image. You can zoom in/out using your thumbwheel and drive around using the four arrow keys. Return to where you were by using the BackSpace key or browser return icon.


The Head Weir at Burrator Reservoir, photographed 18th May 2011, another period of poor weather .....


The notice seen in the above photograph, listing the Plymouth Corporation Water Sub-Committee, 1906






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