A Manuscript Of Flies

It immediately intrigued me when the catalogue for an upcoming auction first appeared in my inbox. When amongst the usual lots of fishing reels and assorted bric-à-brac, I spied a “A Framed List Of Artificial Yorkshire Trout Flies with dressings, tying instructions and examples of 36 flies. Frame dedicated to J Todd 1861-1945 Masham. Along with a notebook of additional fly dressings.

Auction Lot

The framed flies were almost a mirror image of several velum manuscripts of Wharfedale dressings I already owned, as well as other north country manuscripts I had previously seen. However, I was curious that these framed flies were dedicated to John Todd, Fisherman & Gamekeeper, Masham 1861 to 1945. A name that didn’t ring any bells, or appear in any book, magazine, or local newspaper article, to my knowledge. I was, as I say, intrigued.

So, on the morning of the auction, I drove north up the A1, to have a closer inspection of the framed fly manuscript before formally bidding on the lot. At first sight, it convinced that I had seen it before, and that it was a mirror to several manuscripts already in my collection. However, the small inscription to John Todd troubled me. Could Todd have been the dresser of these flies when instinct informed me that the framed manuscript must have originated in Otley, and that a more famous name would be present on the covered back of the manuscript. There was only one way to find out. I had to place the winning bid on this auction lot!

Thankfully, after several minutes of bidding and with the lot price teetering towards three figures, the hammer fell, and the framed manuscript of flies and another notebook of fly patterns was in the bag.

On arriving at home, I quickly removed the manuscript from its frame to reveal the tell tale name of its originator, William Brumfitt, something I had instinctively always known.

Brumfitt’s signature

William Brumfitt was in many regards an aristocrat amongst Wharfedale anglers and credited by T. E. Pritt in his 1885 & 1886 publications as “an accomplished angler and excellent fly-dresser”. Born into a family of anglers, William Brumfitt must have surely come under the wing of his grandfather Timothy Thackray and uncle William Robbinson, both of whom were themselves notable anglers and fly dressers and contributed to the foundation of the Wharfedale style of dressing wet flies.

Wharfedale Manuscripts
Brumfitt’s Fly Dressings

The framed manuscript illustrates the influence of Thackray and Robbinson and contains many of the fly dressings found in their own individual fly lists. These themselves could also owe their origins to the earlier 1820 manuscript of Jonathan Pickard. The dressed flies are on blued sneck hooks attached to single horsehair droppers. Brumfitt’s familiar handwritten recipe and notes accompany each individual fly dressing with the individual fly lovingly stitched to the velum parchment of the manuscript. Unlike other similar manuscripts, it has a detailed list of “Feathers, downy fur and silks required for making the forgoing flies”. These materials have little changed and are as familiar to north country fly dressers as they were in Brumfitt’s time, though now sadly much scarcer. His list of silks, shows no Pearsalls’ predilection, and ranges from “Drab or Straw” to “Gingerbread Brown”. On the back of the manuscript, again in Brumfitt’s familiar handwriting, is the inscription: “Copy of an ancient flydressers key to flies. Flies tied by W Brumfitt, Yorkshire flyfisherman. February 1874”.

Brumfitt’s Silks

Given the numbers of these Brumfitt, Thackray and Robbinson manuscripts which were produced from the late 1820 onwards (I myself now have seven in my collection). It is entirely possible that these manuscripts were produced for the wider angling public at large and were the fountainhead of the Wharfedale and wider north country school that became popular with Pritt’s publications of 1885 & 1886.

Brumfitt’s Brown Watchet & Yellow Linnet
Brumfitt’s Grey Watchet
Brumfitt’s Large Thorn Fly Dun
Portrait of William Brumfitt dated 1930

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