|Still-Life with Oysters (detail)|
|An aerial photograph of Newport and Cowes, Isle of Wight, Juy 2007|
by smb1001 - Wikimedia Commons - colour-corrected image
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
On the ſame ſide (the E.) about half a mile diſtance, lies the Folly; humourouſly ſo called, as being the ſcene of high entertainment amongſt the bons vivans of an earlier age. It was then a barge of conſiderable ſize, floating on the ſide of the river; but of late years, has been hauld up on the ſhore, and built on; the fore caſtle turned into a neat little parlour, the ſtern ſheets ſerving the purpoſes of a kitchen, cellar, and other requiſite offices.An obituary in the Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian finds some interesting back-story that clears up the origin of the name "Folly":
Here the Oystericus of Newport river reſides as a publican, and at the ſeaſon lines the ſhore with the produce of Cancalle, a bay abounding with oyſters, near St. Maloes, and drags them when fattened for the iſland ſupply,
It is to be wiſhed that the accommodations were larger, as the ſituation is ſo delightful for amuſement and proſpect. The windows to the N. command a fine view of the harbour and road of Cowes. The ſouthern ſtretch from the heights of Staplas to Appledurcombe, Gatcombe, and Chale,
"O'er rich incloſures, and luxuriant fields." [a quote from Thomas Tickell - RG]
- Sketches of Description: taken on a sailing from Newport, in the Isle of Wight, to Lymington; with a return by Southampton to Cowes, etc (J Albin, 1792, Google Books 66NYAAAAcAAJ).
Died on Saturday night last, at his house, the Folly, near Cowes, aged 74 years, Captain Thomas Burnett. The deceased (who is well known in every part of the Island) had been to Newport during the day and made several purchases, and transacted other business, which detained him in town rather late in the evening, when he left Newport Quay in his boat, and safely arrived at the Folly, apparently in very good health. Soon after, however, he felt ill, and a person was despatched to Dr. Bloxam immediately, but before he could arrive, the Captain was a corpse. The old gentleman was noted for his industry, and has amassed an immense fortune from various sources, but principally from his oyster-beds in the Medina, which he held by lease under the Corporation, and which is now nearly expired. He had seven vessels in the oyster fishery and his beds are supposed to be of great value. He was also part owner of many trading vessels. A short time before the failure of Kirkpatrick’s bank, he drew 3500l. from money which he had there, for the purpose of ratifying a bond for a farm of which he had the mortgage. He died intestate, and not keeping any account book—being unable to read or write—his affairs are very confused. He was twice married at Whippingham Church, and both his wives lie in that churchyard. He had five daughters by his first wife, four of whom are now living; but his last wife has no family. The Folly is a public house, and much resorted to during the summer by pleasure parties both from Cowes and Newport. It has been in the Burnett family for two centuries, and is simply formed of the hull of a large vessel with her stern sunk into the ground. The name of the ship was the “Folly”—hence the name of the public-house.According to Gleanings in graveyards : a collection of curious epitaphs (1861, Internet Archive gleaningsingrave00innorf), the epitaph on Burnett's grave at Whippingham is:
- NEWPORT, APRIL 2, Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian (Southampton, England), Saturday, April 02, 1842, 19th Century British Library Newspapers.
At midnight he was called away
From his employment on the sea, —
Altho' his warning was but short,
We hope he's reached the heavenly port.
I was interested in the unusual term "Oystericus" in the Albin book. It's not in the OED, nor is it classical, and a quick search traces it to the trading name of an 18th century oyster merchant, James Peto of Sherborne Lane, London. If we're to believe William Wadd, he pioneered the transportation of oysters ...
Apicius, in Trajan's time, knew how to preserve oysters; but Peto, of Sherborne-lane, was the first to discover the possibility of their transportation in barrels; in which, under the name of "Oystericus," he conveyed the "Natives" to all parts of the kingdom.... but he seems chiefly known to history via a dispute where a rival hijacked his trading name, as All the Year Round described over a century after:
- p.147, Comments on corpulency, Lineaments of leanness, Mems on diet and dietetics, William Wadd, 1829
Concerning fish, we find that a fishmonger, who chose to give himself the cognomen of Oystericus, sold oysters in Sherborne-lane, City; he moved to another house in the same street; and another person assumed the name of Oystericus at the old shop. The original dealer, annoyed at this, advertised that he would henceforth assume his real name, James Peto, and stamp that name on every barrel, and that “any oysters sent from my late warehouse will not come from me.” His price for “Colchester natives" was three-and-sixpence per barrel, and for “ exceeding fine Pyfleet” four-and-sixpence —prices which we now can only envy.The primary source for this is the series of ads Peto placed in London newspapers including the London Chronicle and General Evening Post in 1759-61 explaining the name change. For instance:
- p.564, All the Year Round, Volume 12; Volume 32, 1874
|p.427, The London Chronicle, Oct 21-Nov 2, 1761, via Hathi Trust|
I can't imagine why anyone eats seafood out of a British estuary even now, but in the 1890s Newport was a working port town that discharged its sewage straight into the river, some two and a half miles upstream of the oyster beds. This was highlighted in a British Medical Journal series, A Report on the possible conveyance of certain waterborne diseases, especially typhoid fever, by oysters and other molluscs, of which part V (March 30, 1895, p711) focused on the Medina oyster fisheries, commenting that "The sewerage of the towns, some of them growing rapidly, is in a very unsatisfactory state". The 1896 public health report On Oyster Culture in Relation to Disease had this further to say about the Medina Oyster Fishery:
Another series of layings, some of them are used as fattening beds, which must be regularly washed with water abounding in sewage refuse, are situated in the Medina, in the Isle of Wight. It seems almost beyond comprehension how anyone could venture to “fatten” oysters for human consumption in a river estuary such as this, which is fouled above the layings by the crude sewage of Newport, with its 10,000 inhabitants, by the effluent from the neighbouring prison and barracks, and by the overflow from the workhouse cesspool; and which receives into it immediately below the layings the content of eight other sewer and drain outfalls from East Cowes and West Cowes.But the Medina is a vastly cleaner river estuary nowadays, and over recent years there have been sporadic attempts to revive oyster farming. The idea may take off eventually.
- On Oyster Culture in Relation to Disease, Local Government Board, 1896