A handwritten sign says “Bait at all hours” and that’s what Hartley Spurr provided from his waterfront store in Newcastle for over fifty years and across two centuries.
Hartley Spurr was born in 1860 in England and arrived in Newcastle with his family in 1883. He quickly became known as a man with expert knowledge of fish, tides, and of course bait, with anglers regularly seeking out his advice.
In 1943, after sixty years in business, Pix Magazine — a Sydney-based lifestyle publication, popular among World War II servicemen for its pin-up style pictorials of Australian women — sent photographer Ivan Ives to document Spurr’s bait shop. Below is a selection of photos from that session, showcasing a now long gone staple of Newcastle culture and offering rare glimpse into the street-level life of the harbour in the middle of the 20th century.
The Pix feature describes Spurr’s store as a “landmark business” and states that Spurr was selling his goods right across the Southern Hemisphere, including a weekly order of “70 baskets of green prawns” to the French Administration of New Caledonia. In addition to fresh prawns, Spurr sold dried prawns, fresh and dried worms, mullet, yellowtail, mackerel, squid, and blackfish weed.
Local businessman Blake Forrester recently managed to discover some more information about Spurr. Forrester runs Lynch’s Hub, a popular foreshore cafe that was formerly the home of Lynch’s Prawn Shop, a Newcastle institution that ran from 1935 to 1985. At the time, Lynch’s Prawn Shop was the oldest continuously running bait and seafood business in Australia. Former owner Aina Lynch suggests that the original Lynch’s were “friendly competitors” with Hartley Spurr in this interview with Forrester:
“Mr. Spurr’s knowledge of fishing was encyclopedic, it was never disputed or questioned. Hartley Spurr’s was a landmark on the Newcastle harbourside for over many years”.
“Hartley Spurr was one of the best-known characters throughout the entire coal fields district. He hawked fish in the suburbs of Newcastle before starting his shop and his motto was “never scorn a penny”, meaning that he always turned the same amount of attention to the buyer of a penn’orth of bait to a customer buying ten shillings worth”.
Images courtesy of State Library of NSW