Eight generations and counting.
The Haward family is steeped in history. It's something that is so unique and special, it really makes them stand out as a business and is rich in information. Richard Haward is seventh generation oysterman, with his sons, Tom and Bram, being eighth. It's quite incredible as these days you rarely meet a businessman/woman with such an interesting background.
Myself and Tom (eighth generation oysterman) recently attended a shucking event at Mark Hix's restaurant, along with five other oyster farmers and the customers said themselves that Richard Haward's Oysters were by far the most interesting and were passionate about the business and the product that was being sold. And that's what the business comes down to. Not just pushing a product and selling it to make money. It's about growing the legacy of Richard's ancestors, educating people on something that the Romans discovered when they landed in England (the Romans are also thought to have said that oysters were the only good thing to come out of England!), and also providing families with an income and keeping the oyster stocks going, and increasing. Richard is admired and respected within the oyster and fishing community - without him, it's doubtful whether there would be a thriving, active fishing business in Mersea at all. He has supported and fought for the industry for years.
As I have said, Richard is seventh generation oysterman, a huge feat in the 21st century. Richard's wife, Heather, started The Company Shed in 1985 and that has since become an institution on Mersea Island where Richard and his family are from. One of Heather's passions is local history - I honestly believe that no one knows more about Mersea than she does. She has read so much and lived on the island her whole life. Mersea is truly part of her and she has done lots of research into Richard's ancestors and this legacy will continue.
First generation: William (Senior) Haward.
Second generation: William (Junior) Haward.
Third generation: Adam Haward.
Fourth generation: Boatman Haward - how cool is his name?!
Fifth generation: William Haward.
Sixth generation: Edwin Haward.
Seventh generation: Richard Haward.
Eighth generation: Thomas and Bram Haward.
Heather has got a pocket book with the prices of oysters in 1791 and it is believed that this is when William Senior first started cultivating the molluscs. Initially, none of the oyster beds were freehold and to dredge in the creeks, you had to rent the land. In the early 20th century, Richard’s grandfather, William (fifth generation), rented the oyster beds from a farmer called Cook. These oyster beds have been used by the Haward family ever since and were purchased after the second world war, and today, the Haward’s own 14 acres in the River Blackwater.
Interestingly, by the end of the 19th century, the Tollesbury and Mersea Native Oyster Fishery would send roughly 100 tonnes of native oysters into London and around Europe. This was of course done by boat so the oysters had to be strong enough to survive the journey. Around half were sold for consumption and half were sold for relaying at Whitstable.
Now, with native oyster stocks being lower and oysters no longer considered to be a ‘poor man’s food’, they are a more profitable item to sell. It used to be that a beef and oyster pie would contain a lot more oysters than meat as they are full of nutrition and that is how people used to get their protein. Fewer oysters are now sold for consumption, but ore profit is made due to the fact that they are considered a high-end product. In London, you could easily find yourself paying between £24-36 for half a dozen oysters! I wonder what William Senior would think of that! The market has been flipped upside down in this regard. There are more oyster farmers now and with today’s technology and transport options, it is easy to export them all over the world. Richard currently send oysters weekly to Taiwan, Germany, Spain and Belgium to name a few. There are also avenues they are exploring to send them to Shanghai and Japan.
Gigas or rock oysters as they are commonly known, are the oysters most people think of or consume. They were not around until the 1960’s but are more prolific with oyster farmers and customers. They are more adaptable, resilient and stronger than native oysters - native oysters die very easily, particularly if there is a change in weather conditions or water temperature. There is a lot of work going on in Essex to restore the native oyster and enable them to spawn in the best environment and stocks to increase without the oyster being hindered, so there’s as few obstacles to its reproduction and growth. Last week, Richard appeared live on Sky News to talk about the restoration project. It was part of a segment where Sky News spoke to an oyster farmer in Scotland, where they are working on something simialr as native oysters return to the reefs there for the first time in a century.
The Haward family are an integral element to the restoration and sale of native oysters, without them, the East of England would certainly have fewer homegrown molluscs and fisherman. Richard Haward has a stall at Borough Market, London, which is one of the most popular ones there. There, you can take oysters away, or have them shucked to enjoy there and then.