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Lymington's Jack in the Basket

Lymington's Jack in the Basket

On approaching Lymington by sea, you pass the seamark 'Jack in the Basket' - how did it get its name?

Jack in the basketThe navigable channel of the Lymington River has been defined by markers since the 18th Century (possibly earlier), the most important of which was the marker near the the entrance to the river known as 'Jack in the Basket', which remains an important guide to those using the river today. But how did it get its name?

According to the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, before the days of the IALA maritime buoyage system, the name 'Jack in the Basket' was given to a mark in coastal waters to show the edge of a sandbank or other obstruction. It was made of a wooden box or basket on the top of a pole.

However, there are several local stories about how this particular marker became named 'Jack in the Basket.'

BlackjacksThe first story goes that the fishermen from Lymington would go out in the Solent and to save them time their wives loveingly rowed down the river in punts and tied their food and drink in a basket on the last stake in the river. The drink was always carried in 'black jacks' (a tarred leather flask), hence the name Jack in the Basket.

The black jack`s name comes from the materials used in its construction; leather that has been soaked in hot water and dried is known as Jack leather. Jacks were originally black because the black material used to line the inside was also used on the outside of the vessel thus colouring it. 

Having heard this tale from several sources, it could well be true. There is another story, though, which is slightly more colourful!

The second story originates from the 18th and 19th centuries, when Lymington and its surrounding coastline was renowned as a haven for smugglers. The close proximity of the island meant that contraband from the continent could be dropped there and then moved more easily onto the mainland with Lymington being a port of choice.

Apparently, if captured and found guilty the smugglers could be faced with being taken out to Jack in the Basket and left in the cage as punishment!

Which do you think is more likely?!

With its daily double tide, Lymington river has supported a local fishing industry for generations. In 1871 the Lymington Oyster and Fishing Co. Ltd. was formed but oysters soon gave way to breeding fish. Nowadays around 12 commercial fishing boats operate out of the Quay, ranging from 20 to 40 foot trawlers and crabbers. The main catches are shellfish including oysters dredged from the Solent in the winter.

Jack in the Basket Lymington


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