John James Hardy heralded by Crawford Little
and his older brother William were sons of an Alnwick lawyer, also called John James, who became Coroner for North Northumberland. On leaving school, the boys were apprenticed to the engineering firm of Sir William Armstrong & Co in Newcastle. Sir William, later Lord Armstrong, was one of the great engineer-inventor-entrepreneurs of his time. He originally trained as a lawyer in London before returning to Newcastle and joining the law firm of Armorer Donkin. His interest in engineering never waned, and he tinkered in his spare time. His first invention was the Armstrong Hydroelectric machine. But his first real success – a piston engine for driving an hydraulic crane – was said to have initially been inspired by his observations at a water mill when he was fishing on the River Dee that flows into the River Rawthey at Catholes near the town of Sedbergh. It was the success of his hydraulic crane that led him to finally turn his back on the law and build a factory at Elswick near Newcastle – the factory where William and John James served their apprenticeships, and which later grew into Vickers Armstrong. Today, Lord Armstrong is remembered by some as “the father of modern artillery”. Having served their apprenticeships, the brothers went their separate ways. William trained as a gunsmith in Scotland, while John James went to sea as a ship’s engineer, as did younger brother Forster. On the death of their father, William felt a duty to support his mother and family and set up shop as a gunsmith in Alnwick. He was advised by Lord Armstrong, who urged him to bring John James into the firm as partner. In July 1873, the following advert ran in The Alnwick Mercury:
HARDY BROTHERS Gunsmiths, Whitesmiths, Cutlers etc. William and John James Hardy, sons of the late Mr J.J. Hardy, Coroner, intimate that they have taken the premises in Paikes Street, lately occupied by Mr W.J. Wilkinson, where they intend to conduct a business as gun makers, whitesmiths [workers in tin], cutlers etc.; and they invite the attention of their friends and the public generally to their carefully selected stock of goods which will be ready for inspection on Saturday 2nd August. They hope by prompt attention to all orders and first rate workmanship to obtain a share of public patronage which they most respectfully solicit.
It wasn’t to stop there. Both brothers were keen anglers, and just a few months later a second advert appeared, this time in The Alnwick Journal:
FISHING TACKLE MANUFACTURER Hardy Brothers beg to announce that they have enlarged their stock of superior River and Sea Fishing Tackle
Perhaps at the urging of Lord Armstrong, who recognised the brothers had different styles, strengths and temperaments – the brothers took separate roles in their expanding business. William took charge of the financial and administrative side of the business while John James, known as “JJ”, became general manager of the works. Many years later, in his book The House the Hardy Brothers Built (1998), James Leighton Hardy would say of JJ that: “He was recognised as the driving force of the manufacturing departments. He worked on the principle that only the best was acceptable and took particular care to ensure that his workmen realised this.” James Leighton Hardy also wrote that JJ’S great love affair with angling had started at an early age, when he and a younger brother “would toddle down to the Aln armed with a piece of string, a few bent pins and some worms to impale on them”. JJ was never to lose his love of all forms of fishing, alongside which he built a mighty reputation as a caster, entering his first competition in 1892 and carrying off all the leading honours and prizes. His continuing success helped enormously in establishing the reputation of the Hardy tackle he inevitably employed at these events. “At the time of his death in 1932, JJ was the Champion Salmon and Trout fly caster of Europe and had won more championships than any man in the British Empire, his artistry being acknowledged by all who watched him, his casting being so clean and graceful.”
In this and other aspects of his character, perhaps JJ might be described as a “naturally gifted salesman”. Or to put it another way, he was what used to be described as a “clubbable person” in that he was friendly and charming, and thoroughly enjoyed the company of others – particularly if they were anglers, and especially if their interest, like JJ’S, had started to centre on the pursuit of salmon at home and abroad. In 1905, JJ was invited by Country Life to author the chapter “Salmon Fishing” in its Library of Sport. This led him to write Salmon Fishing, published in 1907, which was eagerly received by the angling public. “As a partner in the Firm of Hardy Brothers as well as an enthusiastic lover of sport, I have at all times taken a lively interest in all that pertains to angling; seeking better knowledge of the ways of the wild things we angled for; watching them in their homes in the river; endeavouring to discover why our efforts were not crowned with success; hatching new schemes and inventing new lures has always been a most enjoyable pastime,” JJ wrote in his Introduction. “All true anglers seek a fuller knowledge of their craft, and learn much from each other, and it is in this direction I hope my endeavours may be a help to others. The more we learn of angling the more enjoyment we discover in its pursuit, more especially when under difficult conditions success crowns our efforts. Animated with the spirit which desires to know more of the salmon and their moods, one always feels that there are many problems yet unsolved. Let us hope that while they make the angler’s life more interesting and enjoyable, they will for all time remain a fascinating study for enquiring minds.” The book is full of descriptions of tackle – fly, spinning and bait – and how best to employ it. But in choosing the following extract, I feel it might serve as a timely reminder of what one of the great tackle manufacturers, casters and fishers had to say about the design of salmon fly rods, in these days when so many seem to be designed for casting a line, as opposed to fishing a river. “A perfectly balanced rod should be capable of casting either a short or moderately long line equally well. A stiff butt, which does not commence to work until 25 yards of line is extended, is naturally too stiff to cast nicely at 15 to 20 yards. The most perfect rod in this respect may be compared to a shot-gun, which should be bored not for long shots only, but so that it will do its work well, at say 25 to 35 yards. A salmon rod should have its range from 20 to 30 yards to work easily, and when extra force is put into it, to get 35 yards is as much as it should be called upon to do. If a rod is required for very long casting, it should begin to work at say 30 yards and go up to 40; but of course such a rod is not easy to fish, and will not make the shorter casts well ... There should be just that amount of elasticity, which, when properly brought into action, effectually drives the fly to the spot desired, with the least expenditure of exertion on the part of the angler. Stiff or improperly balanced rods entail a great deal of unnecessary labour. For instance, if a rod be too stiff in the butt, great force must be used to cause that stiff butt to spring sufficiently to do its work. On the other hand, if the butt be too supple to cast well into a wind, you may tear your heart out and tire yourself, but you won’t get your fly to go through. The exact amount of movement which is called ‘pace’ is difficult to determine or describe, and only experience and knowledge gained on the river will tell the maker when he is right. A sixty-fourth of an inch more or less in the butt of an 18 feet rod, will make or mar that rod.”
Images provided by Coch-y-bonddu Books (anglebooks.com).
“He was friendly and charming, and thoroughly enjoyed the company of others”
John James Hardy's original "Perfect" reel. Note the patent circular line guard.
A plate of flies from Salmon Fishing, 1907.
JJ offered advice on how to use fly, spinning and bait tackle. Here, leaded prawn hooks.