The history of Bellbrook

Bellbrook Valley Trout Fishery was created by Major John Braithwaite, who retired to Devon to participate in his great passion – hunting. When the Braithwaites moved to Bellbrook in the early 1970s, the farmhouse was almost derelict and his first project was to extend and renovate the house and outbuildings and build new stables. Major Braithwaite was a passionately energetic and creative man who was always looking forward to his next project. He slept little and used to rise “in the middle of the night” to see to his horses and dogs and during one of these restless nights he conceived the idea of creating a fishery in the boggy valley bottom, fed by a small stream – the Bell Brook.


With the help of a local farmer, a builder and his son and son’s friends, in about 1977 he extended Bellbrook Lake and built 3 more lakes and a couple of smaller pools. He also built a fish farm to grow fish to re-stock the lakes. The fishery quickly became established and built up a reputation. By all accounts John Braithwaite was a real character and he used to ride around the fishery on a huge grey stallion. Being ex-army and also a little deaf he used to bellow at his customers from a distance. He was very generous with the genuine sports but totally intolerant of anyone who bent the rules in the slightest. Sadly, he was killed in a car-crash in about 1984.

Mrs. Braithwaite sold the fishery to Peter and Margaret Swaby in 1986 and Peter undertook a massive renovation of the fishery, cutting back overgrown banks and the like and improving access. The fishery flourished until the then new A361 N.Devon Link Road diverted passing custom away from the fishery. The Swabys then struggled until Peter had the idea of stocking some lakes with larger fish and converted some of the lakes into “Specimen Lakes”. This was brilliantly successful and the fishery rapidly gained a National reputation and was voted in the Top 10 fisheries in a poll held by a national paper. Peter added another lake to the complex and combined the 2 smaller pools to create another lake. The Swabys also started providing Bed & Breakfast accommodation to visitors.

Peter and Margaret retired in 1996 and sold Bellbrook to Mike and Lesley Pusey. Once again some renovation was required as it is a very high-care site with water running down through the 2 valley bottoms causing high levels of wear and tear during spate/flood conditions. They carried on a programme of continuous improvement throughout their tenure and acquired additional land and a further lake. The extra land allowed the development of a small-scale shoot and they initiated combined shooting and fishing days, the shooting being driven pheasants. They were the first to try the concept of the Super-Specimen Lake – a lake stocked exclusively with double-figure fish. This proved to be extremely popular but the novelty waned after about 2 years and so the change was made so that this lake contained doubles at the rate of 1 in 5 fish. They also introduced some Catch & Release – something which is not very common in South of England fisheries. In 2001 the Fishery was badly hit by the Foot & Mouth outbreak and the owners suffered illness involving hospitalisation hence the decision to sell the fishery in April 2002.

The new owner is a “young-un” – Chris Atwell. After the usual baptism of fire over the first 18 months of new ownership of a business he is getting to grips and pursuing his own developments. In essence he is continuing along the same path but has improved the facilities significantly.