The Matthew Stevens family has lived in St Ives, Cornwall, for over five generations with fishing at our heart.
In 1916, my Great Grandfather (also named Matthew Stevens) owned a fishing boat called the Mary Anne which fished off the St Ives shore. Unfortunately, during the First World War a German U-Boat torpedoed the vessel after casting his crew out on a punt. Luckily, as dusk fell they were rescued by a cargo steamer called the Sheerness on her way to Plymouth. Undeterred, he bought a new boat and named it after their saviour – the Sheerness (SS10).
He used this boat for fishing with my Grandfather until 1953 when it was decommissioned and was last seen in the 1980s, used as a house boat in Rochester. This fine vessel eventually perished in a fire.
Unfortunately my father didn’t have sturdy sea legs, so on his return from the Second World War he set up business selling fresh fish delivered by horse and cart from the harbour.
In 1948, my father bought a licence from the Ministry of Food in London and set up shop on Back Road East in St Ives. In the 1950s, the shop began supplying local businesses such as the Porthminster Hotel and the Beach Restaurant who are customers to this day. I joined my Father in 1963 and was made a partner.
In 1973, the UK entered the European market and fish prices began to rise alongside a growing awareness of health benefits inherent in fresh fish. This began to change the fortunes of many Cornish families who depended upon fishing as their livelihood.
In the early 1990’s recession, the shop fell on hard times as did many other businesses in Cornwall. As retail trade dwindled, I recognised the hotel and restaurant catering business as an area of growth and concentrated on catering supply. In 1995, I set up a factory and employed seven people to supply the business trade as a fish wholesaler.
In 2001, we attended the Newlyn Fish Festival, raising our profile, and became the preferred supplier for Rick Stein’s restaurant, café, fish and chip shops and St Petroc’s Hotel. For the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, we supplied Rick with Turbot for a special dinner at 10 Downing Street which was attended by Prime Ministers, past and present, and their families.
In 2005, we expanded into a new purpose-built factory and created a new, high quality unit. Distribution to Devon began and business in London increased with clients including Hix, Scotts, The Wolseley, Le Caprice, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and J Sheekey – amongst others. The following year, Jamie Oliver opened Fifteen Cornwall and chose us as their supplier for fresh fish and seafood.
After 64 years the shop in St Ives is now closed, but our successful online mail order service continues to deliver fantastic quality fish to peoples’ homes across the country. As a result, the factory is a hive of activity with over seventy members of staff working hard in the summer time. They cut and pack fresh fish for hotels, restaurants, cafes, bistros, business canteens, pubs and inns, and we supply local fish and chip shops.
Our good work earned us our second True Believer Award from Fifteen Cornwall for the training programme we run every year for their apprentices. The first award, presented in 2010, was for the high quality service and produce supplied to the Fifteen Cornwall restaurant.
In November we completed the construction of a 200 pallet cold store, this will allow the provision of fish to our customers out of season.
My Grandson, Matthew Spencer-Smith, loves Mackerel fishing around St Ives. He’s the youngest fisherman in the bay skippering his 18ft pilot as the SS10. So the family legacy lives on, and we hope to supply the finest fresh fish and seafood to people who love cooking for many years to come.