Born in Houghton on 14th February 1926, Alf and Sally had naturally christened their son Valentine. But by the age of seven he had shaken off any embarrassment his christened name might have caused him, when he earnt for himself a nick name that would stick with him the rest of his life. Dressed as Mickey Mouse at the annual village fête young Val won first prize in the fancy dress competition and became known for ever more simply as “Mick Lunn”. That the name stuck, tells you just how perfectly the character captured his light hearted, engaging and fun loving personality.
Like his father before him, he was born within earshot of the Test, at Riverside Cottage in Houghton. That original cottage has since been replaced by a much smarter one, but you can still stand on Sheepbridge and look up river to the spot where three generations of Lunn were introduced to the Test.
During his early life, little had changed in the village. Activities were still centered around the church where as a young man he sang in the choir. Sunday mornings would see the village boys gathering in the church graveyard to swap the cigarette cards they had collected from the men in the village, be they of footballers, cricketers, birds or the like. All the boys of course were mad keen on football and played together for the village team. Mick would later go on to become centre forward for Andover Grammar and following the war he would play for his regiment the 1st Battalion Devons.
Village life was never dull as there were always dances, fêtes and competitions to be entered. Mick’s mother would run small parties, with the local Women’s Institute, where she was very good at putting on comedy sketches. These light hearted and community centred activities were vividly remembered even in his later years, and impressed upon Mick an interest in the sharing of tales and the performing of comedy stories.
Living in a rural community and as a keepers son also meant he had other practical responsibilities to keep. These meant that for much of the year Mick would be often be found outside, shooting, fishing or trapping food for the table with his father; ridding the turkey pens of rats with the household terriers; milking cows in the barn at Kingsmead, that 60 years later would become his home; or getting covered in dirt planting potatoes in the allotment.
However it was of course the river that was at the centre of the most special parts in his childhood. Whether it was catching bullheads under a rock, minnows in a jam jar or simply swimming with friends – Sheepbridge shallows, just down from the family cottage, was the perfect spot for such activities.
His first forays in fishing with fly, rod and line came about in 1933, when the Houghton Club members, Sir Ivan Magill and later Sir Harold Gillies allowed him to play a trout or two. By the following year his father had given him his first tentative lessons in casting the dry fly and soon they would be regularly fishing the Test just down the road at Marshcourt.
Sports of all kinds would interest him throughout his life and alongside the fishing and football in his early years he was amongst the quickest in the hundred yard dash and most often placed first in swimming races whilst at Andover Grammar. Later on horse racing, shooting, golf and snooker would fill what spare time he had. Another of his passions growing up was music. As a young boy he had sung in the local village choir and learned to play the piano by ear though never to read music, much to the chagrin of this piano teacher Mrs Cawte.
Even so it was his musical talents rather than those of fly and rod that would win him the affections of his bride to be, Joyce, when in 1944 and still in their teens, they met at King Somborne village hall. He was by now performing in a band, the ‘Dots and Dashes’ and they played waltzes, foxtrots, quicksteps, but most memorably Glenn Miller covers. Before long Joyce was joining them in the back of the car as they toured local fêtes and village dances. There courtship grew and even when Mick was subsequently demobbed on New Years Day 1948 he would continue to keep in touch with letters and pictures sent home from the far east. National Service had all but put an end to any hopes Mick had of playing music professionally, however his love for Joyce grew and after he return home they became husband and wife, on 31st January 1950.
They subsequently moved into Riverside cottage and by 1953 Nicola was born. By this point he was working for the Houghton Club under his father as a river keeper where he would continue until Alf retired and Mick became head keeper for the club in 1962.
As Head Keeper, he would go on to spend another 30 years working the club and during this period, much would change. The role he inherited soon expanded to include four distinct duties: fish farmer – ensuring the river was fully stocked for the fishing season ahead, estate manager – looking after the Club’s grounds and property, head-keeper – overseeing the work done by the respective under-keepers, and guide and adviser to the Club’s members and guests. It was with this last role that he is most vividly remembered by those who had the pleasure to meet him. Not only was he an expert at identifying and locating fish, knowing precisely what fly to cast to them, but he could seeming make you a better fisherman for those few hours he was by your side. You knew that weather permitting, a day with Mick and your bag would be swelling with all the fish you’d caught. However, even if the heavens weren’t abiding and the rain was horizontal then you were sure to have forgotten the woes of the world anyway, tickled by one of the many jokes he told so well.
It was this extra contact with fishermen and fishery owners that put him in touch with many kind people who reciprocated Mick’s own generosity of spirit by extending many invitations to fish, shoot and play golf with them. After his retirement, he would go on to visit many places including: Scotland, Norway, Iceland, America and South Africa meeting many new friends along the way.
Some of my earliest memories of my grandfather are from my school holidays, when I would stay over for long spells at Willow Mead, the bungalow that the Club built for him in Stockbridge. There would be morning walks on the fish farm where he would teach me about the lifecycle of the river and it’s many inhabitants. In the winter months these would often start with a visit to the hatchery to check on the small fry that had hatched the few weeks earlier. By spring we would be catching minnows in a jam jar or looking for bullheads under stones in the shallows. During the summer he would be encouraging me to take a swim in the stream at the end of the garden and evenings would be spent at the vice, where he taught me many of the family secrets tying the dry flies that his grandfather had made so famous.
It was a peaceful yet fascinating time for a young boy and that so much of my childhood was spent in his company is something I am deeply grateful for.
Clive Graham-Ranger I think captured him perfectly in the introduction to Mick’s biography:
“Mick’s enthusiasm for the Test, its plants and wildlife is catching; through his unbounded patience and knowledge I have thrilled at the sight of an orange tip butterfly; watched eagerly as a grey wagtail has hawked the first hatch of fly from the shallows at Sheepbridge heralding a rise of trout; lifted into a 1lb 4oz wild brown trout when I heard the Houghton ‘You’ from Mick at my elbow as the fish rose and slipped down my averagely-cast little brown sedge.”
Mick passed away on December 26th 2014.