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Yarmouth's debt to unsung Dutch

PUBLISHED: 19:00 25 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:51 30 June 2010

After years of struggling to build a harbour because it kept silting up, it was a Dutchman, Joas Johnson who found a solution in Gorleston pier

After years of struggling to build a harbour because it kept silting up, it was a Dutchman, Joas Johnson who found a solution in Gorleston pier

IT is a history filled with herring, holidays and Horatio Nelson - but Great Yarmouth's real debt is to the unsung Dutch whose trade and fishing influence goes back hundreds of years.

IT is a history filled with herring, holidays and Horatio Nelson - but Great Yarmouth's real debt is to the unsung Dutch whose trade and fishing influence goes back hundreds of years.

After years struggling to build a harbour because it kept silting up, it was a Dutchman Joas Johnson who found a solution in Gorleston pier - allowing the fishing industry to flourish, his countrymen also inventing the fish-curing process on which it was based.

To find out more this weekend, a pair of Dutch artists are journeying across the churning mass of grey - a trade route travelled by Norfolk Line for many years - to investigate connections between Yarmouth and Scheveningen - a 92 nautical mile hop and the shortest distance between a Dutch and British harbour.

Contemporary artist and essayist Sjaark Langenberg, and designer Rose de Beer see the sea as key to the town's links with each other, and an important part of their identity.

In a project called Nothing but the Sea Between Us, they aim to explore the relationship between the two towns and also issues of identity that will inform a contemporary work of art and may have something to say about the British ex-pat community in The Hague.

Given their past form their take on the relationship is likely to be a world away from the bustling quayside scenes captured in thick, sweeping brush strokes by earlier artists.

In Utrect, for example, they came up with a high-profile “intervention” involving a Japanese Geisha girl aboard a cherry picker performing ritual tea dances to old folk in high-rise sheltered housing.

The performance was the couple's artistic response to an advert calling for volunteer visitors to the elderly in care homes - a task carried out by robots in Japan where the population time-bomb has already exploded.

Mr Langenberg said t this early stage he was open to anything and that visiting Yarmouth was a starting point to find material and decide what form the final piece would take, possibly a film or a performance with a social conscience.

“We do not work in traditional mediums,” he said. “When you look at traditional art you can say whether it is beautiful or not. We always develop our work in a public space.”

James Steward, area museums officer, who has been contacted by the artists, said the Time and Tide Museum was well placed to foster relations with European artists in line with a current Intereg project that aimed to develop links with coastal communities on the continent.

He said that at one time the fishing industry was Dutch dominated with many breweries in the town catering for Dutch fisherman, a legacy that lives on in architecture today.

Anyone with stories or material about the Great Yarmouth/Scheveningen connection can email Mr Langenberg s.langenberg@home.nl. For more information visit www.sjaaklangenberg.nl

IN 1494 a treaty was signed that allowed the Dutch to fish off Yarmouth, which they did very successfully. Their methods were so good the locals were urged to copy them.

The Dutch settled in 1568 until 1681 and had their own church in South Quay. This was a massive period of prosperity with the Dutch claiming exemption from some taxes.

The presence of the Dutch in Yarmouth was not entirely unwelcome for it was reported in 1632 that: “Yarmouth alone employeth forty brewers for their service.” Yarmouth also had a community of refugee Dutch fishermen and their families between the 1560's and 1680's.

The official response to Dutch competition was protectionist legislation leading to the three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the late 17th century. Yarmouth took advantage of this mood by going further and ordering that all non-local boats could only sell to freemen of the borough. The Corporation also assumed the right to buy half the catch at a regulated price, reselling at full-market value and keeping the profit.

These measures drove away the Dutch, French and other English fishermen, bringing about a decline in trade and the death of the Herring Fair.

A recovery by the mid 18th century brought the return of the foreign and other English vessels and the revival of the Herring Fair, now called the Dutch Fair. In 1751 there were 250 Dutch busses at the Yarmouth fishery besides 120 similar French vessels and 120 smaller Dutch boats. The smaller English fleet included just 69 local vessels with 95 Yorkshire and other boats.

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