Memories of the herring drifter Animation

MAINSABBATH ASHORE: unlike the English herring drifters, which sailed on Sunday mornings after Satur

MAINSABBATH ASHORE: unlike the English herring drifters, which sailed on Sunday mornings after Saturday nights in port, the Scottish fleet observed a day of rest. Some are seen here, berthed five-abreast opposite the Town Hall.Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

Back in the so-called Good Old Days, our autumn herring fishery would be almost over, if not finished completely, by now, mid-December. The Scottish fleet would have headed out between our twin piers, some with decks piled high with tarpaulin-covered furniture and other bulky items bought by crews in well-stocked Great Yarmouth shops to take to their isolated home towns and villages.

As for the Yarmouth drifters, owners would be pondering about New Year voyages. It was all part of the nostalgic calendar, an age long gone, never to return.

Sometimes, however, comes an unexpected reminder of that era, a memory-jogger so powerful that it does not take much imagination for those of a past generation mentally to picture hundreds of drifters berthed at our quays, to hear the sound of the winches cranning out the catches, and to smell the all-pervading aroma of herring, those “silver darlings” that were a mainstay of our borough’s economy through centuries.

That sharp reminder came to me in an e-mail from Richard Crawley who, for a special family reason, was anxious to obtain a picture of the Yarmouth drifter Animation (YH138).

Richard, a Tyneside resident, wrote: “I am trying to find information on the steam boat the Animation. I am trying to find a picture if possible for my father-in-law who worked on the boat as a young lad.

“He is now 73 and has recently moved into sheltered housing and we are trying to fill his walls with pictures of all the boats he worked on. We have managed to find most of the boats but unfortunately cannot find anything on the Animation.

“I have had endless searches for pictures of the boat and, out of the blue, took a chance and called the Mercury and had a great chat with the editor to whom I owe many thanks.”

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My own “herring fishery and drifters” picture files failed to locate one of the Animation, so I contacted my chum Ken Hemp, of Belton, who has an enviable collection of photographs plus his own paintings, augmenting his detailed knowledge of that industry. As usual, he came up trumps, locating not one but three – two straightforward shots of the Animation under way plus one taken on board showing oilskin-clad crew members hauling in the nets at sea

I forwarded them to a delighted Richard Crawley who explained that his father-in-law, Robert Hardy Smith, lives in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Animation was the first boat he served on, herring catching from North Shields.

“He will be chuffed to see the pictures of his first boat and I am sure these will take pride of place among the other boats I have found (nine and counting). Please pass on my thanks to Ken Hemp to whom I will be writing,” he added.

The Animation was built in 1925 for Strowger and Wilkinson and later owned by G Newson and Son. She was still sailing into the Fifties when young Robert Hardy Smith joined her crew.

And from drifters to luggage, further to my recent report that one of our suitcases stood untouched and unattended on Yarmouth’s Beach Coach Station for six hours from about 3am to 9am in June while we were heading for Poole to cross to Jersey by ferry. We thought it was safely in our coach’s luggage compartment.

Our son read it and pointedly reminded us, “You’re not very good with luggage!”

True, but we had genuinely forgotten past problems.

In 1996, while waiting with others at Malaga in Spain for a bus to the airport, I was standing astride our luggage to keep it secure when a smartly-dressed young man rushed up and asked where he could catch a bus to the airport. I told him “Here” and wondered why he had not seen the prominent Aeropuerto Autobus sign.

He did not queue up but disappeared - as did Mrs Peggotty’s large bag I had been guarding! It contained all our vital items: money, passports, flight tickets... Despite this distraction theft, we succeeded in boarding our flight, just. I will not burden you with the details of how we managed to catch that flight home without those essentials.

Another incident with potentially dire consequences was two years ago as another holiday on the Costa del Sol was ending. Our main suitcase had broken on our journey out but, when we told our neighbour in Spain we were going shopping to replace it, he said he had a nearly-new one in his store cupboard which we could have.

It belonged to a man who regularly enjoyed long winter stays in our complex but on returning home, always left a case of items behind to save him taking them to the UK and back again next time. But unexpected ill-health meant he would never return, so our neighbour emptied the case with his consent and passed it to us, to be flown home with us as hold luggage after we had formally replied “No” to the usual check-in questions about whether we had packed it ourselves and had not put in anything for anyone else.

A few days after we returned home to Peggotty’s Hut in Gorleston, we were missing some small item and looked inside the case, but it was empty. So Mrs Peggotty continued the search by unzipping a tight external pocket in the lid and pushed her fingers in.

They touched something, but not the missing item – and she withdrew a butcher’s knife with an unsheathed blade eight inches long by three inches wide, then a three-inch bladed knife, both lethally sharp!

How that case got through the Malaga Airport X-rays and security checks without the two knives being detected, we shall never know, nor how Mrs Peggotty did not slice off her fingertips. Would anybody have believed our astonished denials that the knives were not ours and we did not know of their presence in the case?

Ignorance, and innocence, is bliss.

It transpired that the winter holidaymaker enjoyed cooking during his months in Spain and bought the knives there, putting them into his case for safe keeping until his return the following year – a plan scuppered by his ill-health. Both knives are now in daily use in the kitchen of Peggotty’s Hut.

Our son was right. That is three case histories too many.