Follow the Herring: project celebrates unsung ‘fishergirls’


HERRING SEASON; SCOTTISH FISHER GIRLS; DATE 1953; Great Yarmouth - Credit: Archant

Around 150,000 people living and working on the east coast of Britain are to embark on a unique project celebrating the unsung heroines of the fishing industry – including Great Yarmouth.

alison ashton, centre. Picture: Craig Leng

alison ashton, centre. Picture: Craig Leng - Credit: Archant

For almost 100 years, women from fishing communities in the north east and Scotland followed the herring fleets down the coast, meeting the catch and gutting, salting and barrelling the fish.

Now, the back-breaking work of the “herring lassies” or “fisher girls” and the traditions which grew up around them, are to be commemorated with a nationwide project of performance, song and visual arts, launched last week at South Shields.

Follow the Herring – a collaboration between The Customs House Arts Centre in South Shields and the North East-based Guild of Lillians Theatre Company and supported by Arts Council England – will re-trace the women’s journey, from Scotland down to Yarmouth, in a three-month tour of 12 coastal towns starting in May and arriving in the town week commencing June 30.

Their will be performances of Get Up and Tie Your Fingers, a play by Ann Coburn, will be performed at St George’s Theatre while a boat/exhibition will be on display at the Tide and Time Museum.

The exhibition, Coat for A Boat, is an acclaimed knitted art exhibition, supplemented by items knitted locally for each venue.

Teams of knitters have already decorated a full scale fishing boat and organisers hope as many people as possible will now knit a herring to join the boat on its journey down the coast, where it will be exhibited in each town visited.

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The aim is that, by the end of the tour in August, the boat will have a full, woollen “catch” of the fish, known as “silver darlings.”

A spokeswoman for the organisers said: “We very much want knitters to start sending in woollen herrings. Check out the website where knitters can download the herring knitting pattern!”

In addition, community choirs are learning songs based on traditional shanties sung by the women, which they will perform to a specially commissioned score by composer Karen Wimhurst.

For further details about the project visit