PUBLISHED: 18:49 18 October 2007 | UPDATED: 12:01 30 June 2010
EVERY autumn when the Great Yarmouth herring fishery was in full swing and hundreds of local and Scottish drifters packed the quaysides as they cranned out their catches, colourful and animated scenes were guaranteed.
EVERY autumn when the Great Yarmouth herring fishery was in full swing and hundreds of local and Scottish drifters packed the quaysides as they cranned out their catches, colourful and animated scenes were guaranteed. But precisely half a century ago, in October 1957, a new dimension was added when the first, and last, formal review of the fishing fleet took place in Yarmouth Roads, watched by large crowds lining vantage points ashore, like piers and promenades.
On Trafalgar Day drifters from Yarmouth and Lowestoft were joined by their Scottish counterparts and local longshore boats for this review by Admiral Sir Frederick Parham, Commander-in-Chief, The Nore. The fishing boats, dressed overall, sailed in one long line past the admiral, who took the salute from HMS Wave, leader of a fishery protection and minesweeping squadron, anchored with other Royal Navy ships off the Britannia Pier.
The review marked the revival of the ancient East Anglian Herring Fair, an annual event during medieval times in the autumn fishing season. The Mercury declared: “The sail-past provided the memory of a lifetime for the thousands who thronged the seafront to watch this unique spectacle of maritime pageantry. It was a scene to stir British pride, a spectacle which uplifted hearts as the trim little drifters, each with mainsail set and flags streaming between mastheads, ploughed past the grey-blue HMS Wave.
“On board each drifter four members of the crew stood on the foredeck in their shiny yellow oilskins. One saluted on behalf of his vessel as the C-in-C raised his arm in salute and the drifter's ensign was dipped. About 150 fishing vessels took part, the sail-past led by the Fraserburgh motor drifter Stephens, joint holder of the Prunier Trophy for the biggest single-night catch of the season.
“After the review, the formality ended and the drifters headed to sea to resume their search for the herring shoals - and found them in abundance, making their best catches of the season so far.”
A different type of herring history was made at Yarmouth that same year when the Fraserburgh motor drifter Incentive returned from the Smith's Knoll fishing grounds with a live herring swimming in a barrel on her deck.
Her crew, including veterans with many years' experience, said they had never previously heard of a live herring being brought back to port - there had been numerous examples of caught herring being put into containers of salt water at sea, but none survived the voyage back to land.
This particular herring, described by the Mercury as “looking full of life,” was an accidental phenomenon. Seawater was put into the new barrel to seal it and it was on deck when the crew were hauling their nets. Skipper Dan Patience reported: “The herring must have flown out of the net and landed in the barrel while we were hauling.” It was found to be swimming in the barrel when one of the crew looked in it some time later.
It was an occurrence that would have fascinated Arthur Patterson, the famous Yarmouth naturalist, to whom a plaque was unveiled in 1957 in George Street, near his birthplace in Row 36 100 years earlier. The local Naturalists Society provided the memorial.
Apart from his vast knowledge of natural history, Patterson had a prodigious output, for drawing sketches and cartoons, writing books and articles, and lecturing, while still finding time to enjoy Breydon and Broadland and their characters.
Arthur Patterson, who had been a school attendance officer, died in 1935. He was a leading light in the local Naturalists Society to which its 1957 president, Mr F E Delf, gave an address about the 16 Yarmouth area windmills. He told members that at the close of its life the windmill “was probably the most efficient machinery for harnessing nature that has ever been invented."
That same year the grave time facing the herring fishery was emphasised to Parliament by Yarmouth and Lowestoft MPs Anthony Fell and Edward Evans in a debate on the plight of the declining industry. Mr Fell also warned against “going too fast” on entering the European Common Market, and in a third speech, called for a drastic cut in imports of films and tobacco from the United States to avoid Britain having to seek a loan from America.
The Autumn Sun, first of two Polish-built Dutch-type trawler luggers to work for the Yarmouth-based Henry Sutton group, arrived in the port. The Autumn Star was expected two months later.
ITV was looking at sites for a transmitter that would enable the Yarmouth area to screen its programmes in 1958. The Mercury reported that the BBC was aiming to improve reception in east Norfolk. At sea, the crew of the Smith's Knoll lightship - anchored on the prime herring catching grounds, increased the number of television viewers when they were presented with a set bought by a Yarmouth and Gorleston fund. The lightship was farther from the coast than any other provided with TV by the special fund.
And talking of fish, in 1957 an estranged husband passing a Gorleston fish-and-chip shop heard his wife talking about him and warned her to stop. As he left the shop he was hit in the back of the neck by a packet of fish-and-chips thrown at him by his wife who was given a conditional discharge by Yarmouth magistrates for assaulting him.
Yarmouth fishermen were hardy souls, despite the exposed conditions in which they worked at sea, and probably did not trouble their family doctor or hospitals as much as many people do nowadays. And if you thought that National Health Service problems were a comparatively recent thing, let me inform you that a headline in the Mercury in mid-August 1957 read: “Long orthopaedic waiting list - bed shortage at Yarmouth Hospital.”
The waiting list had reached 100. Some patients were being sent for surgery from our Deneside hospital to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. It was estimated that an extra 16-20 beds were needed for post-operative long-stay patients.
Far too much had been made of Asian flu, declared members of Yarmouth National Health Executive Council. One member said the amount of information and advice that had been issued resulted in “half the population waiting to catch Asian flu!”
Drinking alcohol to excess can lead to ill health, we have been warned for many decades, but despite the annual influx of holidaymakers and fishermen, Yarmouth was a moderately sober spot in the mid-1950s. Forty-six people - only 14 of them locals - were convicted for drunkenness in in 1956, 22 fewer than the previous year, the chief constable, Mr Charles Jelliff, said in his annual report to the borough's licensing justices in 1957.
One man undoubtedly fit and healthy to a ripe old age was Ormesby centenarian Richard Elkington, of East Road, who walked two miles every week to collect his pension from the post office. His only concession to being 100 years old was to reduce his amount of reading to prevent overstraining his eyesight.