Peggotty: In search of a Great Yarmouth fishing pioneer
PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:46 11 March 2019
There have been neither sleepless nights nor bitten fingernails, but occasionally the topic has come to mind, only to remain a nagging conundrum.
That poser? Number l. Not any old number 1, but YH1, first in the historic list of Great Yarmouth fishing fleet registrations.
Why has it perplexed me? Because there was no YH1 topping any of the hand-written lists somebody passed to me decades ago. Fishermen are notoriously superstitious and YH13 was also a non-runner, but YH1 was never deemed as unlucky.
Admitted, my lists were only a sample because their compiler chose one year in every decade between 1907 and 1953 (except the 1940s). By the Fifties the beginning of the end of Yarmouth’s herring fishery loomed.
According to those informal lists, in that first year (1907) no fewer than 214 fishing vessels were registered here, followed by 217 in 1913, 173 a decade later, 107 in 1937...but only 46 in 1953.
The numbering exceeded three figures only once in those selected years, seven drifters doing so in 1907. However, they clearly indicated the enormity of our herring fishery, especially between the wars when Yarmouth came to be acknowledged as the world’s principal herring port.
Not all slots in those lists were allocated, leaving gaps in numerical sequences, another puzzler. But the biggest poser was why none of my tabulated lists included a YH1.
Then, out of the blue, Jack Harrison - son of my long-serving predecessor as Peggotty, the late Joe Harrison - complicated (or simplified) the issue by sending me photographs he took recently in the Scottish port of Ullapool.
Their subject? YH1 (Our Seafarer)! So that registration was allocated, even though it was not recorded in my informal lists.
Port enthusiasts Peter Allard and Ken Hemp confirmed that Yarmouth’s registration sequence was not a no-go area for YH1, underlined by the comprehensive book Yarmouth Fishing Vessel Details meticulously compiled by Stephen Brewster Daniels and published in hard-back form in 2002.
To my surprise, his reference book shows that the distinctive YH1 was allocated no fewer than seven times down the decades. Recipients were the Gipsey Queen, Fair Fanny, I’ll Try, I Try, Walisa, Our Seafarer and Red Rose.
I wondered why the Red Rose received the YH1 registration while it appears that the Our Seafarer was still bearing it up in Scotland...
Also, I’ll Try seems to have changed registration numbers three times after her YH1 distinction - to YH227, YH358 and YH865.
Because fishermen were notoriously superstitious souls, I did not expect any YH13 boats - but (surprise surprise) there were no fewer than four on record.
Browsing through the detailed facts and figures in that reference book is just the job for a figurative stroll down Memory Lane - or, to put it into the maritime context, a voyage to the Smith’s Knoll in search of those often-elusive shoals of King Herring.
That compilation acknowledges the three local drifters achieving the distinction of winning the Prunier Trophy for the biggest single-night haul during the East Anglian autumn fishery from Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
First was the Romany Rose (YH63) in 1946 with 246 crans, followed by the Wydale (YH105), built in 1917 and recruited for war service between 1939 and 1945. Post-war she returned to fishing and in 1959 won the Prunier Trophy, landing 250 crans of fresh herring.
Our third Prunier success was in 1962 when the Ocean Starlight (YH61) - one of the extensive Bloomfields (Unilever) fleet - was the champion. Lowestoft and Scottish drifters won the Prunier Trophy in other years.
The competition was inaugurated pre-war in 1936 by London-based fish restaurateur Madame Prunier. But post-war, when the herring fishery began petering out, the competition stopped in 1966.
Despite the passage of half a century, many old-timers still cherish their memories of the sights, smells and animation of those autumn quaysides, keeping their recollection as fresh as a newly-landed herring.