Cat no. 678

Herrings For Sale

Black & White Sound c.1955 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

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The herring industry at Great Yarmouth - fishing, processing and packing.


Industrial / Sponsored Film

Herring drifters, some of which are owned by Bloomfields Ltd, a Unilever subsidiary, come into Great Yarmouth Harbour. The commentary offers a brief history of the herring industry, which can be traced back to Cerdic the Dane in 439AD. On the quayside the catch is unloaded at the Fish Quay. The drifter 'Ocean Vim', one of the Bloomfield boats, features here. There are shots of the market and the auction. The commentary explains that early prices may be as high as 80/ - 90/ a cran; later prices may have fallen to 35/ a cran. his explains the importance of being fast to return to harbour, shown later in the film. To keep prices high the Herring Industry Board raises a flag to show when catches are heavy. This warns drifters not to put out to sea. Elderly 'fisher girls' gut and pack the herring on the Fish Quay.

At the Unilever factory the company experiments with using machines for gutting. The operatives here are still women but younger. There are shots of the herring being packed into barrels. This is described by the commentary as a 'skilled woman's job.' There are views from inside John Woodgers smokehouse, now owned by Unilever. There follows an exterior shot of a MacFisheries shop. There are also scenes of herring being packed in ice for export to West Germany. The film shows quick-freezing methods and there are shots of plant and of the process. The commentary mentions the Unilever Birds Eye factory at Yarmouth, but these scenes are filmed in the Fromac factory at Fraserburgh.

The next sequence covers the herring fishing itself, showing scenes shot aboard the 'Ocean Vim'. It explains what signs to look out for when in search of herring. There are interior shots of the cabin. The nets are cast. There are shots of the men eating before the nets are hauled in and the herring shaken out. The catch is stored in the hold and the drifter makes for port. It is shown back at the Fish Quay.


After World War II the herring industry continued to decline. In 1946 there were 34 local boats and 208 Scottish boats at Yarmouth compared with 161 local boats and 460 Scottish boats in 1936. During the 1950s Bloomfields commissioned six new diesel drifter/trawlers. In 1951, shortly before this film was made, the Herring Industry Board built a Herring Reduction Plant at Yarmouth, designed to ensure a market for surplus herring as fish-meal or oil. This is alluded to in the auction sequence of the film. By 1953 catches were declining at a steady rate. 143,319 crans were landed in 1954 but only 62,382 crans in 1955. By 1957, the fleet had declined to 21 local and 90 Scottish boats. In 1960 the Herring Industry Board reported that, There was nothing to suggest that nature is succeeding in countering the effect of man's onslaught on the North Sea herring stocks at all stages of their growth. By 1962 only Bloomfields six diesel vessels remained at Yarmouth. The following year they were sold to Lowestoft. The Herring Reduction Plant closed in 1963. By the mid-1960s, the industry had virtually disappeared. (Charles Lewis, The Yarmouth Herring Fishery. Published by Norfolk Museums Service, 1988). John Woodger came from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He first produced kippered herrings in 1843. The first kippers were produced commercially in Seahouses, Northumberland.

Featured Organisations:

Bloomfields Ltd; Fromac; Herring Industry Board; Mac Fisheries; Unilever; John Woodger's Smokehouse


James Mellor

Guy Blanchard

L.M. Mitchell

Dudley Birch

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