Cat no. 83

North Sea Herring Harvest

Running time20:03 Black & White Silent 1930 Lowestoft, Suffolk

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North Sea herring harvest.


Archive AliveDocumentaryIndustrial / Sponsored Film

The herring industry at Lowestoft begins with scenes of the quay, a drifter entering port, and the fisher girls cleaning and gutting the fish. Steam drifters are shown leaving the Lowestoft harbour. The camera is aboard one of the vessels and as the boat leaves harbour there are shots of other boats steaming alongside. On their way to the fishing grounds, about 30 miles offshore, the crew are shown overhauling their nets. On arrival at the fishing grounds, the nets are shot. Over two miles of net are paid out and many different camera angles are used as this work progresses. After some atmospheric shots of the sea, the hauling of the nets and the fish being shaken out is well covered. The boat steams back to harbour. There are more shots of the drifters and shots of the fishermen cleaning their nets. Lowestoft quay is filmed as the drifter docks, ready to land its catch. The film concludes with shots of the herrings being iced, boxed and loaded onto steamers for shipment overseas.

Background Information:

This film was shot in 1930 by Ford Jenkins, a local cameraman and photographer, during two trips aboard a drifter. Ford Jenkins was a member of a family of photographers and film makers who were well known in their local area. His uncle, Barrett Jenkins, filmed many events around Southwold during the 1920s. Some of these are in the Archive's collection.

This film was inspired by Grierson's film 'Drifters'. Ford Jenkins had trouble in obtaining the pictures he wanted. The first time the crew hauled in the nets there was not a single fish in them, so they stayed at sea another night. The next night a quantity of herrings was hauled in but before there was enough daylight to allow Ford to film. On the third morning there was a good catch and Ford was able to capture some scenes as the last nets came aboard in daylight. Still not happy with the shots obtained, Ford went to sea again - this time obtaining the shots he wanted. In 1931 Ford Jenkins took his finished film to show to Kodak. They were impressed and put a copy in the Kodascope library under the title 'A Glimpse of the East Coast Herring Industry'. Another version of the film was put out by Home Movies and Home Talkies, a monthly magazine for cine enthusiasts, under the title 'North Sea Herring Harvest'. (This is the version in the Archive's viewing room.) (See D. Cleveland, East Anglia on Film. Poppyland Publishing, 1987.)

The herring fishing season on the East Anglian coast lasted from about October to December. The herring swam down the coast in the late summer, and the Scottish fishing vessels followed them and landed their catch at the nearest port. During the East Anglian season, Scottish boats worked out of Lowestoft together with the local fleet. In 1913, the peak year for the herring industry, over a thousand craft worked out of the East Anglian ports of Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Southwold. This was the heyday of the steam drifter, which had replaced the sailing drifters in the main. After 1913, the over-fished North Sea could not offer the quantity of fish required to support such a large fleet. Over the years the locally owned vessels dwindled and fewer Scots boats came down in search of the herring. The last herring drifter to work off the East Anglian coast worked the 1960 season. The boats would leave harbour during the late afternoon, steam to their favourite patch, in most cases the Smith's Knoll area 30 miles off the Norfolk coast, and shoot their nets. The fish would rise near the surface during the night to feed on plankton. They would be caught in the long line of drift nets around midnight.

Then the long arduous task of hauling in the nets would begin. If it was a good catch, it could take up to twelve hours. The boats would then steam to port to catch the first of the market, in case there was a glut and prices fell. Much of Yarmouth and Lowestoft depended on the herring. A whole community, consisting of fish salesmen, gutters, barrel makers, boat builders, net makers, and repairers and others lived and worked in these areas.

Ford Jenkins

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