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Shields man’s link to fishing tragedy

LINKS ... Chris Allen from South Shields, with a picture of the memorial in Eyemouth, and, below, a copy of his relative Johnston Borthwicks death certificate.

LINKS ... Chris Allen from South Shields, with a picture of the memorial in Eyemouth, and, below, a copy of his relative Johnston Borthwicks death certificate.

A SOUTH Tyneside descendant of a man killed in Britain’s worst-ever fishing disaster is involved with a special production recalling the tragedy.

Chris Allen, 48, from South Shields, is part of the production team for Get Up And Tie Your Fingers, a play set against the Eyemouth disaster of 1881, which is about to embark on a national tour.

Yet it was only when researching his family tree earlier this year that he discovered his own family’s link to the disaster.

His distant cousin, Johnston Borthwick, was just 17 years old when his boat, the Margaret and Catherine, got caught up in a storm off the coast of Eyemouth, near Berwick, on October 14, 1881. The vessel, which went down with all hands, was among 20 boats lost in the disaster, and Johnston was one of 189 men who drowned while their loved ones stood helplessly on the shore.

Chris, who will accompany the play on a three-month tour of the east coast, said: “It’s very sobering to think that he lost his life before he’d even had the chance to live it.

“It was a tragedy that would have touched every single family in that small fishing community – and when I agreed to work on the production, I had no idea it had also touched mine.”

Ann Coburn’s play is being co-produced by Newcastle-based theatre company The Guild of Lillians and The Customs House, South Shields, gives a fictional account of three women who watched the drama unfold.

The production forms part of Follow The Herring – a pioneering arts project linking the shared heritage of east coast communities – and will be accompanied at each town on the tour by a visual arts display called Coat For A Boat; a life-sized wooden replica of a fishing boat, swathed in knitting created by men and women from across the UK.

At each of the 12 venues on the tour, the professional cast of three will be joined by a local choir who will perform a specially-commissioned score from composer Karen Wimhurst, based on the traditional songs that the women sang as they gutted the fish at speeds of 60 per minute.

The all-female choirs sing the four-part arrangements unaccompanied, creating a haunting soundscape for the play.

The play will run at the Customs House in Mill Dam, South Shields, from May 21 to 24.

Evening performances will be at 7.45pm and matinees will be held at 2.30pm. Tickets cost £12 or £11 for concessions. To book, call 454 1234.

Twitter: @shieldsgazvez

 

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