Honouring our heroic fishermen

A cheque being presented to the North Shields Fisherman's Heritage Project from the Marine Managment Organisation.
A cheque being presented to the North Shields Fisherman's Heritage Project from the Marine Managment Organisation.

The bravery of Tyneside’s fishermen and the history of the industry is being remembered as part of a heritage project – which is aiming to provide a memorial to those brave souls who have lost their lives at sea.

As part of that aim, the Marine Management Organisation (which licences, regulates and plans marine activities in the seas around England and Wales) has just handed over a cheque for £246 to the North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project.

It is a wonderful gesture, and one which comes as a time when the heritage project is looking for volunteers to help raise more funds towards the memorial.

Project spokeswoman Alison Spedding explains more.

“A group of local people have banded together as The North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project to raise circa £75,000 for a lasting and fitting memorial to fishermen lost at sea.

“The idea for the project came from retired fisherman Henry Howard who’s had first-hand experience of the dangers of life at sea, having been washed overboard and cast adrift during his time in the industry.”

Chairman of the group and ex-fisherman, Terry McDermott, said: “North Shields has a long and proud history as a fishing town and is still the biggest prawn landing port in England.

“It is also one of the few without a memorial to those who went to sea and lost their lives just doing their job – our intention is to put that right”

Alison went on to say: “It’s still early days for the group, but they already have around 1,500 signatures of support from local people, and their recently launched Twitter page (@NSFH_Project) is attracting new followers every day.

“They were delighted to be given a real boost by Caroline Tibbett from the Marine Management Organisation which handed over a cheque for £246 from their Christmas activities.”

Local historian and group member Charlie Steel said: “It’s estimated that hundreds of fishermen have left the port of North Shields never to return to their homes and families.

“We want to honour their memory by creating a fitting memorial that people will travel to see, and this will also help in the wider regeneration of the Fish Quay”

A website is currently being developed to enable the group to publicise future events and raise funds online.

l If you wish to donate please make cheques payable to “North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project” and send them to:

North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project

c/o The Old Low Light Heritage Centre

Clifford’s Fort

Fish Quay

North Shields

NE30 1JS

As a background to the initiative, the project states: “For centuries the communities of North Shields have lived by fishing, mostly from deep and dangerous waters.

“Even during hard times, working on the water has remained a cherished way of life for many people. As this way of life has come under pressure, these communities have fought to preserve it, often against mounting challenges.

“The heritage of this project will focus on the historical role fishing, and its traditions, have had on the origins and development of the town of North Shields – from its earliest beginnings in the 13th century to its current position as an up-and-coming tourist destination.”

The project states that from the early 1200s, whole communities grew around fishing and its associated industries, often built by immigrants who used their knowledge of fishing to build successful enterprises to help establish North Shields as the distinctive place it is.

“These communities expressed their relationship to the fish and waters that sustained them in rituals song, ceremony and social relationships. As a result, the project would like to explore and create an awareness of the tangible and intangible history and heritage of the North Shields fishing community, including its local and global connections.

“This heritage is linked to the broader maritime and industrial heritage, based along the River Tyne and the North East coast.

“For example, the fishing heritage will allow the project to explore how the River Tyne has acted as the main artery, which has for hundreds of years, attracted a diverse range of people from many varying backgrounds.

“The project will have a strong heritage traditional skills focus.

“It will involve local retired working fishermen and deep sea sailors who will engage with volunteers, wider members of the community, schools and youth community groups to share and train them in a range of endangered heritage skills.”

These will include rope slicing, navigation without GPS, net making and mending, fish filleting, salting, knitting as well as the structure and stability of ships and the cause of the tides.

“North Shields’ dependence on the sea meant a close acquaintance with tragedy and death. The heritage of the North Shields’ fishing industry has been written in tears, and throughout its history, thousands of men have never returned from the fishing grounds.

“The project will explore how families and the community lived with the fear of terror out at sea and how the earliest fishermen and sailors carried crosses, wore amulets against water demons and sea devils –which, of course, they never did.

“The heritage will also focus on the hidden histories of the fishing communities such as how women kept pigs instead of gardens (pigs were used to eat the fish guts spilled in the process of cleaning and preserving the herring.”

The main objectives of the project are:

l Promoting an understanding of how the heritage is still relevant (North Shields is the largest port in England) and how the history of maritime innovation and the development of North Shields are not isolated incidents, but a continuation of a long fishing heritage

l To provide hands-on demonstrations of traditional heritage skills

l To produce a learning resource for key stage I and II to highlight the importance of the real cost of fish and chips.

l To foster a culture of inter generational and cross community working

l To promote an awareness of the global fishing community and links to previous immigration

l To celebrate the life, loss and legacy of the fishing community.