The following timeline is based on the article ‘The World’s Premier Fishing Port’ by T Cooper, Secretary of the Grimsby Trawler Owners' Association, in the Grimsby Town Guide, published in 1957. It was prepared by pupils of Havelock School.

THE real development of Grimsby as a fishing port came through the linking of the town by railway to London and the Midlands in 1848, together with the opening of the first fish dock in 1856. This provided the impetus, which was to set the seal on the development of Grimsby as the premier fishing port in the world. From that time the industry moved ahead in leaps and bounds and the fame of Grimsby spread throughout the world.

Fishing vessels had been using the dock at Grimsby prior to this, but it was, however, primarily commercial. In 1851, 50,000 lobsters taken off Norway were landed at Grimsby, and by 1853 screw-driven steamers were being employed in the trade although the lobsters were, in the main, caught in sailing smacks which at the end of the season went north to Scotland for cod and herring.


The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway was extended to Grimsby in 1848 and in April 1849, the foundation stone of the Royal Dock, a commercial dock, was laid by the Prince Consort, the dock being officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1854. In actual fact, the dock was opened in May, 1852, the first vessel to enter being the steamship City of Norwich.

The railway company obviously appreciated the importance of a fishing industry at Grimsby because in 1853 and 1854 the company built nine ships, including two steam liners and the first trawlers to be operated from the port. The building of these ships was carried out in co-operation with the Great Northern Railway and the Midland Railway, both of which had running powers into the port. The steam liners built by the railway company did not appear to be successful and it is understood that the engines and propellers were subsequently removed. The close proximity of the fishing grounds, the ready access to growing centres of population and the special facilities provided, created the circumstances which fostered the rapid growth of Grimsby.

In 1854, the first year of trawling at Grimsby, 453 tons of fish were landed. In 1856, the first year the fish dock was opened, the amount landed had risen to 1,500 tons.

Amongst the fleet of vessels built by the railway companies in 1853-54, were included two steam liners and two auxiliary steam liners, but no trawlers with steam propulsion.


Another step forward was the inducing of a fisherman called John Howard of Manningtree, to settle at Grimsby with his eight sailing liners about 1855. In addition to the two fleets referred to, there were a small number of other fishing vessels based on the port, principally by families who had migrated to Grimsby from other areas. In order to attract other fishermen to settle at Grimsby, the railway company at that time, with great initiative and foresight, offered to build a dock for fishing vessels, specially low dock dues to be paid.

There is no doubt that the development of Grimsby as a fishing port came with the honouring of that obligation and the opening of the first fish dock in 1856, together with the railway which linked Grimsby with London and the Midlands.

This first fish dock, the harbinger of future greatness, covered an area of about six acres. The dock was equipped with a floating pontoon which rose and fell with the tide and at which the sailing vessels unloaded their catch; a small fish market and a smoke house established by a London firm.

A Mr. James Sweeney was the first owner at Grimsby to take ice to sea in his 51-ton Surprise in the year 1858. Such was the tremendous increase in the demand for ice that imports from Norway were necessary, and these imports reached 22,000 tons by 1872 and 90,000 tons by 1900. The imports were arranged by the Great Grimsby Ice Company which was instituted in 1863, together with the Co-operative Ice Company. Between them they owned eight sailing ships, chiefly barques. Eventually, these companies amalgamated as the Great Grimsby Ice Company.

Another factor of considerable importance was the building in 1858 of the first ice house near the fish docks, which was filled with ice taken from ponds during the winter. This pond ice was used for the preservation of fish at sea by the sailing trawlers, and enabled the fishing vessels to extend their activities into more distant fishing grounds whilst at the same time preserving the quality of the catch.

It is a remarkable fact that although steam propulsion for ships was accepted in other directions, it was slow to be developed for fishing vessels. Experiments were carried out at Grimsby in 1858 with the Corkscrew, an iron screw-propelled ship built in 1854 which was fitted out for trawling but the results were apparently not very successful, for the experiment was not repeated for many years.

In 1859 the smack owners petitioned the railway company to enlarge the fish dock, to remove the pontoon and to construct a wooden platform from the lockpit along the west side of the dock to the ice house and then eastwards for a distance of some 200 to 300 feet for the purpose of landing fish from vessels, several light cranes to be made available for the unshipping of the cargoes.

The railway company was also requested to provide a further wooden stage 3 feet higher and inside the platform, 20 feet wide and 200 feet long, and covered over to act as a market place for the fish. It was also put forward that railway lines could be brought alongside the market to facilitate the distribution of the fish.

It was considered that the harbour itself should be extended to accommodate 500 smacks. In 1860 the dock was enlarged to about 12 acres and the pontoon removed, although the name still applies to the quayside even today.

Fish merchanting as a business began at Grimsby in 1860 and has developed to today's gigantic proportions with world-wide distribution. The railway company was responsible for attracting fish buyers to the port by the offer in those early days of free rail passes to merchants travelling inland on the three major railway lines, the Great Northern, Midland and Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire, in furtherance of their trade.

To revert to the development of the sailing vessel, by 1865 the continual increase in the size of the smacks made the cutter rig very unhandy. It became essential, in view of the enormous boom which made sailing exceedingly difficult, to change to the ketch rig. In the sailing days there were many occasions when gales swept the fishing fleets causing the loss of many fine ships and the men who sailed them.

In an attempt to operate line fishing and trawl fishing from one vessel, an iron ship named the Tubal Cain, 77 feet in length, was constructed at Hull in 1870 on the well principle. The vessel was owned by Mr. W. W. Dawson, of Grimsby, and it was built with a view to converting into a steam vessel. As a well vessel, the ship was very successful and a few years later she was lengthened and a set of engines placed on board. The Tubal Cain, without doubt, was the pioneer ship in steam line fishing.

Wire ropes were also being introduced in the 1870's. These were first used in the rigging but soon extended for use in connection with the towing of the trawl. The manila rope, most commonly used, had reached a thickness of 7 to 8 inches, and was proving a problem due to being unwieldy and awkward to handle. Wire ropes were to prove a considerable help in this direction.

It is interesting to recall that in the days of the sailing trawlers, in the 1870's, Germany purchased one of Grimsby's most modern sailing trawlers as a
model from which they constructed a fleet of about 15 smacks to sail out of the Elbe, but it is understood that more time was spent in port than at sea. The fleet did not succeed in deep sea trawling and ultimately these vessels sailing out of the Elbe were purchased by Grimsby owners and were operated successfully. Several Grimsby owners had sailing trawlers built to order in yards at Elmshorn, Altona and elsewhere in Germany.

In 1872, owing to the great distance of the fishing grounds on which the ships from Grimsby were working, bulk fleeting was adopted. A number of trawlers would join together and pool their night's catch, placing it on board one vessel every day. When the total catch was sufficient this vessel would proceed to Billingsgate, the fish being stowed in bulk and iced on board.

Such was the business aptitude of the founders of the fishing industry, that in 1873 there was formed the Great Grimsby Coal, Salt and Tanning Co. Ltd., to provide their gear and other fishing requirements. This company has so greatly extended that it now has branches in many foreign ports and, like Grimsby has a world-wide reputation.

Steam was not even used to operate a capstan on board a smack until the late 1870's, and did not come into general use until even later. The first steam capstan was fitted in a Grimsby sailing trawler in 1876.

The steam capstan fitted in sailing trawlers from 1876 was a great advance in hauling the trawling gear aboard, but a still more important step forward was the invention of the steam winch which enabled wire ropes to be better utilised for fishing and at greater depths. Should a wire rope become kinked whilst being wound on a capstan, it would be impossible to straighten out. Winding in on drums of a steam winch obviated this difficulty.

The growth in size and power of the trawler has resulted in a much greater catching capacity. A lesser number of trawlers is now required to maintain the market with first class quality fish than in the 1870's and 1880's. Statistics of 1877 indicate that approximately 3,500 fishermen and apprentices were engaged in 600 sailing vessels, 531 of which were registered at Grimsby. By 1887 it was estimated that 5,000 fishermen and apprentices were employed in 815 sailing vessels and 15 steam vessels registered at the port.

In the Articles of Association of the Great Grimsby Smackowners Association Limited, which was registered in 1878, appears in one of the clauses the following:

"... no member shall allow or authorise any Master or any of the crew sailing in any of his vessels to sell fish (except whelks) or stores of any kind whatsoever . . ."

No doubt up to that time the skippers and crews, of some vessels at least, would be selling their own fish. Perhaps this intention was enforced by the need in such a rapidly growing industry for auctions to be conducted by men with the necessary training and experience who were in regular contact with fish merchants.

The early fishing smacks were but some 35 to 38 feet long, but the necessity to fish further and further from Grimsby, and at greater depths, with a consequent increase in the weight of the gear, was such that ships of 120 to 130 feet were under construction by the 1880's. The crews of the fishing vessels for many years were largely made up of apprentices due, no doubt, to the almost insatiable demand for more men to sail the increasing number of ships. There were many stories of a hard life endured by these apprentices but many of them went on to become skippers and skipper/ owners and finally to operate their own fleets. Fishing was difficult, and on occasions dangerous, but there were great opportunities for those who went after them.

The advent of the specially designed steam fishing vessel for trawling, with the steam winch and wire ropes, was to enable fishing to be prosecuted down to 200 fathoms whereas the sailing trawler would fish at a maximum of 50 fathoms. The steam trawler was to open up the fishing grounds of the far north to trawling. The first steam trawler to be designed for the purpose actually sailed from Grimsby in 1882, being built by the Great Grimsby and North East Steam Trawling Co. Ltd., which was registered in 1881.

Within a few years fishing in organised fleets was adopted during the summer months, and by 1883 was conducted systematically throughout the year with steam carriers. Whole fleets were placed under the command of an "Admiral" in much the same way as wartime convoys were arranged. The "Admiral" would be chosen for his skill and knowledge of the fishing grounds and he would be mainly responsible for direction of the fishing effort. The total catch of the fleet would be transferred each day to a "cutter" and sent to port, ensuring a steady supply of first class fish.

In the actual transfer of boxes of fish from the trawlers to the carrier by small boat, there were many men lost in rough weather. It was a hazardous work in those circumstances. The casualties were reduced after 1890, probably due to the fitting of buoyancy tanks in the boats following Board of Trade enquiries. After landing the fish at port the cutters would take out spare food and gear required as fleets would be at sea about eight to ten weeks.

There was held in 1883 the Great International Fisheries Exhibition where models of almost every fishing craft were exhibited and offered an opportunity to owners and others who were interested to study each particular type.

A model of the Grimsby sailing trawler Frank Buckland received the highest prize for that class of vessel. A model of the steam trawler Zodiac, the first steam trawler specially built for the purpose for the Grimsby North Sea Steam Trawling Co. Ltd., was also exhibited and was the cause of much comment.

Grimsby fishermen did not take kindly to the fleeting principle, and the last occasion when there was an organised bulking fleet from the port was in 1901. For the purpose of fleeting, the Grimsby Ice Company, about 1884, built four iron steam carriers, the Albatross, Pelican, Cormorant and the Gannet.

The population of the town grew with its prosperity. From a population of less than 1,000 at the end of the eighteenth century, to 11,000 in 1861, 26,500 in 1871, 57,000 in I881, and 75,000 in the early part of this century. Today the population of Grimsby is approximately 90,000. There is also a population in the adjoining seaside town of Cleethorpes of 30,000, many of whom are connected directly or indirectly with the fishing industry.

In order to cater for the growth of the industry, No. 2 Fish Dock was opened in 1886.

In the first year after the fish dock was opened, there were but 22 sailing ships regularly fishing out of the port, but by 1863 there were 112, 70 of which were trawlers. By 1890 these had increased to 769 sailing trawlers and 35 steam trawlers registered at Grimsby. Towards the end of the nineteenth century an ice factory was built at Grimsby to produce 300 tons per day of artificial ice. The present ice factory is now capable of producing 1,200 tons of ice daily.

Fishing voyages to these distant water grounds were not new. Records of fishing round Iceland over five hundred years ago and trade for fish from the fishing grounds of the White (Barents) Sea was carried on in the sixteenth century. However, to supply a fresh fish market the distant water trawler required speed in getting to and from the grounds, a high rate of catching during fishing, and a method of preservation. The steam trawler, with ice as a preservative, was the answer to the problems involved.

In 1891 the first Grimsby steam vessel trawled Icelandic waters. In 1911 a Grimsby ship, Cambodia, explored the Grand Bank off Newfoundland, and in 1914 was recorded a fishing venture round the Jan Mayen island by the trawler Itonian.

During all these years, not only were the smacks increasing in size to prospect further fishing grounds, but experiments with the fishing gear were also taking place. The beam trawl was to give way to the more flexible otter trawl after the year 1895. Instead of the heavy beam of wood with two iron frames, one at each end, used to keep the mouth of the net open - a gear which was cumbersome and sometimes hazardous to handle when getting aboard in certain weathers -trawl "doors" or otter boards were introduced.

A form of otter board had been utilised by yachtsmen for many years previously for fishing purposes but had not been adopted on fishing vessels. The first experiments to put this type of gear on a trawler in 1885 were unsuccessful but by 1895 Scott of Granton had improved and modified it so that it was then rapidly adopted.

Not all fishing in those early days was carried out by the trawl net. There was much line fishing from the port. In particular, the well smacks which were constructed to keep fish alive for return to port, contributed in no small measure to the standard of quality for which Grimsby became renowned. The advent of the steam trawler was gradually to supplant line fishing from Grimsby, although some was still carried out for many years, particularly for halibut.

An attempt was made to bring back live fish from Iceland in a specially constructed steamship with a well but this, unfortunately, failed.

The expansion of fishing areas, consequent upon the increase in size and range of the steam trawlers, resulted in an enormous increase in the supply of cheap fish.

The March gale of 1895 caused tremendous damage to the sailing fleet from Grimsby and it was this act of nature which was a fundamental cause of the rapid changeover from sail to steam.

It was around the year 1905 that the White Sea was re-opened as a fishing ground for the first time for over four hundred years and this has proved to be a very substantial fishing area.

In dealing with the years prior to 1900, it has already been mentioned that in 1856 there were 22 sailing ships regularly fishing out of the port. These had increased by 1863 to 112, by 1877 to 579, three of which were steam carriers, by 1882 to 623, of which two were steam carriers, and by 1890 to 769 sailing trawlers and 35 steam trawlers. By 1909 the number of sailing vessels at Grimsby had reduced to 29, whilst the number of steam vessels had increased to 651.

The day of the sailing trawler and liner began to draw to a close with the introduction of the first steam trawler.

Bound up with the increase in the number of ships was the total landings at the port; these had reached 45,000 tons by 1880, 70,000 tons by 1890, and 135,000 tons by 1900. In 1909 the records show that 175,000 tons were landed, and today it can be said that approximately 220,000 tons of fish will be landed at this port for distribution all over the world.

grim_basketmaker.jpgThe Grimsby which had once been such a small town had rapidly grown to major proportions. As with any specialised industry, the main trade "fishing" was dependent upon other trades for innumerable necessities. In addition to the demand for ice, salt and tanning, there was also the demand for blacksmiths, copper and tinsmiths, engineers and enginemakers, boilermakers, master blockmakers, ship and boat builders, sailmakers, riggers and fitters, net makers, provision merchants, box and basket makers, and twine merchants.

Nor did those pioneers forget their apprentices. With the influx of complete strangers to the town, it was considered that some attempt should be made to properly care for them. The ultimate results was the establishment of the Fisher Lads Institution which began with the idea of providing for the moral, spiritual, mental and social welfare of the fisher lads. This institution subsequently became a training college for fishermen and seamen, and is a part now of the Grimsby College of Further Education.

Recommendations were submitted to the railway company in 1911 and 1912 for a further increase in the size of the dock, and in 1912 Parliament granted powers to construct a new dock.

The war of 1914-18 intervened and the extension to the dock was not finally completed until 1934.

Fishing vessels over the years have continued to be enlarged, improved and modernised and to be equipped with the latest gear and electronic aids to navigation, including radio, radar and depth finders. Coal-burning vessels have been replaced with oil burning and diesel engined ships; the first diesel engine to be fitted into a fishing vessel sailed from Grimsby between the 1914 and 1939 wars, she was called the Beardmore.

The Beardmore

The importance of Grimsby as a fishing port was such that from all parts of the world men came who wished to build up a fleet of trawlers in their own land.

In many cases they purchased Grimsby vessels, hired builders, sailmakers, riggers and fitters, net makers, local fishermen as instructors and bought from local provision merchants, box and basket makers, and tradesmen supplies of fishing gear. Thus it can be said that Grimsby fishermen have taken their skill to the four corners of the earth and have been responsible for the world-wide development of modern trawl fishing. The first trawlers to operate in Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan were thus supplied and equipped.

In the passing of the years, the sailing liners and trawlers had extended their activities beyond the narrowing confines of the North Sea into the northern waters. Until the use of ice as a preservative on board ship, however, it would not be possible for fish to be brought back to port in a fresh condition but would be split and salted.

The powered trawler has since those early days increased in size, power and capacity for covering longer distances in the search for fish. Distant water vessels sail as far north as the Barents Sea, Greenland, and occasionally to Newfoundland. A round trip to these fishing grounds would be anything up to 4,000 miles.

Today there are now approximately 3,000 fishermen employed in 160 trawlers, 80 seine net vessels, and 11 inshore vessels. These figures are indicative that fishing effort has been concentrated on the more productive units. The fishing industry as such is one of the major industries of the country and employs many thousands of people, not only in actual fishing but also in the distributing and marketing of fish. A considerable proportion of this total is concentrated at Grimsby including not only the fishing vessel crews, fish merchants and staffs, but also the persons engaged in the many ancillary trades and duties necessary to a vast organisation.

Number 3 Fish Dock opened


Fishing gear

Experiments are continuing into the design of both hull and engines to produce even more efficient fishing with rollers or bobbins of steel or wood which serve to help the net to pass over rocky ground. In the lateral sense the net is kept open by two spreaders or "otter' boards'. These are wooden structures approximately 10 feet by 4 feet, shod with steel and weighing over half a ton each. Between the spreaders and the wing ends of the net are sweep lines which serve to direct fish into the net. The otter boards are attached to the vessel by means of steel wire ropes of approximately I inch diameter.

The trawl itself is usually made of stout manila or sisel twine although experiments are being conducted into use of other materials, including nylon, for various parts of the trawl. The mesh is around 54 inches in the case of large vessels fishing in the far north and graduated from 54 to 4 inches in the case of home water vessels. The sweep or opening of the net varies from 50 to 80 feet and the overall length in the case of large trawlers is about 160 feet. A full set of gear will weigh as much as 10 tons.

The gear is "shot" over the side of the vessel and towed for periods of half an hour to three hours. Hauling is carried out by a powerful winch situated forward of the bridge and having sufficient room on each drum for the trawl warps and sweeps or ground-cables. When hauling, the winch revolves until the otter boards come bumping up the side of the ship. They are made fast to the gallows and the ground-cable follows the warp on the winch drums. The body of the net is then taken inboard, partly by mechanical and partly by manual means.

grim_openingnet.jpgThe cod end remains alongside with its catch of fish; by means of a tackle attached to the foremast, the cod end is swung up over the foredeck; the third hand unties the codline and jumps clear as the fish shower on to the deck. The deck space is divided up by pound boards into pounds approximately 6 to 8 feet square and 2 feet in depth which hold the fish to facilitate gutting, sorting, etc.

The trawl is then "shot" again, after which the men set to busily gutting, sorting and packing the fish - plaice, cod, soles, turbot, haddock and so on into their separate baskets, in all weathers. Cod livers go straight into the liver boiler to be rendered into cod liver oil. The fish when sorted is thoroughly cleaned and washed either by mechanical means or by hose and stowed away with crushed ice on shelves in the fish room below, the shelves being utilised to prevent the fish from being crushed.

Seine Net Gear
Seine net fishing is a method of laying down two long warps and a net in such a way as to enclose a fishing area. The boat puts down a buoy and an anchor and from that point lays out in an arc anywhere from 600 to 1,500 fathoms of warp. The net is then shot, after which a similar length of warp to the first is laid out, the net being stretched open between the warps. The mouth of the net is kept open vertically by floats and corks attached to the upper rope of the mouth. The boat then proceeds back to the anchor paying out the warp. The work of hauling is carried out by means of a winch on the deck of the ship. As the two warps are hauled in by the winch, the fish are confined to an ever decreasing area until they are swept up into the net. Finally, the net closes and is hauled aboard, the net being pulled in by hand and the Codend by tackle. The whole operation takes from 2 to 3 hours. The advantage of this method of fishing is that the towing of the gear is carried out principally by the winch and not by the vessel; smaller boats can, therefore, be utilised.

The principles of gutting, cleaning, washing and packing of fish to ensure the quality of the catch follow the same pattern as in trawling.

Seine net fishing is normally prosecuted during the daytime and has become an increasing source of supply of the North Sea prime fish for which Grimsby is so eminently famed.



A brief record of the development of the fishing industry at Grimsby must include a reference to the fishermen themselves. Theirs is no light task; they face long periods away from home, their work is arduous and they have to face the perils of the deep. Their life is no sinecure, but there is always the goal that the fisherman may become the skipper of his own ship. The promotion to skipper starts the day the trainee begins his work on the dock and there is no intermediate stage of entry. It is in the winter when the severest tests come, but even so the fish is brought home through storm or blizzard. Fishermen, like all other seamen, are always ready to help other ships in distress and many acts of heroism are recorded.

It is a remarkable fact that there have been few occasions of industrial troubles with fishermen.

grim_roping.jpgIt is as well at this point to recall that crews of sailing cod vessels which numbered ten or twelve hands were paid, apart from the skipper who received 9 per cent. of the gross earnings, a weekly wage, the owner supplying provisions, etc. Sailing trawlers, however, carried a lesser crew, usually five and sometimes six, hands and sailed on the share system, paying for their own food and their proportion of certain contingent expenses. At one time the skipper received one and three-eighths of the receipts, the second hand one and one-eighth, the third hand one and one-eighth, the owner four and three-eighths of the total of eight shares. The third hand was, however, frequently paid a weekly wage and his food. Certain perquisites accumulated to the crew.

In 1880, owners put forward a new code for share-men which was opposed by the fishermen and they came out on strike; after a while, the two sides got together and it was agreed that the smack voyage would in future be divided into eight and a half shares instead of eight, and the extra half would go to the owner to cover his expenses as laid down in the new regulations.

Nineteen hundred and one, however, produced the most serious fishing dispute, and one which resulted in police reinforcements being brought into Grimsby from other towns. Certain increases in pay were required by members of crews, but owners were perturbed at the increase in the cost of fuel and other items for fishing which was affecting very seriously the economic operation of the ships.

The owners apparently suggested that a lower fixed wage be paid, together with a poundage on results. This it was thought would enhance the men's interest in the trip. The men strongly opposed the suggestions and even refused to consider them. Conditions went from bad to worse and acts of rioting broke out. Police were brought into the town, from Sheffield in particular, and these were responsible for a baton charge into a crowd in which quite a number of people were injured. Ultimately the Riot Act had to be read.

An arbitrator, Sir Edward Fry, was appointed, to judge the issue and to make an award, and the Fry Award of 1901 settled the strike. The period was a tragedy for Grimsby as between June and October of that year, practically the whole of the port's steam trawlers were idle.

grim_fireing.jpgThere was another stoppage over foreign landings in 1946 which resulted in the setting up of the National Joint Industrial Council for the Trawler Fishing Industry to secure joint action between employers and employees on working and other conditions.

During the two world wars 1914-18 and 1939-45 trawlers were engaged on minesweeping and other naval duties. Their services cannot be fully acknowledged, but the ships and the fishermen fulfilled their task to the ultimate benefit of all engaged in those wars at no small cost in losses of men and ships.

Of the actual vessels, records from the Registrar of Shipping indicate that 275 ships were lost in the First World War and 108 in the Second. These were serious losses, but by continuing to go to sea in those dangerous days, fishermen kept sea lanes open and this country supplied with first class food.

Many decorations for gallantry and courage were earned by fishermen during those days. The debt owed to them is incalculable.

Grimsby Fish Docks Centenary Exhibition

During the first week of September, 1956, Grimsby celebrated the centenary of the opening of the first fish dock. All the sections of the trade, ancillary industries, and the British Transport Commission cooperated to the fullest extent in connection with the largest fishery exhibition ever to be held in the United Kingdom.

The fish docks and many premises (fish merchants and others) were open to the public.

Such was the importance of this particular occasion that many vessels came to the port and were open to inspection during the week. The Royal Navy was represented by an ocean minesweeper and coastal minesweeper; the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by a fishery research vessel; the Royal National Lifeboat Institution permitted a lifeboat to be on show.

Foreign countries were represented by ships as follows:
Belgium Minesweeper.
Holland Frigate.
Denmark Frigate.
Sweden Minesweeper.
Germany Hospital and weather ship.
Poland .. Lugger trawler.

grim_1950dieseltrawler.jpgIn addition, the fishing industry at Grimsby had a modern trawler and a modern seine netter open to the public. Representatives came to Grimsby not only from all parts of the United Kingdom, but from all over the world.

The Great Fisheries Exhibition at Grimsby can be said to have been a landmark in the road of progressive advancement and a monument, though passing, to all the endeavours so much a part of an industry that requires physical and financial courage and ability.

The exhibition, which had an international character by the inclusion of products and machinery from the Continent, was officially opened by Mr. Donald Campbell, holder of the world's water speed record, whose speedboat Bluebird was on view to the public at the exhibition.




Midnight landing


Grimsby fish merchants can claim that no port in the industry processes fish with a higher standard of efficiency or hygiene, or where more varieties of fish are handled. Over five hundred merchants, large and small, carry on the traditions of service to their customers which have grown up since the 1860's. Speed and efficiency are essential qualities in connection with merchanting. In addition to the best equipped factories in the industry in which fish is processed for export, and all classes of shipping, as well as general distribution in Great Britain, smaller merchants process fish on their stands at a very high standard of efficiency.

grim_pontoon.jpgLandings from vessels commence at midnight and after it has been laid out in aluminium boxes for inspection, the fish is purchased by merchants at auction every morning. The fish market itself is the largest in the world and as already stated, has a covered area of 314,750 square feet.

Merchants have to be down on the market early in the morning so that they can inspect and assess the quality and value of the fish which is laid out from the various fishing vessels. It has to be appreciated that they will be bidding against other merchants for this fish and on their judgment relies the continuance or otherwise of their business.

The sales commence at 7.30 a.m., beginning with the distant water vessels and moving in progression to the middle water and near water voyages. The salesmen go round the market making a "call up" of the buyers. When the buyers have collected, the sale by auction commences.

Behind the buyers' bids stands a wealth of experience backed up with the knowledge of the landings at Grimsby and at other ports and the fact that competition will be coming from other directions all aimed at the inland customer. The speed at which the fish is sold is remarkable. To the uninitiated, there might not appear to be any actual bids being made, but salesmen know quite well the indication he is likely to receive from particular merchants and when their bids have been made.

As one voyage of fish is sold, the salesmen waiting to sell the next ship take up the call and merchants move along the market.

The merchants after purchase remove fish to their factories, premises and stands by barrow and truck for cleaning, icing, processing (including curing and quick-freezing) and packing for transport, either by rail or road all over the country and for export according to the requirements of their customers.

The merchants will be in immediate contact with their customers; quotations will be made and orders received. All is rush and hurry in order that the fish may be got away as quickly as possible and reach the customer in the best possible condition. Filleted or whole, fresh fish will be carefully packed in ice and greaseproof paper before despatch by road or rail. The standard of hygiene is very high and everyone works to the utmost possible levels in order to maintain the paramount position Grimsby has attained in fish processing and distribution. Emphasis is placed on careful and speedy handling and for this reason Grimsby fish is renowned for its reliability.

On the railway system, 4,000 stations handle fish daily from the port and Grimsby's road transport by refrigerated van and lorry gives an unequal ship to shop service. All varieties of fish can be purchased from Grimsby.

A high level of hygiene and quality is demanded by the Port Health Authority. The inspectors of the Authority inspect fish from the time it is being landed to the points of processing. This ensures a standard at the port which is second to none.


The two main classes of fish used are cod and haddock. At Grimsby the two methods of curing are by the vertical smoke house or the horizontal kiln. The smoke house can be described as a rectangularchimney some 35 feet high, 3 feet 9 inches wide and about 6 feet deep.

grim_smokehaddock.jpgThe fire at the bottom is in a pit about 10 inches deep and consists of a quantity of oak and white wood sawdust which smoulders continuously, giving off much smoke and even warmth. The fish, which is placed upon rods called speights up the walls of the smoke house are smoked for a minimum period of eight hours. As curing is taking place, fish on the lowest rails becomes sufficiently dried out or cured to be removed and the fish above are successively lowered down until they are completely and satisfactorily cured.

In the horizontal kilns, introduced following World War II, heat, smoke and moisture control Insures that the curing is not subject to the vagaries of the weather. The smoke is circulated round the kilns by aerofoil fans. There is a large capital outlay for the installation of such horizontal kilns but this is an example of the desire of Grimsby merchants to invest in their trade.
Either fresh or frozen, Grimsby's smoked fish can be bought everywhere in Britain or, in fact, all over the world.

Kippering is also a big item in the trade and it is practically the same as haddock curing. Kippers are cured sufficiently to enable them to be eaten after only the slightest cooking and its own particular flavour ensures its universal popularity.

Grimsby curers market kippers at home and abroad under various brand names. Kipper cutlets and kipper fillets are now available in consumer packs wherever adequate freezing holding cabinets are to be found in shops and self-service stores.

Salting was an early form of preserving fish. It is known that common salt was used for preserving fish by the Egyptians but it is believed the practice of salting is much older.

Fish is still salted at Grimsby to a high degree of perfection for sale mainly abroad.

Grimsby merchants have been quick to introduce technological advances in fish processing and marketing. In this respect, Grimsby has been a foremost port in the promotion of quick-freezing of fish. The full potential of this modern technique was not really exploited until the immediate post-war period.

grim_prepack.jpgQuick-freezing enables fish to be processed, stored at a time of plenty, and released at economic prices when landings, mainly in the winter, become scarce. This is not only econommic to the merchant but also means of selling the fish for the owners during times of heavy landings.

Men of vision realised that a great future lay ahead for pre-packaged quick-frozen fish and this has been developed so that their products are now found all over the world. The fish is then received by the customer in a condition similar to the day of its landing at Grimsby.

The fullest potential in this field has not yet been developed, but already Grimsby is the largest producing port of quick-frozen products in the country dealing with more than 50% of the quick-frozen fish processed in the United Kingdom.

Besides fillets, smoked fish, shell fish, salmon, fish cakes and a host of other products are packaged and quick-frozen every day. The Grimsby quick-freezers, realising the importance of combined effort to institute standards for the benefit of their industry, set up the Grimsby Association of Quick-Freezers. This Association laid down its definition of quick-freezing, including certain technical principles which had to be established by its members. These standards are now embodied in the White Fish Authority Code of Practice for Quick-Freezing of Fish.

The products of quick-freezing are now reaching all sections of the world markets. Through the medium of quick-frozen fish conveyed in refrigerated ships, best quality Grimsby fish can be eaten at any point of the world.
There has been a tremendous development in the sale from Grimsby of the bulk type pack of fillets used by the fishmonger, hospitals and caterers and the smaller consumer packs of fish purchased by the housewife.

Fresh Fish
It was not until the 1920's that the filleting of fish on the market became accepted practice, thus eliminated transporting the inedible parts of the fish. In addition, it provided the offal for conversion into white fish meal, a growing and important section of the fishing industry.

Filleting is mainly a manual operation but today more and more machines are being produced to assist in this particu'ar process. These are generally concentrated in the modern fish factories which have developed since the end of the 1939-45 war. The investments of large sums of money in buildings and plant of this nature showed that the Grimsby fish merchant was as ready to face the future as his forebears.

Merchants, like owners, have made strenuous efforts to ensure the progress of the port in line with modern developments and have laid great stress on the distribution side.

grim_packingline.jpgSince the 1939-45 war road transport has grown to a tremendous extent. In many cases the larger merchanting firms operate special refrigerated vans for carrying fish - fresh and frozen - long distances to central distributing points.

With regard to distribution by rail, merchants after processing and packing as quickly as possible, get the boxes of fish ready for the railway wagons. These are checked in by railway men and put into wagons which are immediately assembled into special fish trains or attached to passenger or express freight trains for speedy despatch to the consumer. The fish must be got into the inland market as quickly as possible, and for this very purpose the railway service was specially developed from its beginnings in the 1850's.

Three hundred vans leave Grimsby daily on nine special trains and hundreds of inland local services have to be used to complete the journeys.

Cod Liver Oil

Another section of the industry is concerned with the production, processing and marketing of all the cod liver oil arising from fishing activities from the time that manufacture begins on board ship, frequently within the Arctic Circle, until the oil in its final package appears not only on the home market but on practically every export market throughout the world.

Cod liver oil has many and various divergent uses. In human nutrition its value is traditional, it is of equal importance to the farming industry and especially in all forms of intensive livestock production. For industrial use its main value lies in the peculiar properties which find specialised uses in the tanning industry for tanning chamois leather and in the final dressing of the finer qualities of leather goods.

Under normal times, a uniform control from within the industry ensures that the product is of the very highest possible quality, the starting point being that the oil is produced on board the trawlers whilst the livers are still absolutely fresh.

At every further stage meticulous care is taken to preserve this freshness and quality with the result that a new standard of excellence has been achieved and is already widely acknowledged. The nutritional value of cod liver oil for human beings and domestic animals has been known and accepted for hundreds of years and cod liver oil is, in fact, the richest natural source of vitamins A and D.
Cod liver oil has medicinal value and is particularly useful in cases of a nutritional nature which are now classified as deficiency diseases. 'Rickets' for example, which was only a short time ago well known in this country, has become a rare disease.

Oil money is an important part of the earnings of the ships' crew who receive a proportion of the landed value of the oil.

White Fish Meal

The value of fish waste for agricultural purposes has been known for centuries but it had rather crude beginnings. The fish waste was allowed to rot on the land and so fertilise the soil.

The first processed product was a white fish manure in the middle of the nineteenth century and this was followed by experiments to produce meal for the feeding of animals. Today, modern machinery and buildings transform fish waste into highly concentrated pure natural products with which to feed animals. Production had reached 72,000 tons annually by 1939, not all of which was used in the United Kingdom. Special research facilities have been set up in order to maintain this particular branch of the industry in the forefront of development.
It might be added here that the introduction of filleting at the port in the 1920's provided the fish meal producers with a very large amount of fish waste for processing and led to a period of far greater activity.

Grimsby has never lagged behind in accepting new techniques in all fields of the fishing industry and has always striven to maintain her title of "The Premier Fishing Port of the World".


Fisheries research vessel Ernest Holt