New book charts North Norfolk fishing industry

Bobbing among the buoys off North Norfolk's shoreline, fishing boats have been part of the landscape, life and folklore for centuries.

A new book telling the story of the time-honoured but changing industry in living memory is being launched next month.

It is the work of archaeologist Fran Weatherhead, whose earlier life was devoted to piecing together history from wall paintings and digs in places like Egypt, where there was no-one alive to explain the facts.

Her book, however, brings the story of fishing alive through the fishermen themselves – and saw her boarding a boat to share their experience.

After moving to Cromer in 1998 with partner and fellow archaeologist Andy Boyce, she used her artistic skills to capture scenes on the seashore, including the local fishermen at work.

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But she found lots of people, particularly holidaymakers, asking 'What are they doing?' and decided to capture their lives in a book.

'I am an archaeologist by profession and have an instinct to record things if they look interesting or unusual,' said Ms Weatherhead, who has worked at the British Museum and as a research fellow at Cambridge as well as on sites in the ancient world.

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'Archaeology is in the past, whereas this is a living culture. But it seemed important to record information before it is lost, particularly from the older generation of fishermen.'

Over eight years she has filmed and recorded fishermen, despite them being difficult to 'catch' due to their long and unsocial working hours.

It explores their lonely, cold, harsh working environments at sea, hauling and baiting pots, the extra work done to make ends meet in the past, the generations of families involved in the industry and the wry humour that goes with the job. As well as looking at the daily lives of the fishermen, she delves into the technology of pots and boat building, as well as the changes in the past and challenges ahead.

'A major trend is that youngsters are not following their fathers into the industry like they used to, resulting in switching to one-man boats, and a problem in getting enough people to do it,' said Ms Weatherhead, who is also secretary of the North Norfolk Fishermen's Association.

Some fishermen were upbeat, others gloomy, about the long term-future of the industry.

There are now about 45 boats between Cromer and Morston these days, compared to 150 in Cromer and Sheringham back in 1875.

Ms Weatherhead admitted to being a 'complete landlubber' before embarking on the book, but went out with the fishermen to find out about their lives and work.

'Fishermen are free spirits and I like that. They are engineers, inventive at adapting things, and despite having great big hands, are good at making delicate things such as pots,' she added.

The book concentrates on Cromer and its beach-launched crabbing boats, but also charts the industry father along the coast, including the mussell beds of Stiffkey and whelking at Wells.

North Norfolk Fishermen, by Fran Weatherhead, has 180 pages and contains more than 70 rare photographs of the post-war fishing industry. It will be published by the History Press on April 11, price �14.99. Orders through or Marston Book Services on 01235 465577.

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