Church window remembers fishermen

The rich harvest of “silver darlings” which filled the nets of the Kessingland driftermen became the foundation of the prosperity of their community.

The rich harvest of “silver darlings” which filled the nets of the Kessingland driftermen became the foundation of the prosperity of their community.

Battling unforgiving seas and global progress, the forgotten fishermen brought back the herring hauls until war and industrialisation saw them fade from view.

But this week, the church which welcomed the sailors ashore decades ago threw new light on their memory with the dedication of a stained-glass window in their honour.

The window was given to St Edmund's Church by Jack Strowger, CBE, in commemoration of the driftermen who helped Kessingland become known as the richest village in England and in memory of his wife Katherine, who died in 2004.

Mr Strowger, 92, said the idea for the window was inspired by his memories of the biblical stained glass scene above the pulpit which he admired while singing in the church choir as a child.

“I was born and bred 300 yards from this church,” he said.

Most Read

“When my wife died her ashes were scattered over her parents' grave here.

“I looked up at the windows and remembered how much I loved them 85 years ago.

“I thought it would be a good idea to give a window in memory of my wife and for the driftermen. It has taken three years, but what was then a dream is now a reality.”

The driftermen manned sail and steamboats named after their drifting motion, with nets spread in long, wide swathes behind them.

Their importance to the region's fishing industry grew with the arrival of Sir Morton Peto in 1844, who modernised the rail links to Lowestoft and promised that the day's catch could be in Manchester within hours.

By the turn of the century, the fishing fleet had grown from 80 boats to 750 - half drifters, half trawlers - and the skilled boat builders, net makers and fish sellers of Kessingland and Lowestoft all made the most of the boom.

But the demise of the driftermen began with the requisitioning of fishing boats by the Admiralty during both world wars for minesweeping duties, and continued with the industrialisation of fishing in the 1950s.

Mr Strowger, a former director of Thorn Electrical Industries and chairman of Hornby Trains, has strong links to the village's fishing heritage.

His grandfather, Kessingland boat-owner William Tripp, earned an MBE for his war-time suggestion of using nets to ensnare German U-boats rather than herring, and his great grandfather George Strowger was a celebrated lifeboat coxswain, earning the Silver Medal and Clasp for long service before 1911.

“My father and grandfather were fishermen, but I saw how they lived and I didn't want to do it,” he said.

“I left at 16 and went to London, but Kessingland has always been where my heart is. Most of my family is buried in this graveyard.”

The Bishop of Thetford, the Rt Rev David Atkinson, performed Wednesday's service with a seafaring theme, echoing the wording on the stained glass “in memory of the Kessingland driftermen, wherever they may rest”.

He said: “The driftermen have been a key feature of life here and the sea has always dominated Kessingland. It is good to be part of this memorial.”

Canon Lyndy Domoney, who joined St Edmund's ten months ago after working in Zimbabwe and South Africa, said: “It is hugely important and it is lovely to be part of a community with such a rich heritage and to mark it in this way.”

The design, by Oxfordshire stained glass artist Nicola Kantorowicz, depicts an abstract interpretation of drifter boats and their haul, made using traditional techniques with hand-blown glasses.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter