Herring girls' tales set for the stage

In the days when Yarmouth and Lowestoft were less holiday destinations and more working ports, it was the Scottish herring girls who brought the towns alive. Now a Yorkshire-based playwright wants to chart their history.

It was one of the toughest jobs a woman could do and was as symbolic of the East Coast's trawling industry as the fish themselves.

In the days when Yarmouth and Lowestoft were less holiday destinations and more working ports, it was the Scottish herring girls who brought the towns alive.

Every year in the first half of the last century the women would follow the shoals down the East Coast, starting in Shetland in the spring and making it down to East Anglia for autumn and winter.

With them they brought their trademark oilskin overalls, raucous singing and, above all, tales of adversity, courage and strength that made them heroes for womankind.


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Now a Yorkshire-based playwright wants to chart their history - and is coming to Yarmouth to hear the stories of the women who married and remained in Norfolk.

Tim Padmore, a Huddersfield teacher and writer, will be in Yarmouth at the end of May to research the herring girls' past for a drama he proposes to set along the coast.

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"The story of the herring girls is fascinating," he said. "I would be very interested to hear from anyone with any stories to tell.

"It is these little stories that you can't get from a text book that are really important to bring a play to life."

Much like the fishing industry, herring girls are no longer to be found in Yarmouth or Lowestoft, but from the turn of the 20th century until the 1930s the women were a familiar sight along the quaysides.

They would be recruited from Scottish villages by herring yard owners the winter before the herring season began, working in groups of three - two gutters and one packer.

For six days a week they worked in the open air, up to 20-hour days starting at 5am if the catch was good.

They worked standing up, with barely any protection from the rough fish scales, and slept in the open air or in dormitories above the herring yards.

Work was skilled, with each girl able to gut between 40 and 80 fish a minute, but it is the community spirit that Mr Padmore will be basing his play around.

"Many stories are told of the hard work and liveliness of these women," he added. "And that is what I want to capture in my work.

"I would love to speak with any former herring girl who married local men and settled in the Yarmouth area, or anyone who knew them."

Mr Padmore will be in the area at the end of May - anyone interested in becoming involved can contact him on 01484 660756.

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