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Great Yarmouth's Herring Curing Industry

Introduction

For hundreds of years, Yarmouth was an important port that played host to a great fishing industry. East Anglian herring fishing can be traced back to the Domesday book, when various herring rents were noted. The process of landing the fish, curing and then packing them created great prosperity for the town – and many jobs for people.

The industry has fluctuated over time, and now we find it has all but gone. This online exhibition tells the story of the curing industry and how is affected Yarmouth.

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Great Yarmouth's Herring Curing Industry

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Herrings everywhere!

People wanted to bring the prosperous trade back under English control. In 1610 the government sought to protect the home industry by levying heavy tolls on foreign fishermen, but the Dutch claimed exemption from this for many years. In 1636 Charles 1 prohibited herring fishing except under licence and sent a fleet to enforce this, trying to ensure that the English would benefit from the trade. Further to this, he passed a law to stop the importing of fish that had been caught ‘by foreigners’.

In 1722, when Daniel Defoe visited Yarmouth, locals claimed to have cured some 40,000 barrels in one season. The majority of the fish landed were cured and then exported. Parliament was persuaded to aid the industry and in 1749 put £1/2 million into it through payment of a bounty to all ship owners who re-equipped their vessels for deep-sea fishing. The conditions of the bounty constantly changed, and towards the end of the 1700s was payable on each barrel of exported herring.

Two factors greatly influenced the great peak of the industry. During the Napoleonic Wars the Dutch fleet took a battering, and returned after the wars to discover the Scottish fleets were serious rivals. By 1830 the Scots were well established and the Dutch had effectively stopped coming over. At the start of the nineteenth century the British learnt how to cure herrings on a large scale and Yarmouth soon became the largest herring port in the world.  1880 saw more than 60 curing houses operating in Yarmouth, with the Tower Curing Works being one of the larger ones.

By 1907, it was estimated that the seasonal herring workers (fishermen, fisher girls, curers and coopers) swelled the population of Yarmouth by 10,000.

 

 

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