Pictured: ‘Herring girls’ who helped Britain’s fishing industry thrive

The women who helped Britain’s fishing industry thrive: Stunning pictures emerge of the ‘Herring girls’ who rolled up their sleeves to sort out the catch of the day in the 1920s, travelling all the way from Scotland to England for the thirsty work

  • ‘Herring girls’ would travel from the highlands of Scotland and the Hebridean islands for the work in Norfolk
  • Pictures show women split into groups, with some gutting fish and others salting it and putting it into barrels
  • Industry declined because of changing consumer habits and over-fishing and effectively died out in 1950s 

These stunning photos show Britain’s thriving fishing industry during the 1920s that relied on ‘herring girls’ who would gut and process newly-caught fish.

Striking shots, uncovered by Retronaut, show women with their sleeves rolled up as they gut the fish over buckets or pack them into salt barrels.

Others show the extent of the prospering industry at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, with men unloading their huge hauls from steam drifters.

These striking images show the work of ‘Herring Girls’ in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk during the 1920s

Women were sorted into groups who either gutted the herring over barrels, pictured, or salted the fish

The work was grueling, but the women travelled down from the highlands of Scotland and the Hebridean islands to take advantage of the bounty

The ‘herring girls’ would have to bind their fingers to prevent them being cut by the sharp knives they used while gutting the fish

Every year in the autumn vast shoals of herring came to feed around 30 miles off the coast in the area – and with them came jobs, with many women coming down from the highlands of Scotland and the Hebridean islands to take advantage of the bounty.

‘Herring girls’ looked forward to the chance to earn some money and to travel, despite the grueling work that began very early in the day. They would often sing as they worked. 

Sometimes the occupation proved dangerous, with girls binding their own fingers to prevent them being cut by the sharp knives they used.

Every year in the autumn vast shoals of herring came to feed around 30 miles off the coast in the area 

Andrew Gray from the East Anglian Film Archive said: ‘I don’t know how anybody could have done their job with the smell and just gutting fish every second of the day’

Andrew Gray from the East Anglian Film Archive told the BBC: ‘I don’t know how anybody could have done their job with the smell and just gutting fish every second of the day.

‘But they came down, they did it and went back with a few pennies in their pocket. They were always ready to come back the next season.’

The industry struggled after the First World War with the loss of European markets, and eventually over-fishing and a change in consumer habits led to its decline. In the 1950s it effectively died out.

Mr Gray added: ‘It left a huge void when the industry left. I think it’s something that people miss, but it declined because people’s tastes changed.’ 

Pictured: one of the ‘herring girls’ holding fish over a salt barrel on October 10, 1923 

The industry struggled after the First World War with the loss of European markets, and over-fishing and a change in consumer habits later on led to its decline. In the 1950s it effectively died out

Other photos show men unloading the fish at the quayside which was often packed with steam drifters 

Mr Gray added: ‘It left a huge void when the industry left. I think it’s something that people miss, but it declined because people’s tastes changed’

Pictured: the herring fishing fleet moored in the harbour at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk in 1923

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