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When Fleetwood trawlers queued to come home – the bond between a town and its industry

In the aftermath of the 1939-45 war the fishing industry began to re-build the fleets around the coast.

Many trawlers had been lost in the conflict and the 1950s witnessed the arrival of replacement vessels including the modern diesels.

There were maiden voyages for several ships owned by the Boston firm including Boston Neptune, Pioneer, Seafoam and Typhoon.

Busier Times

Fleetwood was a bustling port – its trawlermen supported by hundreds of shore workers from the lumpers, chandlers, engineers, stores, braiders and many other ancillary trades.

Returning from trips to distant and home waters the trawlers presented a majestic sight as they “queued” at Wyre Light to await their turn to come into port. In the mid 1950s the port’s fishing industry employed some 4,500 people with a wage bill of £3,000,000. The fleet included some of the most modern trawlers in the country.

In 1958 the fleet totalled 95 vessels – 10 seine net; 62 home and middle water; and 23 distant water. Thirty two coal burning trawlers had been augmented with 13 oil fired and 50 diesel. Their never ending search took them into the Irish Sea, the west coast of Scotland, Faroe, Iceland and the Arctic Seas.

Fleetwood Fishing Vessel Owners Association announced that in 1957 fish landed at the port – 1,243,000cwt – included 430,000cwt from distant waters and 813cwt from home waters.

Also regularly sailing from the port were dozens of other ships including: Broadwater, Cevic, Corena, Daniel Clowden, Dean Swift, Dinas, Edwina, Ella and Robert Hewett, Evelyn Rose, Fleetwood Lady, Hawfinch, Hildina, Irvana, Jacinta, Josena, Lucida, the “loch” fleet of Loch Esk, Fleet, Lein and Torridon, Lord Montgomery.

Navena, Neils John, Nellie Melling, Ocean Brine, Patricia Hague, Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Royalist, Samuel Hewett, Sethon, Spurnella, SSAFA, Urka, Velia, Weatella, William Cale and Wooltan. And that’s just to mention a few!

Sadly the 50s brought their share of fishing tragedies.

In 1953 two trawlers sank with the loss of 19 lives – the Michael Griffiths in the Hebrides with a crew of 13 and Hildina (six lost, nine saved) off Northern Scotland.

The following year the Evelyn Rose crashed on the rocks off Scotland and sank. Ten men died, 2 survived.

But the fifties started on an optimistic note with the arrival of Red Rose and Red Hackle – the two biggest trawlers built for Fleetwood – in 1950.

In the same year the police warned that prosecution under by-laws would be enforced if trawlers continued their “cock-a-doodle-do” sirens as they left port.

An epic voyage – beset by problems – was completed in 1951 when the Wyre Monitor returned after 45 days. Her trip to the White Sea had been affected by crew sickness, engine trouble and a leak.

In 1952 Iceland extended her fishing limits to 4 miles and local lumpers staged a strike over holiday entitlements.

Coronation Year

In Coronation Year the Red Hackle and Princess Royal attended the Spithead Review by the Queen.

With modern diesel trawlers arriving the fish merchants called for a levy of one penny a stone to raise £60,000 a year for building new trawlers.

Half way through the decade it was reported that 17 new trawlers were on order. They would augment the 12 new boats and 11 second hand bought from the east coast ports! On the deficit side some 50 trawlers had gone to scrapyards, owners overseas or been lost during the previous 3 years.

In 1957 the entire crew of the trawler Bridesmaid appeared in court when it was alleged the 10 men had committed offences of breach of duty or disobedience which forced the ship to return to port.

Strange Happenings

Strange things happen at sea and perhaps one of the strangest ever was reported in 1957 by the skipper of Ella Hewett.

While on passage to Iceland – off Scotland – the white bridge of the 600-ton trawler turned pink.

Skipper Fred Sutton reported his crew had seen a blinding flash in the sky during the night.

At the same time from other coastal areas reports were made of a huge flaming object flashing across the sky and vanishing in an explosion over the Isle of Man.

Many theories were put forward – but the mystery remained.

The fifties decade ended on the saddest of events – the loss of a trawler.

The Red Falcon

And the tragedy surrounding the sinking of the Red Falcon remains one of the fishing industry’s most poignant disasters.

For it all happened in the week before Christmas. A silence descended as news that a trawler was overdue struck fear across the community.

The Red Falcon – owned by Iago Steam Trawler Company – was the last coal burning trawler in Iago’s fleet. She had left Fleetwood with a crew of 19 in late November under the command of Skipper Alexander Hardy.

The alarm was raised when she failed to dock on December 14th and her radio remained silent.

She disappeared during horrendous weather while steaming home off Scotland – her last known position being off the Skerrymore Lighthouse.

It was believed she had been overwhelmed by heavy seas with winds gusting to 100mph. Wreckage was later found.

The Red Falcon was lost with all hands – and 25 children were left fatherless. And a town too stunned to celebrate Christmas!

So the 1950s mirrored the fortunes and misfortunes of the industry on which the town was founded. An industry which provided livelihoods for thousands and which is a proud part of the town’s heritage.

First published in Life in Fleetwood issue 59, autumn/winter 2003.

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2 Responses to “When Fleetwood trawlers queued to come home – the bond between a town and its industry”

  1. Doris Westhead nee Fairclough says:

    I remember the loss of the trawlers very well as my friends husbands were on two of them also a prawner was lost around the same time with the crew. My own father was lost on a trawler in 1935 on Bempton cliffs, Scarborough, all hands were lost,and 13 children lost their fathers, his name was Thomas Fairclough from Fleetwood, at one time his parents owned a couple of trawlers in Fleetwood.

  2. Roy Lomax says:

    I made my first trip as a “brassie” on the Red Falcon; my memory isn’t too clear, but I remember that the destination was the White Sea. I recall that we took on ice at a place called Harstad in Norway.
    The only names that I can recall are the skipper (Brunton) and radio operator (Cooper). The name that I should recall above all others is that of the Mate, he saved my life.
    One night as we were shooting the net, I was unknowingly standing inside the head rope (or headline I think it was called), when a body launched at me and sent me crashing into the side of the bridge, it was the Mate; but for his actions I would have been dragged over the side and drowned.
    The next trip was to Iceland and the skipper didn’t go, but the mate replaced him as skipper (I’m sure that I was told that he was the skipper’s son in law).
    The Iceland trip was my last one on the Red Falcon; I then went on a different tack.
    God Bless all those lost at sea.

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