Demise of the sailing fleet

Lowestoft was one of the major fishing docks on the east coast of England from the days of sail through into the 1950s. In the 1930s, around 1700 fishing boats were working out of Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and Southwold.

When the new harbour was built, Lowestoft became a major herring fish dock, taking trade from the small herring fleet at Southwold. Five miles north, there was the rival dock at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Gradually, sail gave way to steam and by 1914 there were about 350 steamers in Lowestoft with diesel engines being fitted by the 1930s.

The vast majority of the 1700 or so fishing boats that collected in Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Southwold for the autumn fishing were steam driven, accompanied by some scores of sailing drifters where nets were trailed close to the surface, rather than trawling the seabed.

The scenes of bustle in Lowestoft when the fishing fleet was in action were graphically recalled in the 1950s in a series of newspaper articles by H.H. Jay, now assembled in the book ‘Fishy Tales’. The activity at sea was matched by the frantic work going on ashore as the fish were unloaded, gutted, packed in ice or cured if destined to be kippers, sold and transported.

Fishermen posing for the camera, next to their barrels of herring on the North Pier of Lowestoft
Fishermen posing for the camera, next to their barrels of herring on the North Pier of Lowestoft