Enkhuizen: herring town

Zuiderzeemuseum at Enkhuizen
Zuiderzeemuseum at Enkhuizen

Enkhuizen has been a major harbour since the middle ages, and its links with herring fishing are still recognised today with three herring on the town banner. In this extract about the fishermen and farmers of Enkhuizen we include some video footage from the Pathé archive of the Dutch herrring fleet in 1947.

Receiving its city rights in the 14th century and having its own Dutch East India Company chamber or VOC (the Dutch, ‘Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie’, means ‘United East India Company’, hence, VOC).

However, Enkhuizen was also famous for its large herring fleet and known as the ‘Herring town’, still recognised today with three herring visible in the town banner.

The herring fishery continued to flourish until the 1930s when the closing of the Zuiderzee prevented the herring coming into the lake. The decline of the city occurred in the same period as that of Hoorn, and for the same reason: the silting up of the harbour.

Enkhuizen held on to the fishing industry longer than Hoorn. Even after the closing of the Afsluitdijk the town switched to freshwater fishing, mostly for eel. Unfortunately there is very little eel left in the lake today and now the government is considering banning the fishery on the IJsselmeer completely.

One of the things setting Enkhuizen apart is the ‘farmers quarter’ towards the northern edge of the town where the old big farmhouses with original stables remain standing. The hinterland was a peat area, with lots of waterways and ditches. So many farmers lived next to the fishery, who every morning and every evening rowed out to the fields passing the town wall through gates, to get to the meadows, milk the cows and return with their milk kettles. Today Enkhuizen is probably even more important then Hoorn as a ‘nautical centre’.

Dutch herring fleet 1947

Created at the beginning of the 20th Century by the Pathé brothers, the newsreel was the world’s first televised news platform. Pioneering the technology and methods of cinema, British Pathé stayed at the forefront of filmed news for decades. Releasing three newsreels a week during that period, British Pathé was the way the people of Britain experienced world events until the advent of television.

In this archive footage, we see a view of the fishing trawlers alongside the quay, with supplies going aboard the ships, including storage ice. The herring fishermen are preparing for an eight week trip to the North Sea. There’s shots of Dutch women in traditional costume repairing nets and the crowded fishing harbour with trawlers ready to leave. Fishermen bade farewells to their families with close-up shots of fishermen, women and children. We see the ships going out to sea and the silver bodies of fish as the fishermen pull the nets.