“Home Port” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – http://www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk
I still had another day to entertain my grandchildren so after Cleethorpes and the seaside I thought I would introduce them to Grimsby, for the time being anyway, my adopted home town and a place where I am very happy to live.
Grimsby is an ordinary, unremarkable sort of place today but it used to be famous, it used to be great, in fact the Parliamentary constituency for the town is still called Great Grimsby and the sign boards at the entrance to the town still cling on to this lofty status. Until only recently (1970ish) is used to be the biggest fishing port in the World. In the World! In the 1950s the trawler fleet landed hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish and there was so much cod in Grimsby it was used as an alternative currency.
I occasionally measure greatness by place names and how far they have travelled and I was happy to discover a Grimsby in Ontario, Canada, near Niagra Falls and another in Illinois USA. It isn’t Boston, Massachusetts by any stretch of the imagination but nevertheless it is there. In fact Grimsby, Illinois is so small it is categorised as an ‘unincorporated community’, whatever that is.
But greatness can be temporary (look at the Roman Empire for example) and now there is no fleet and no fish. The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars of the 1970s put lucrative fishing grounds off limit and at a stroke destroyed the fishing industry in the town. It is said that many men who survived perishing at sea came home without jobs and drowned in beer.
Consequently the docks are a rather sad and forlorn place now, abandoned and decrepit, as though everyone walked out of the place one evening and left it in a time warp of crumbling buildings, pot holed roads, streets of empty houses, redundant warehouses and a giant ice making factory which is now a listed building that no one cares for as it is slowly being demolished, not by a wrecking ball but by the simple passing of time. It is a place however which still has the character and spirit of hard working class labour, blood, sweat and toil and this is a place that should be a UNESCO World Heritage Site if ever there was one.
I confess that the old docks are not the best place to take small children for entertainment but today I was going to take them to the National Heritage Fishing Museum and on the way took a short detour because there is one building within the dock area that is really worth going to see.
Lincolnshire is a flat county, a great deal of it struggles to rise even above sea level and this means that any tall building can be seen for miles around. In the south there is the Boston Stump (St Botolph’s Church, the largest Parish Church in England) in the centre there is Lincoln Cathedral (third largest Cathedral in England) and in Grimsby there is the Dock Tower.
This is a water tower built in 1852 to provide hydraulic power to operate the giant lock gates of the dock. It was designed by a man called James William Wild who had visited Siena in Italy and had so admired the place that he based his design for the Grimsby Dock Tower on the Torre del Mangia tower in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena city centre.
This fine piece of Italianate architecture on the Humber Estuary may not be Portmeirion in Wales by Sir Clough William-Ellis but is a very fine building. At three hundred and thirty feet it is the tallest building in Lincolnshire, fifty feet higher than either the Boston Stump or Lincoln Cathedral. If it were in Bristol or Newcastle or Manchester then it would be a major tourist attraction but it is in Grimsby and hardly any one visits Grimsby so not many people have seen it.
Or have they? Let me take you two hundred miles or so south to the County of Berkshire and to Legoland Windsor. Legoland is a theme park and one of the attractions is a zone called ‘Miniland’ which is basically a model of London built out of Lego bricks and here there is Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral and a whole host of other famous landmarks.
There isn’t much room for anywhere else but right there alongside the buildings of the capital is a model representing docks – not Portsmouth or Dover or Southampton but Grimsby. Grimsby! To me that is completely astounding and I can find no explanation as to why the designers of ‘Miniland’ should select the remote town of Grimsby to be represented in this way, maybe they got lost on their way over from Sweden?
There are probably about two hundred visitors to Grimsby every year (I imagine), there isn’t even a dedicated Tourist Information Office, but there are over two million visitors to Legoland so a lot more people have visited Grimsby than they ever realised. If, like me, you find this hard to believe then here it is…
The Dock Tower (1), Grimsby Port Offices (2), Corporation Bridge (3) and Victoria Flour Mills (4).
My grandchildren enjoyed their visit to Legoland in 2015 but they weren’t especially thrilled by Grimsby Docks so we didn’t stop long and moved on to the National Fishing Heritage Centre.
Is there anything surprising about your home town? Do tell…