Tag Archives: Cod Wars

The National Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

“Grimsby is a town that shuns the notion of heritage” – Daily Telegraph

I think this statement by the Daily Telegraph is a little unfair.  No, it is very unfair.  Grimsby is a lot like Hull and bear in mind here that the city of Hull on the opposite side of the Humber Estuary was named UK Capital of Culture for 2017 even though no one in England, except for the awarding judges that is, could really understand why except for the fact that Coventry in the West Midlands came second!

In my last post I was in Hull at the Fishing and Trawler Visitor Centre Today and today my plan was to visit the National Fishing Heritage Centre which is where I take all visitors when they come to see us in Grimsby.

It is a very fine museum run by the local council.  It recreates life in 1960s Grimsby in and around the dock area and then takes visitors on board a trawler to experience life at sea in pursuit of the cod.  It provides an insight to life in Grimsby when it was the biggest and most important fishing port in the World but as I mentioned before in a previous post this has all gone now.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery..

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Grimsby – The Cod Wars and the National Fishing Heritage Centre

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk

“Grimsby is a town that shuns the notion of heritage” – Daily Telegraph

I think this statement by the Daily Telegraph is a little unfair.  No, it is a lot unfair.  Grimsby is a lot like Hull and bear in mind here that the city of Hull on the opposite side of the Humber Estuary was named UK Capital of Culture for 2017 and no one in England, except for the awarding judges, can really understand why.  Coventry in the West Midlands came second which is perhaps the reason why.

Today, my plan was to visit the National Fishing Heritage Centre which is where I take all visitors when they come to see us in Grimsby.  It is a very fine museum run by the local council.  It recreates life in 1960s Grimsby in and around the dock area and then takes visitors on board a trawler to experience life at sea in pursuit of the cod.  It provides an insight to life in Grimsby when it was the biggest and most important fishing port in the World but as I mentioned before this has all gone now.

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to an unexpected new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

“Rule Brittania, Brittania Rules the Waves”

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.

This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to an uneasy settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest ever political victory.

But it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland without warning and with disregard to the earlier agreement further extended their territorial fishing waters without consultation and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.  Lucky Iceland some would say!

Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching industry. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised white fish from Iceland.

Fishing Heritage Centre

The visit started well enough and after I purchased the tickets we took a look around the first rooms with their displays of ships and fishing and then we carried on to the trawler reconstruction and this is where things started to go wrong.  As we walked through the ship, the wheelhouse, the crew quarters, the galley and the engine room we met a succession of life sized models which, and I hadn’t really noticed this before, are all rather intimidating.  My eldest granddaughter declared them to be monsters and started to hurry us through at a pace that we couldn’t really appreciate the experience.

To be fair to her they are a bit ugly and scary but then I suppose life at sea was like that and what about this picture of the Duchess of Cambridge when she visited the museum, I don’t know if it is just me but that crewman seems to me to be inappropriately leering at her and that’s not right, because she is after all the future Queen of England.

Duchess of Cambridge

We were racing through the museum now until we came to the end, a recreation of a Grimsby street complete with authentic sounds and smells.  My youngest granddaughter rushed through and out into the reception area where some more visitors were buying tickets and she dashed across to them with some advice – “Don’t go in there…” she said, “…it stinks!” and although they found this amusing they carried on regardless.

So, the visit to the National Fishing Heritage Centre was not a huge success and the children were so keen to get away that they didn’t even pester me to look around the shop (there isn’t much in it anyway) and we left with unnecessary haste and went to find a fish and chip shop for lunch.  At the table we ordered Haddock because since the war with Iceland Grimbarians won’t eat Cod and will tell you that Haddock is a superior fish.  To be honest I can’t really taste the difference.

Grimsby Fish & Chips

Grimsby, Siena and Legoland

Grimsby Dock Tower

“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.

Large Cod

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.

Grimsby Docks Ice Factory

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.

Siena piazza del campo

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 WindsorLegoland 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…

Legoland Grimsby with key

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…

Age of Innocence – 1958, The Cod Wars With Iceland

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Read the full story…

Iceland, Keflavik and the Cod Wars

Baldur Fishing Vessel Keflavik Iceland

It was a drive of about forty minutes from Reyjkavik to Keflavik but today the sun was shining which was in contrast to the journey that we had made in the opposite direction just a few days previously and this time we could appreciate the lava black basalt littered landscape dripping in lime green moss and decorated with yellow lichen.

To date only twelve men have walked on the moon (well, maybe, maybe not, depending on your point of view) but for those of us that haven’t I imagine that it looked rather like this (without the moss and the lichen obviously).

In Icelandic terms Keflavik is a big town, the second largest outside of the Reyjkavik conurbation but with a population of only about fourteen thousand this only really makes it a large village in UK terms so finding our accommodation at the Hotel Berg was very straight-forward.

We liked it immediately, it was friendly and welcoming, our rooms were available ahead of check-in time and they were comfortable and warm with good views over the adjacent harbour.

Our plan for the rest of the day was to visit the Blue Lagoon thermal pools but it was still quite early so we thought that before that it seemed only good manners to take a look at Keflavik and walk for a while along the seafront.

First we came across an old fishing boat that had been dragged up out of the sea and was now on permanent display safely marooned on dry land.  It was called the Baldur and visitors could go on board and walk safely on decks where men had previously risked their lives out at sea and it reminded me of the National Fishing Heritage Museum in Grimsby (my home town) and the Ross Tiger fishing trawler moored up alongside.

This made me think of the Icelandic Cod Wars!

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest political victory.

Icelandic Fisherman and catch

But it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters without consultation and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.

I had no idea that when I visited Iceland that I was now there as a resident of the English fishing town of Grimsby which was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so diversified to distant water trawler fishing targeting cod in the seas around Iceland.  The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars which put these fishing grounds off limit destroyed the fishing industry in the town.  It is said that many men who survived the sea came home without jobs and drowned in beer.

Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching industry. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised white fish from Iceland.

There is a National Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby which is a museum including a visit on board a real Grimsby Trawler – The Ross Tiger.  It’s a museum well worth visiting and the last time that I went I learnt from the guided tour that ironically Grimbarians don’t particularly care for cod anyway and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish!

It wasn’t only Grimsby that was adversely affected by the outcome of the Cod Wars and across the Humber Estuary the fishing industry in the city of Kingston-upon-Hull  was similarly devastated by the capitulation of the UK Government and also went into dramatic and irreversible decline.

In view of this in a previous post I expressed surprise that Reykjavik and Hull are official  ‘Twin Towns‘ but I suppose the arrangement may be an attempt at reconciliation and mutual understanding because this was one of the original principles of twinning which became a popular thing to do after the Second World War as people sought to repair shattered relationships with their neighbours

I have often wondered however what the process was for getting a twin town. Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful, perhaps it was a sort of international dating service and introductory agency or maybe it was just a nice place where the Mayor and the Town Clerk rather fancied an annual all-expenses paid trip!

After visiting the Baldur we walked along the coast where the sea was calm today but the defences in place suggested that this might be a rough place in high seas.  Keflavik translates as ‘Driftwood Bay‘  so I searched for a while and picked up some nice pieces for my driftwood boat sculptures and then we walked back to the hotel, checked out the restaurant options for later and then picked up the car and drove the twenty-minute drive to the Blue Lagoon.

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum