Great Yarmouth History

Drifting - Why Great Yarmouth and Gorleston

The Answer - Location, Location, Location

Herring Migration

For over a 1,000 years huge numbers of herring were concentrated off the East Anglian coast in the autumn as they migrated from their summer feeding grounds off the Scottish coast to their winter spawning grounds in the Dover Straits and the Bay of Brittany. The shape of the North Sea funnelled the fish into huge shoals as they moved south. The whole Industry was made profitable by the short distances to land the catches and the prodigious quantities of fish.

The fish were also in prime condition when they arrived off the Norfolk coast in the autumn. After feeding all through the early summer in Scottish waters the fish attained a high oil content. By the time the fish reached East Anglia the levels of oil in their bodies had fallen. This was not a bad thing as fishing for herring in the summer could be a messy business. The oil from their bodies could make a right mess of the nets. The herring never kept for long in the summer so getting them to market quickly was essential. In the autumn, the oil content of the herring was at about 10% of their body weight. In this condition they were ideal.

Herring were good fresh, bloatered, kippered, scotch cured and klondyked. Klondyking was packing the fish, fresh, in salt and ice. They were exported, mainly to Germany, in this way. Since Yarmouth and Lowestoft were ideally placed geographically to catch the herring in prime condition it made sense to process the fish in these towns as well.

There was an influx of Scots, both men and woman who came south for the herring harvest. The men fished and the women worked in the curing sheds. Landladies in the local boarding houses must have been very pleased with the income this generated for them.