At the beginning of this period the Napoleonic Wars did slow down the rate of growth in the fishing industry, but once peace returned again in 1815 the upward trend continued. It was helped by the decline of the Dutch operation in the North Sea and most of the English east coast ports were quick to exploit the situation. The country's growing population demanded to be fed and as the number of boats increased, so did their size. In the case the East Anglian ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, the favourite boat at first was the three-masted lugger - so-called because of its large, squarish lugsails. By mid century, however, most owners were going over two-masted vessels because these were more convenient for shooting and hauling nets at sea. Even so, although these developments were important, what made Lowestoft's fortune as a fishing port were three events not directly connected with fishing.

"A New Way To Norwich"

First of all, there was the scheme to provide a navigational link between Lowestoft and Norwich for sea-going traffic, using the potential route provided by Lake Lothing, Oulton Broad, Oulton Dyke and the rivers Waveney and Yare. Between 1827 and 1833 a large-scale operation was under way involving the dredging and deepening of waterways, the piling of bank-sides, the cutting of a two-mile canal to link the rivers and the provision of a channel through to the sea at the eastern extremity of Lake Lothing. The workings didn't provide quay space for landing fish, but they did at least give the fishing fleet a haven in times of bad weather. Hitherto, access to Lake Lothing over the sand and shingle bar had only been possible when there were very high tides.

After a period of initial success, the Lowestoft-Norwich Navigation began to lose money rapidly, and by the early 1840s the company which owned it was bankrupt. This was when Lowestoft's second and third pieces of good luck occurred. A man called Samuel Morton Peto, who was one of the greatest of all the 19th century engineering and building contractors, came on the scene in 1844 and bought out the ruined operators. Within ten years he had developed a proper harbour, established a flourishing cattle trade with Holland and Denmark, and turned the former marsh and scrubland south of the harbour into an elegant seaside resort. Lowestoft had been a spa and watering-place of sorts for some time, with bathingmachines and a bath-house on its north beach, but Peto put it on the map for the first time as a resort of real importance.

It was in connection with all of these enterprises that he built a railway link between Norwich and Lowestoft. This opened in 1847 and gave the fish-industry a tremendous boost because catches could now be transported quickly to other parts of the country. Other rail-building followed, most notably the Lowestoft and Beccles line, which opened in 1859 and joined the fast-growing port to the East Suffolk line and Ipswich. Another important piece of construction at this time was the building in 1854 of a large dry-dock where vessels could be slipped for inspection and repair. And it was at this time too that specialist shipyards began to grow up around the shores of Lake Lothing, which had now become Lowestoft's inner harbour. So rapidly did things happen and change in the town at this time that it is difficult to keep pace with and record them all.


One thing that wasn't done early on amid all this activity was the provision of a proper fish market. There just wasn't enough room at the existing quays for both trading vessels and fishing boats, though it was becoming more and more inconvenient for larger craft to land their catches on the north beach. Lowestoft was something of a boom town at this time, with housing development expanding rapidly to accommodate the increasing population. The Beach Village grew greatly in size; so did the area immediately north of the railway sheds and sidings, where many of the working-class folk involved in the various industries lived in streets of terraced houses.


"The First Trawlers Arrive"


As well as local factors, there were wider events which caused Lowestoft to grow. One was the arrival of trawling, which was brought to the town by men from the Kentish port of Ramsgate during the 1860s. They originally came to work the Dogger Bank area of the mid North Sea, which had been opened in the 1830s and 40s, yielding huge catches of valuable soles and other varieties of bottom-dwelling fish. When the Ramsgate men arrived in Lowestoft, they soon found out that there was no need to run down to The Dogger. There were good trawling grounds fairly close to the town which had never been touched, and so they and their families settled in the Suffolk port. When local boatowners saw the profit to be made from trawl-fish, many of them began to branch out into this side of the industry and build themselves trawling smacks.

"Start Of The Scottish Invasion"

It was at this time too that the local sailing luggers began to venture more and more away from home in search of herring and mackerel. They went round to Devon and Cornwall in the New Year; they fished Irish and Welsh waters in the summer; they sailed to Scarborough, Whitby, North Shields and beyond - also in the summer months. And it wasn't just a one-way process either, for during the 1860s Scottish vessels began to come down to Yarmouth and Lowestoft for the autumn herring season. It started with boats from the Firth of Forth, but by the 1890s there was a veritable invasion every October by sailing craft from the whole east coast of Scotland. It wasn't just the fishermen who came. They brought their womenfolk as well, because it was the ladies who gutted the herring and packed them, sardine fashion, into barrels between layers of salt.

The increased number of boats using Lowestoft led to the first proper fish market being opened in 1872, and this was extended ten years later with the building of the Waveney Dock. A further ten years on and an unproved basin for the trawling fleet was constructed. All these modifications were undertaken by the Great Eastern Railway Company, which now owned the harbour and its installations. There were other improvements afoot as well, especially in the herring boats. They began to adopt the ketch-rigged sail plan of their trawling counterparts because it allowed for much easier handling at sea. At first, the boats remained the same size as the luggers (about 50 feet long, by 15 feet in the beam, and with a hold depth of seven feet), but during the 1880s and 90s they grew in size. A typical boat of this time would have been 60 feet long, 17 to 18 feet the beam, and eight feet to the bottom of the hold. The increased size gave them greater catching power because they could carry more nets and more fish, and during the mid 1880s their work-rate was aided by the introduction of steam-capstans to haul in the nets.


This last innovation was an important one because it speeded up the long and arduous business of hauling, which had hitherto been done by hand-capstans. Among the nine or ten crew members of a herring boat were four men specifically hired to power these winches. Quite often they were farmworkers from the coastal districts, who went to sea for an autumn voyage, having finished the harvest and all the early ploughing. Things on the land were slack then and many labourers were stood off until the New Year, when things began to pick up again. During this period of enforced, unpaid idleness a number of men preferred to take a chance on going to sea and earning some money herring-catching. Thus was forged the longstanding connection between coast and country by which the men from the inland villages helped to crew fishing boats. Indeed, a good number of them eventually switched over to fishing full time, even going so far as to move themselves and their families into the ports of Lowestoft and Yarmouth to live.

"Cotton Nets And Blocks Of Ice"


It is Lowestoft that we are concerned with here, and the story behind the 19th century expansion is still not complete. In the last two decades many herring boats went over to using cotton drift-nets instead of the old twine ones. These were lighter and less bulky so the boats could carry more of them, and they caught herring more efficiently because their meshes had more play in them and hung in the water more effectively. The increased catches found a ready market as well, because in the 1890s a new traffic in herrings opened up with Germany. Because it was so profitable and because it coincided with the Yukon gold-rush, it was called the "Klondyke Trade". The fish were shipped over to Altona fresh and ungutted. They were first sprinkled with salt, then packed with ice in large, rectangular wooden cases. Ice had first begun to be used extensively in the fish-trade during the 1840s, when the growing demand for trawl-fish encouraged its adoption as a preservative. As the century wore on, it became used more and more. Lowestoft's source of supply was twofold. One was from local waterways, ditches and ponds which froze over during the winter months; the other from the Norwegian fjords. Ice from the latter was brought across in trading schooners and stored along with the local product in a large ice-house near the bridge. It was possible, by insulating the building careully and packing the blocks in straw, to make the ice last for months at a time if necessary. Eventually, a factory was built which manufactured the stuff and this was, of course, a great improvement on previous arrangements.

“Steam Hits The Fleet”

Perhaps the most important development in Lowestoft's fishing history (apart from the construction of the harbour and the railway) came at the end of the 19th century, in 1897. It was in this year that the port's first steam herring drifter was completed. She was called the "Consolation" and she was little more than a sailing drifter with a small seven horsepower engine added. Even so, she soon showed the advantages that a powered boat had over those which had to rely on the wind alone. A year or two after her launching many of the port's vessel owners were investing in steam drifters, built both in the local shipyards and also in ones further afield. Strangely enough, although steam had revolutionised the great trawling fleets at Hull and Grimbsy in the 1880s, Lowestoft's trawlers did not follow suit. They stayed under sail, mainly because their operation kept them fairly close to home and because their owners were content with the money they were earning employing the methods they did. The one exception to this working the home grounds was the annual migration round to Cornwall every spring, when many of the smacks went to Padstow to fish for soles.

To conclude this section on the growth of Lowestoft during the 19th century it is perhaps best to let some of the available statistics speak for themselves. In 1801 the town's population numbered 2,332 folk: in 1831 it was 4,238; in 1851, 6,781; in 1871, 13,623; and in 1891, 19,150. Alongside these human figures it is worth looking at others relating to the fishing fleet's expansion. The years can't be paralleled exactly, but the overall period is one and the same. In 1801 there were only 30 herring boats in the port; by 1841 the total had risen to 80, luggers for the most part; in 1863 there were 176; in 1872, 210; and at the end of the century nearly 400. As far as trawling is concerned, there were only eight smacks in 1863, but by the late 1880s there were 300 of them. In addition to the two main fleets of big boats, there was a host of smaller longshore craft belonging for the most part to people who lived in the Beach Village. They were crewed by one or two men only and earned a precarious living close in to land.