We normally associate drifters with Yarmouth and trawlers with Lowestoft, but in fact both types of vessel could be found in both these East Anglian ports. The beam trawl was invented some time in the early nineteenth century; before that most fishing was done by hook and line. Trawlers did not begin to sail out of Yarmouth harbour until the fishing fleet was transferred to the river Yare from Barking on the Thames in the middle years of the nineteenth century. They were based not on the northern Yarmouth shore but from Gorleston on the Suffolk side of the river. Cod was then not commonly caught in the North Sea, although haddock was. The earlier type of fishing vessels had been the lugger, rigged with lugsails as the name indicates, where the sail extended fore of the main mast. This simple type of sail was fine for open water, but was harder to handled in confined waters such as the river Yare.
By the middle years of the 19th century the smack was becoming the more usual kind of trawler. The sails of these vessels were attached to the masts, allowing both fore and mainsails too be hoisted. The smack “Cambria” of which Thomas Lound was the master was launched on the 25 November 1869 from Messrs Smith’s yard in Yarmouth. This was when ketch rigged trawlers were the latest thing on the river. Thomas Lound was my step grandfather’s grandfather, born in Tunstead near Stalham in about 1830. He began his working life on a farm but always longed to go to sea. He was at sea at the time of the 1871 census, skipper of the Cambria with a crew 5, a mate and four hands. Thomas Lound was 37, but apart from him the oldest member of the crew was only 23, and the boy was only 17 years old. Thomas Lound worked on the land as a young man, carting malted barley to Norwich among other things, but he moved with his young wife to Yarmouth where he took up the fisherman’s life.
He would sail a long way from Yarmouth on his annual round trip. In the spring he would set out from the East Anglian coast north abouts to Ireland and thence on to Iceland. Returning to European waters he would sail down the North Sea coast of Scotland on the way to the coast of France, Belgium, Holland and Denmark. He then sailed into the Baltic and visited the ports of Germany and Poland. Salt was the only way of preserving the catch – no ice was then available – and the Cambria would call at ports along the way, to unload the fish and stock up on salt for curing them, and to take on food and water for the crew. Finally in the autumn the Cambria would return home to Yarmouth, avoiding the worst of the winter weather while the boat could be overhauled.
In going so far into deep waters Thomas Lound was exceptionally adventurous; most smacks fished south of the Dogger Bank. The fish caught in the North Sea did not require curing when caught but was taken by fast sailing cutters to the Thames for transfer to Billingsgate fish market. Then the haddock could be smoked and the plaice fried and sold to the London poor- the origin of the fish and chip shop. Fast sailing cutters also sailed to Grimsby and Yarmouth, where the railways gave quick access to the industrial towns of the midlands and the north. Unrefrigerated fish trains lasted into my lifetime, and I can still remember the strong smell of fish on platform 5 of Norwich station, where the trains from Yarmouth and Lowestoft still arrive, though these days without the fish.