Fishing tales recalled in nostalgic book

Early 20th century fishermen repairing nets on the Fish Quay
Early 20th century fishermen repairing nets on the Fish Quay

A former journalist who has produced over 100 books has turned his attention to the fishing industry of the Yorkshire coast.

‘Memories of the Yorkshire Fishing Industry’ begins with Whitby, Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay, and makes its way down the Yorkshire coast, recalling stories told by members of the fishing community.

Author Ron Freethy (78) compiled the book, which echoes the themes of anger and sadness felt by those who have seen decline of the once-proud ports, yet reaffirms the continuing sense of community felt by Yorkshire’s fishing fleets.

Mr Freethy explained: “You look at Robin Hood’s Bay and you think that is not really a good fish port, but for a time it was bigger than Whitby. You listen to people there, they were talking about smuggling, fishing and cooking and before you know where you are, you are totally hooked. Then you go to Whitby and you think blimey, you have not only fishing but you have whaling and tourism.”

A varied career saw Ron travel the world as a journalist, river ecologist and even a brief stint in children’s television.

In August he can be seen on television with Robson Green, but it has always been the conversations with the everyday resident which has captured his imagination. “You have got to be careful that you don’t stop talking to Elsie Bloggs. With the fishing you could do lots of stuff about the amount landed and where, but what about the people that got their hands mucky and went out in trawlers in stormy weather?”

Like many from Lancashire, the lure of sunshine and sandy beaches led Mr Freethy and his family to spend many summer holidays in Whitby. He still visits regularly with his wife.

“One of the biggest laughs I ever had was from Whitby,” he said. “When my son was reasonably young I thought he was getting to be a wimp, so I took him out fishing on one of the boats, called Rosemary. Me and my wife were sick as parrots, but there’s this 8-year-old helping to gut the fish and not batting an eyelid. I thought ‘right, that’s my lesson learned’.”

Through these visits he began to talk to residents, who told their stories. “They are a cynical lot and before they start talking, they have to trust you,” he said. “So you sit by the harbour, talk to fishermen, and have to be prepared to let them wind you up with their Yorkshire humour. I learned if they don’t insult you, they don’t like you.

“When you think of fishing, they were a tough lot - they still are - but their hearts were always in the right place.”

See next week’s Whitby Gazette for more images from ‘Memories of the Yorkshire Fishing Industry’ and your opportunity to win a free copy of the book.