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The Last Haul


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Recollections of the days before English fishing died.


This book is the last one, in a series of five, recording the oral history of commercial fishing in East Anglia during the first half of the twentieth century. The previous four were all published between 1979 and 1987 by Tops’l Books.

Many have been waiting for this book by David Butcher being the last in a series of five oral histories, covering the story of the Lowestoft fishing industry between 1910 and 1960. Based on tape-recordings of local people made from 1976-83, it follows on from The Driftermen (1979), The Trawlermen (1980), Living From the Sea (1982) and Following the Fishing (1987), looking at aspects of life at sea and on shore not covered in the earlier works. It should have been published c. 1990 or thereabouts, but for various reasons did not come into print.  The previous four were all published by Tops’l Books.

Much has changed in the British fishing industry since the earlier books were produced and, in general terms, the story has been one of consistent and continued decline and, in the case of Lowestoft, that decline has been drastic.

The earlier books dealt with drift-netting and the herring industry, with trawling, with the social life of shore-side communities and with land-based industries associated with fishing.   The subjects dealt with in this book are varied and fascinating: seine-netting for haddock on the Dogger Bank (1920s); longlining for cod in the North Sea during the same era; longlining for conger eels and other species out of Milford Haven (1930s); illegally fishing in Irish waters (1930s); longshore fishing at Lowestoft and Pakefield (1920s-1960s); life at sea on a sailing smack (1920s); the role of the RNMDSF smacks (1920s and 1930s); working on a drifter-trawler, both locally and in the Atlantic and Irish Sea (1920s and 30s); working on a Ministry of Fisheries research vessel (1940s, 50s & 60s); general fishing experience on local drifters round the British coasts (1920s & 30s); working on railway maintenance (1930s) and policing Lowestoft railway station and docks (1950s & 60s); manning Trinity House lightships in the North Sea (1930s-60s); sailing on the converted diesel drifter Veracity to hunt for buried treasure in the Pacific, on Cocos Island (1935).

The mix of material vividly portrays a “lost world”, so different from that of today, but even though it is dealing with past events and life-styles it is still able to make valid statements (in all kinds of ways) concerning the human condition and the way people behave and inter-react as they go about their everyday routines.

David Butcher grew up in Bungay and holds degrees from Durham University and the University of East Anglia.  A well known local historian, his books include, apart from this series, The Ocean’s Gift, Lowestoft 1550-1750, Medieval Lowestoft and Fishing Talk.  He is an Associate member of the Centre for East Anglian Studies at UEA and a member of the Suffolk Local History Council.


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