HARRISON COMPILATION (1950s) film no: 2063
This is a compilation of films made by David Harrison, a Hull fish merchant, featuring St Andrew’s Fish Docks, his family, and some local Hull scenes. The film gives a unique look at the fishing industry in Hull during this time period and the sense of camaraderie among the workers.
The film opens with Harrison’s son, David, washing out a barrel (a kit), along with others preparing the fish and packing them in barrels and boxes. One man shovels ice into the wooden boxes which are carted off on trolleys by two boys. Fishing ships are moored in the docks.
The next scene features motorcycle racing on a grass field, followed by an airplane coming in to land. There is a car race and motorcycle sidecar racing around the same circuit (possibly Hedon airfield.) Then back to the fish docks where the kits and fish are being cleaned. Boxes are stacked at the warehouse. On the dockside, the workmen unload fish from the boats, and the kits can be seen in long rows ready for auctioning. Several men walk over the barrels selecting the ones they want to buy. Outside lorries and horse drawn carts are loaded with kits to leave the dock.
In the Harrison’s garden, two small boys are playing, one of whom is on a tricycle. A woman prepares food in the kitchen. One of the boys is then shown in what seems to be a different back garden.
Back at the docks a ship is being loaded with ice, and fish are unloaded from kits into a building. Several boats are moored at the docks while the tide is out. A boy and man look at a model of Hull centre, possibly in a City Council building showing the plans for the redevelopment of the city centre. They cross the road and walk past a petrol garage.
The next portion of the film shows a woman ironing in her kitchen, before switching to some boys, including Dave Harrison, playing football on open ground next to a housing estate under construction. A man is trying to fly a kite.
Back at the docks a crane loads two large metal containers onto a boat, and a ship is undergoing repairs, including replacing rivets, in a dry dock. The whole area can be seen with a train of wagons waiting to be loaded.
The film ends with a small boy (Dave Harrison) riding a pedal car and then a scooter down a garden path towards the camera.
This is, as the title suggests, a compilation of films made by David Harrison, a fish merchant, who made these films in the 1950s. The films fall roughly into three areas: the home, the fish docks and some local Hull scenes. David Harrison took over the fish merchant business, at stand number 180, from his father who had it for 40 years. Harrison was someone who loved to have a hobby, and when he bought a hand-wind cine camera in the late 1940s he would frequently take it with him. He filmed the Hull City v Manchester United match at Boothferry Park in front of Hull City’s highest ever attendance of 55,019 in the FA Cup Sixth Round, on 26th February 1949 (this short film can be seen separately at the YFA). Although there is not a lot of home film on this compilation, the little that there is has a warm feel to it, and gives a flavour of working class home life in the early 1950s.
The street scenes in the film are mainly in and around Hessle: with children playing football on a field bounded by Northolme Road, Hull Road Hessle and First Lane, which now has a new housing estate, and the Norland pub. The film of the racing is also interesting as it possibly shows Hedon airfield where there was speedway racing from late 1940s. The film shows an airplane landing although it has been suggested that the airfield wasn’t used for aircraft after the Second World War, when it was requisitioned by the Government. For more on Hedon airfield see the Context for Amy Johnson At Hedon.
In this compilation though, the main interest is probably the more extensive film of St Andrew’s fish docks – named after St Andrew, the patron saint of fishermen. It could be thought that running a fish merchant business might put Harrison a cut above the average fish dock worker, but judging by the film the Harrison family was clearly part of the fishing community. This is backed up by an interview with David Harrison jnr., who can be seen in the film playing in the garden as a young boy. Interviewed for the ITV series The Way We Were, David Harrison jnr., born in 1945, vividly recounts the docks and those who worked in them. As a child, David himself worked in the docks with his father during the summer breaks for 10 bob a week (shillings in old money, today 50p). Wearing specially made clogs – from Walker’s in Halifax – David would nail down the barrels of fish ready for delivery. All the men wore clogs to keep their feet dry. It is striking how young some of the boys are who are working in the fish docks.
It is also noteworthy just how unhygienic it looks compared to today’s standards, and that there are still some carts being pulled by horse. A very similar film of St Andrew’s docks, St Andrew's Fish Dock, Hull, made a short while after in 1962 (just after the cod wars of 1958-61), also on YFA Online, shows just how cold it was, especially handling fish covered in ice – David Harrison jnr remarks that some would pee on their hands to keep them warm! It is little wonder that many fell ill to, and died with, Weil's disease (Leptospirosis), which was passed on from the urine of rats. In the film the timber barrels, known as kits, and the ice boards that the fish would come on, can be seen being scrubbed. The later film shows the aluminum ones that were to replace them (see the Context for this film).
Harrison Jnr paints a picture of a tremendously busy, noisy and bustling place with between 5,000 to 10,000 people working around the two docks: the wet docks where the fish came in, and the dry docks for ship repairs. The trawler business of Hellier Brothers alone had 50 to 60 trawlers. These would go off for weeks on end to Iceland, Bear Island, Newfoundland and the sea around Russia. When arriving at the dock their catch would be unloaded by the ‘bobbers’, seen in the film. The working day at the fish market started at midnight, when the bobbers arrived to unload the fish, with one gang of ten men for each 300 10 stone kits (barrels) of fish. Each member of the gang had his task: the winchman, the swinger, the ‘weigher off’ etc. They would visit Cullen’s coffee shop for tea and bajos (dipped cakes). Cod was unloaded onto the end facing Iceland, haddock towards the North Sea, and plaice, coley, cats and berguilts were placed at the foreshore.
The kits would be auctioned at a furious rate, often with much shoving and pushing. The buyers can be seen running over the kits to put their tally on the ones they had bought. Then the fish would be filleted, iced and transported off by train or road. The whole process took just 5 to 6 hours, with the trawlers needing to be ready to catch the next tide. The most popular fish for sale was cod, haddock, catfish, dogfish, skate and halibut. David Harrison jnr claims his father bought the biggest halibut to be caught in Hull – apparently a picture of which still adorns a pub in Hull.
Of equal importance to the dock was the famous Hessle Road, where most of the fishing workers lived. Harrison himself lived in Hessle, and it was a place of great community and camaraderie – with much heavy drinking, and fighting, taking place in the pubs in the area, such as Rayners on the Hessle Road. Although Hull became strongly associated with fishing, many of the original fishermen came from Kent and Devon. A good account of a fishing family who lived in Hessle in the early part of last century, the Johnsons, can be found in Robinson (References). Many from the Hessle Road community have now moved out to the council estates, and houses were replaced by new industrial units.
Although originally designed for the coal trade, by the time it opened in 1883 St. Andrew's Dock was used solely for the fishing industry which was rapidly growing at that time with the development of steam powered trawlers and the railway network. The coming of the railway and the growth of fish and chip shops meant that fish became a staple part of working class diet. It was an extremely dangerous occupation, and the loss of the Lorella and Roderigo in 1955, losing all 40 crewmen, led to the setting up of the Hull Fisherman’s trust the following year.
St. Andrew's Dock was entirely dependent on the deep-sea trawling industry and by the 1970s, with the cod wars with Iceland and the expansion of the large freezer trawler fleet, the fish docks moved to new buildings at Albert Dock in 1975 and St. Andrew's Dock was closed, although by this time the fishing industry was in steep decline with over-fishing a continual problem (see also the Context for Pot Luck). Gradually, during the 1980s, the docks were run down and filled in, hastened by the construction of the Clive Sullivan Way; and the small dock-related industries located mainly on the south side of the dock either followed the fishing industry to Albert Dock or closed altogether. In their place came a bowling alley and cinema, opened in 1989, and St Andrew’s Quay. However, in order to retain this important historical site a campaign managed to get the area in the vicinity of the lockpit designated a Conservation Area in 1990.
Robb Robinson, Far Horizons: from Hull to the ends of the Earth, Maritime Historical Studies Centre University of Hull, 2010.
Michael Thompson, Fish Dock: The Story Of St Andrews Dock Hull, Hutton Press Ltd, Beverley, 1989.
For anyone interested in the history of Hull docks, a good place to start would be The Maritime Historical Studies Centre, part of the University of Hull, and in particular the works of Robb Robinson and David J Starkey, list on the website.