This set of pictures was taken on Wednesday October 10th, 1923. That year, as every autumn, vast shoals of herring came to feed about 30 miles off the coast of Britain, at Great Yarmouth. These shoals sustained a thriving fishing industry of boats, processors and packers.
The herring were processed by ‘Herring Girls’, many of whom originated from the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebridean islands. With little employment, the women sought the chance to earn money and to travel. The Herring Girls worked in teams of ‘gutters’ and ‘packers’, packing the gutted herring into barrels with salt to preserve the fish.
The women often lived in huts or lodgings, typically overcrowded. A working day started early and it could be a dangerous occupation. The women had to bind their fingers to prevent them being cut by the very sharp knives they used. Salt could get in a cut and make it very painful. Friendships and Saturday dances provided some compensation.
The industry struggled after WWI with the loss of European markets. A decline in the popularity of herring for food, together with over-fishing, meant that by the 1950s the Great Yarmouth herring industry had all but disappeared.
Text and curation: Amanda Uren