Weaving Connections was a project that enabled us to explore Great Yarmouth’s heritage fishing baskets. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Working with four different groups we recreated our own interpretations of two types of basket that were commonly used in the town’s herring fishing heyday.
We worked in partnership with the Time & Tide Museum, spending time exploring their collections of baskets before going on to make our own. We particularly focussed on:
The Quarter Cran – used as a volumetric measure for the herring catch, and to hold and transport the fish during processing.
The Swill – unique to Great Yarmouth, this basket was narrow in shape enabling it to be carried through the town’s ‘rows’. It was used to transport herring.
The baskets created as part of this project can be viewed in the Gallery
The Herring Fishing Industry in Great Yarmouth
The town of Great Yarmouth was originally a small fishing settlement on a sand bank. Herring was a popular food, and the catches in Great Yarmouth waters were plentiful, so the town grew larger and more prosperous. Herring fishing reached its peak during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At that time more than a thousand boats would fish from the town during the herring fishing season.
Baskets were used in great quantities – to measure, hold and transport the herring. Great Yarmouth was home so several basket making companies where basketmakers produced items such as the cran and swill (see above) in vast numbers. An five year apprenticeship was needed to learn to make cran baskets, and when fully trained the basketmaker could produce 8 in a working day. Swill baskets required a shorter three year apprenticeship.
From the 1920s onwards herring fishing began to decline, overfishing was leading to the collapse of the industry.
Today few herring are caught and there are no professional basketmakers in the town; the skills developed over those five years learning their craft are being lost. This project, Weaving Connections, aimed to provide a brief insight into this aspect of Great Yarmouth’s herring fishing glory days.