The art of the scrimshanderer
Hull Maritime Museum has the largest collection of scrimshaw in the whole of Europe. But what exactly is it?
An exhibition has been installed at Hull Maritime Museum that charts the city’s fishing heritage through text, photography and film.
A Common Foe focuses on the relationship between the fishermen of Hull and the people of Iceland. Beginning in the fifteenth century, when Iceland was ruled by Denmark, Hull folk would trade goods for fish, and also began to craft rods for catching their own.
Meanwhile, many Icelandic people would return to Hull along with the fishermen, seeking a new life in Britain. This made East Yorkshire the second largest hub of immigrant settlers, surpassed only by Bristol.
The following century saw German merchants drive English fishermen out of Iceland. All non-Danish ships were banned from trading with Iceland, lasting all the way to the 1800s.
The big change came when the Industrial Revolution created a need for fresh fish. This led to Hull and Grimsby transforming into the largest fishing ports in the entire world, with the North Sea now fully accessible thanks to new technologies.
This exhibition is a fascinating combination of information boards alongside beautiful and striking photography by Simon Sharp. The combination uncovers not only the lives of Hull’s fishermen and women, but also their lifestyles.
With long periods on rough seas being a very dangerous job, over 6,000 fishermen from Hull were taken by the waves. This had an enormous impact on the men, women and children left at home, with families shattered and communities left in mourning.
Simon Sharp’s photography showcases some of the personalities that lived in Hull and worked out on the North Sea. From trawlermen and dockers, to hardworking wives and all sorts of Hessle Roaders, it’s a touching tribute to the backbone of our former industrial prosperity.
The boards cover all kinds of events, the vast majority of them unfortunate and fatal. Examples include the Cod Wars, the Triple Trawler Tragedy, and the sinking of Icelandic vessels during violent storms.
Additionally, you can find out about what it was like to be on board. From a fisherman’s kitbag, which carried at least three weeks’ worth of bedding and clothing, to the following of superstitions and belief in omens, it really is quite eye-opening.
The common foe that the exhibition is named after is of course the sea. With so many men from Hull, Iceland and other countries killed during peacetime, the freezing waters were both a source of life and a cause of death. By recognising this balance, our connection with our seafaring ancestors becomes much stronger.
A Common Foe runs until 24 September and is a great opportunity to learn something new whilst enjoying gritty and soulful photography.
Located in Queen Victoria Square, the Maritime Museum is free to enter. Opening hours are Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Thursday 10am-7.30pm, and Sunday 11am-4.30pm. Last admissions are 30 minutes before closing.
Please note that the use of camera equipment is not permitted in this exhibition.