Elaine Shelland, Paula Dyble, Tracey Wrightson and Paige Dyble (clockwise from top left) in Great Yarmouth in 2019. Elaine, her daughters Paula and Tracey, and her granddaughter Paige are three generations of women working in the fish trade in Great Yarmouth. For centuries the work and the skills have been handed down from generation to generation, and women have always played a critical role in the industry.
Collected by Craig Easton
From the very early days, they mended nets, gutted fish and baited lines, but they also did all the domestic work and raised the children. They even carried their men out to the fishing boats on their backs to ensure they could go to sea in dry clothing.
‘Women really have been involved in the fishing business going back years’, says Elaine. ‘You see the fisher girls used to come from Scotland, and their daughters used to come down and join them, and that’s how it was. We had a big fishing industry in Yarmouth – you could walk across the river on the drifters, the herring drifters. I learned from an early age. Mum always taught us how to scale the herring, gut them, head them, and it just went on from there. And I’ve passed it on to Tracey and Paula. I used to boil whelks – I used to get them fresh and boil them in the copper outside. They would watch me get them out of the shells and clean them, so they’ve always been around fish one way or another, and it’s going on to the next generations now. My granddaughter’s serving and doing the fish now. She’s learned how to skin fish as well, proudly carrying on the tradition. I would never, ever have thought she’d do anything with fish, she didn’t like the sight of blood or anything, but she just does it and I thought “crikey” […]
‘I used to not tell people what we did because it’s not exactly glamorous’, says Paige. ‘I would just say I work in a shop, but now I don’t care, I’ll just tell them I work in a fish shop. As I’ve grown older, I think it’s more respectable because it’s not an easy trade. I’ve only just learned how to skin fish because I’m very squeamish with that. I’m getting better, but yesterday I had to hold open the bag while mum put an octopus in the bag… uh, I was traumatised.’