Godfrey Sheader - stories of the herring fleet and Lifeboats

Reproduced from an old article Thursday, 22nd August 1929 in the Scarborough Post - an interview with an old Scarborough fisherman and lifeboatman - Godfrey Sheader

Old Godfrey Sheader belongs to that blue-jerseyed race of men whose tall sea boots are seen wherever there is a bay with boats rocking on the surf. He keeps young among the children, who paddle near his boat and listen to his tales.

Godfrey (or "Spouse" as he is often called) is a boatman in the South Bay at Scarborough. His ancestors were fisher folk on the East Coast, and Godfrey's memories are of herring boats with widespread sails, and of famous storms that have swept the bay.

He never went to school. He cannot spell, or write his name, but such handicaps do not prevent him preaching in a primitive methodist pulpit, or lecturing in his spare time on the habits of herrings and crabs and lobsters. "Spouce" is indeed known up and down the East Coast.

Those keen grey eyes of his, peering from beneath a peaked cap, were roving seawards when I found him leaning against a boat on the sunlit sand. He likes to surprise you with his knowledge of the, and he was soon putting informative questions to me.

"Do you know that crabs will crawl as much as 300 miles", he asked, chuckling to himself. There was a pause when he studied my face, for many inquisitive folk, among them experts from the Ministry of Fisheries, come to the plain fisherman for information.

Godfrey explained how the experts come to Scarborough, and, after drilling neat little holes in crabs' backs, equipped the captives with brass plates. Then the crabs were turned adrift again, often to be identified in fishermen's nets many miles from the starting point. One such crab actually travelled 300 miles.

"The crab is more sensitive to cold than any fish I know of," Godfrey proceeded. "I have been out in my boat and caught 20 score of crabs in a night. Then the snow has come, the beach being white over when I got back to harbour. That means no more crabs for three weeks."

"The cold water which follows the snow sinks to the bottom, and immediately the crabs vanish. They dig into the sand with their claws, and bury themselves, and remain in hiding till the snow has gone."

After a little coaxing he talked of the herring fisheries. He recalled the days of those picturesque old sailing boats - his father was the skipper of one of them - that used to net vast shoals of herring. He remembers going out on his father's boat on one occasion, when, after a whale had spouted near the empty nets, a vast shoal of frightened herring fled into the meshes.

It was not uncommon in those days, he said, for the decks to be so crowded with sprawling heaps of silver fish that nets full of herring, each net containing about 3000 fish, were given to a less fortunate crew of fishermen, provided they brought the nets safely back to Scarborough, stripped them of fish, and handed them back, dry and clean, to the owner.

Godfrey has sold many herrings at 2 shillings 6 old pence a cran (there are about 800 crabs in a cran). Today they rarely sell at less than £3, and often at £4 a cran.

Talk to him of Old Scarborough, and he will recall the terrible storm of 47 years ago. He was one of the two men still living who were members of the Scarborough Lifeboat, new at the time, when a biting gale and drenching rain swept the South Bay for a week.

"The herring boats were out, and many came back without their nets he said. "Thousands of pounds of nets were lost up and down the coast".

"Well I do remember seven sailing ships to be driven ashore in the South Bay. All of them were pounded to bits".

"We launched the Lifeboat twice, only to be driven ashore again. The men nearly gave up in despair. The third time we went away on a great wave to save the crew of a french vessel. I shall never forget that storm "



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