The fishing industry was always dangerous. The sailing ships were always vulnerable to gales and bad weather which could come out of nowhere. These huge seas and treacherous storms could endanger any vessels on the coast. When the storms got really bad the Old Town community would keep watch by the harbour.
They would put on their oilskins and sou'westers and would stand at the foot of the castle. There was no Marine Drive then so they used to stand at the end of Spread Eagle Lane where the roundabout is now. They would count the trawlers as they came back one by one. Suddenly somebody would spot one on the horizon and shout 'There's one!'. They would then look for any distinguishing feature such as the sails or the funnel colours of the steam trawlers.
There was real danger at sea and families did not stand watching for nothing. They were wondering if they were to become widows or orphans. There would be a genuine sense of relief when a boat came in with a family member on board. Children would run up the Salmon Steps or Dog and Duck Lane and quickly tell family members the good news. They would be rewarded with a penny or tuppence.
At one time there was a watch tower which stood on the castle Dykes. It was made of timber and covered with tar. Here during storms some would look out for boats on the horizon. This was much warmer and more comfortable than standing at the foot of the Castle.
Sometimes the wait could be quite long. In November 1893 the whole of the Scarborough fishing fleet was at sea when gale force winds turned to hurricane strength. Slowly trawlers limped back into harbour one by one. Attention was focused on the Evelyn and Maud which had not returned. A report came in that she was sheltering in Bridlington Bay but that proved false.
One case not related to storms was particularly bad. In September 1920 the Strathsprey heard huge explosion at sea. Fears grew for the Jack Johnson which had been seen in the area. The wait in this case was horrendous. The trawler had provisions on board for several days and was not expected back in port for a few days. Eventually anxiety gave way to gloom as the vessel did not return. The Jack Johnson had hit a mine left over from the Great War. Yet the families had to wait for days before the reality became known.
Sometimes hope was already gone when good news reached Scarborough. The crew of the Lord Collingwood were cast adrift for days after they were sunk by a U-Boat in February 1917. Eventually they were rescued and news was sent back to Scarborough. But the long wait was traumatic with food and water in the coldest month of the year.
Even if a boat returned there still might be bad news. If a flag was flying half mast it indicated that a crew member had died. Often crew members were lost over board during a storm. There was no chance of survival as the fishermen wore heavy waterproof boots. Thats why they often never bothered learning to swim.
Occasionally the drama could be watched from the shore. When ships were driven ashore they would often land somewhere near the Spa after missing the harbour. Rescues were watched by hundreds on the beach and cliffs. In October 1880 several ships were driven ashore on the same day. This brought the town out to watch the specticle. When the Lifeboat was lost near the Spa in 1861 hundreds watched the heroic rescue attempt. The fishermen often served on the Lifeboats so the families would anxiously watch for their safety. The crowd looked to the Lifeboat for action and often they felt pressured to launch when a rocket line would have proved a more sensible option.
The following real account appeared in the Scarborough Post in 1851. It shows the sheer elation and relief which the Old Town felt when boats returned when feared lost.
"During the storm of the 25th September, 1851. Many were the anxious fears of the inhabitants of this neighbourhood for the safety of the poor fisherman in his frail and storm-tossed vessel, and the suspense was painful which had to be endured till tidings were heard, or their dear ones at homes were blessed with the sight, of, the returning husband, the father, the brother, the son. On the Sunday afternoon, a week or more afterwards, one of the last of the missing boats arrived; we remember well, how, when the little vessel rounded the pier, and was safely entering the harbour, the hearts of all who witnessed its arrival seemed to swell with delightful emotion, which would fain have found utterance in a hearty huzza of welcome to the restored; but the bells of the venerated Saint Mary's reminded all, just at the time, of the fitting opportunity presented, to ascribe their gratitude for His mercies to Him who is indeed worthy to receive more than we can render."
The fishing families were highly interconnected. Any man lost would probably be related to several other families. The fishing families kept to themselves. Upto five or six surviving children would grow up to marry within the community. In this way the families were all locked together. The Old Town in Scarborough looks and feels like a village. Its very different from the rest of Scarborough. The fisher people look out to sea. They ignored the communities within the town. There is a story of a young lass from the fishing community who courted a middle class man. The mother met her daughters sweetheart and slapped him with the biggest cod. He never wore that suit again - dry cleaning didn't get rid of the fish smell. He went on marry his girl but neither family accepted this.
Occasionally girls did marry outside the fishing community. But with marriage they lost their name. Often the family name was carried on with middle names. Many Filey people had middle names such as Cammish or Jenkinson. Often boys did not like to be known by their fathers name. They stayed in the fishing community yet lost the family name.
On 2nd December, 1921 the Mecury published what it felt was a remarkable coincidence. Two couples (Mr and Mrs Gray and Mr and Mrs Thomson) celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversay yet they both had lost a parent at sea and both had 9 children. Mrs Thomsons father C Harwood was a shipwright drowned in a coble which put to sea to pilot a craft in the Bay requiring a pilot. Mr Gray watched his father, a Whitby Pilot, lose his life when his coble filled with water, he tried to swim ashore but was crushed against the pier. Sadly such losses were not remarkable. It was these losses which brought the fishing community together.
The fisher people are different. They thought differently. They faced the greatest dangers and it was through such losses that the communities grew ever stronger. The other people within the town of Scarborough simply didn't understand this. That sense of community still survives to this day and it is in great contrast to the lack of community within other areas of the town which are deprived and run down.