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Wednesday 2 June 2021

Holly Walton, our Community Engagement Officer visited St. John the Baptist Church on St. George’s Road last week to introduce herself to Reverend Tony Cotson and his wife and to learn more about the history of the ‘Fisherman’s Church’.

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting St. John the Baptist Church on St. George’s Road, where I met the Reverend Tony Cotson and his wife Jan.

Tony and Jan were very generous with their time and gave me a tour of the church and talked to me about its history and its strong and lasting ties with the fishing families of Hessle Road, and we also visited the various murals and Bethel boards nearby before popping into the Fishing Heritage Centre on the corner of Boulevard to say hello.

St. John’s is a beautiful church, with its striking green pews (Tony described how they were painted this famously unlucky colour many years ago by a vicar who wanted to give his dwindling congregation something to talk about!), six stained glass windows featuring Biblical women were transferred from St Matthew Church after it closed in 2013 and the old font, which has baptised many trawlermen, their ancestors and descendants for decades.

A stained glass window of St Bridget, one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Patrick and Columba.

The Fishermen’s Corner memorial is a space to be quiet and reflect on the many lives tragically claimed by the harsh conditions of the trawling industry. The bell from the Gaul hangs there, silent except for rare memorial occasions, as well as the book of remembrance, its pages turned every day to remember each life lost on that date. Tony showed me the entry for 8th February, the date in 1974 when the Gaul was lost.

Nearby, is a plaque paying tribute to the loss of Icelandic fishermen, illuminated by prayer candles.

The Fisherman's Memorial Corner

It was clear to me from the care with which these items are kept, and by the way Tony spoke about his experiences, that the pain of the losses at sea is still felt very keenly by members of the community, even grandchildren and great-grandchildren who never had the chance to meet the trawlermen in their bloodline.

'Sea: Our Common Ground' Sign Was Made By Adam Cotson And His Art Students At South Holderness Academy

The idea of the sea – shifting, breathing, storming, never still, so often a violent force for destruction and claimer of life – alongside the image of common ground – firm, rooted, immovable, reassuring, that which makes us known to one another and on which we can stand together – is a powerful one.

It got me thinking about the unity which comes about through shared experiences, especially painful ones, and the particular strength it can have. St John’s is obviously an important and much loved place where community members can come to feel the presence of others standing at their side.

Can you identify the different communities you are a part of in your own life? We all need to share a sense of connection and understanding with others. What common ground do you share?