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18 July 2022

Maritime Volunteer, Peter Burrows had a long career in the fishing industry and now shares his skills and experiences through volunteering.

Peter chatted about his life at sea and the importance of net braiding.

Sketches and interview by Mo Grimble, questions by fellow volunteer, Sareena Jarvis.

Volunteers Mo Grimble and Petter Burrows
Sketch of Peter Burrows by Mo Grimble
What encouraged you to volunteer for Hull Maritime?

I first volunteered at the Hull Mission and when Hull Maritime asked for volunteers for net braiding. I vowed I would commit myself to it once it started. I remember showing a group with learning disabilities how to do it and being made up when one lad in particular really took to it.A big smile on his face! Anyway, it’s something that’s been instilled in me. It’s good to share these things.

How did you start braiding nets?

My father was a skipper. I’d watch him teaching my two older brothers to braid. It was expected. He warned that they wouldn’t go to sea if they couldn’t do it. You see, it was expected that all ‘deckie learners’ should be able to do it.

When they got it wrong, he’d crack them over the knuckles with ‘the needle’ (the wooden tool which weaves the mesh). I was watching this and thought ‘that’s not going to happen to me’, so I’d practice by myself.

I even got a booklet on it to get it right and in my spare time I’d practice - so I suppose I’m self-taught.

Peter shows Mo how to braid nets
Why the fishing industry?

In Hull then, the fishing industry was the only work about so that’s what we did. I remember there were about 200 trawlers then.

When I was about fourteen and a half, I went on two ‘pleasure trips’ to Brieda Bay in Iceland with my father - I think it was in 1949.

They were called ‘Pleasure trips’ because you watched and learned what went on. You weren’t part of the crew, and not paid.

You were there to learn how the ship and crew worked. You kept out of the way when the real work went on. From there you become a galley boy, who wasn’t on pay, but was ‘tipped’. Then you worked your way up.

I mostly worked around Iceland and sometimes around Norway. It was hard work. We fished in all weathers. A force 10 was getting rough but we only stopped fishing in a force 11 or 12.

We’d haul in with the swell and the water would gather on deck in the ‘duckpond,’ then out with the roll of the ship. You see, we were working with the force of the waves.

We’d haul in the net by hand between the grantons. The net was made up of ‘the square’, ‘the belly’ and then the ‘cod-end’. The fishing industry isn’t a waiting game – you had to get that net in and get it out again fast. It was ‘all hell and no notion’ – rushing to get the catch in. You had to have one eye on the job, the other eye on the rest of the crew.

You had to work as a team because we depended on each other. I remember seeing someone go overboard out of the corner of my eye and just managed to catch hold of him. I couldn’t drag him up by myself, but yes, together we got him. He was lucky.

I suppose I was a bit of a madman when I was younger. I remember going overboard, climbing down the net to clear a fouled net. I remember my frock (oilskins) and thigh boots being filled when I got back. Like I said, getting the catch in fast was what we were all about. So if the nets were damaged we were all losing money. One time we hauled the net up and it was split vertically along the square and belly. It was so bad that only a whale could have had the strength to do it. I’d never seen that before or since.

So braiding was very important to keep the job going. When we were headed for home the net had to be checked, repaired and ready for the next trip.

Mo Grimble sketched Peter net braiding
Home life

We spent three weeks at sea and had 36 hours home before heading out again. On shore we had one thing in mind!

It was good to be home and have a bath.

When the men came home everything revolved around them in my house. My mother had seven children and I remember her dealing with the dolly tub to wash and ‘double bag’ our clothes when we came home.

On the Hessle Road, it was mostly the wives who did the braiding. Around the terraces off the Boulevard, you could see hooks and a broomstick handle fixed in the doorways. On these the wives braided ‘the bellies’ of the net. They were everywhere. They got about half a crown for a belly.

My best trip landed 3,500 kits – 2,000 Haddock, 1,000 Cod and 500 Rough. A kit is equal to 10 stone. That was in the 1970’s and was a record catch. It was worth £20,000. Yes, that was a great trip!