Wells-next-the Sea Women

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North Norfolk

This English region has been selected for the research based on its long history of fishing and the living example of families with seven or eight generations of fishermen. Evidence of the branches of families spread along the coast can be found in the tombstones in old churchyards with carved sailing fishing boats[1].These towns have built a community based on the trust that was created when fishermen used to move from vessel to vessel or when moving to a different fishing station along the coast doing different types of fishing or by joining a different resident fleet to facilitate boat launching. However, with the evolution of rules and regulations set by the EU, fishing has become harder and fishermen nowadays are not encouraging the activity in future generations. The social life of the community has changed as well. Older fisherman in the region affirm that “families no longer socialize together like they used to and fishermen, themselves, gather less on the beach or cliff-top just to chat. Even step-dancing, which once entertained the community in local pubs, was only carried on in recent years by one fisherman”[1]p.14. The lack of fishermen has also led to changes in the type of boats; technology has made possible a one-man skiff. All these changes indicate a reduced interaction between fishermen and families, ultimately affecting the community’s solidarity. The fishing museum in Cromer exhibits the fishermen’s clothes. Twenty years ago fishermen used to wear hand-knit Guernsey sweaters and these are still used on special occasions, like the funeral of a fellow fishermen, demonstrating that fishing has given a sense of tradition to this community.

Figures indicate that in the region in 1875 there were 120 fishermen, in 1913 there were only 25 boats in Cromer and currently there are about a dozen boats and few fishing families in the North Norfolk region participate in activities such as long-lining, herring-catching, whelking, trawling, bait-digging, shrimping and cockling. Crab boats have also enjoyed the benefits of technological changes, reaching crab grounds of up to 40 miles out, and the GPS navigation facilitates not only the boat’s route but also the positioning of the crabs pots.[1]

Another technological change was the motor power that allowed crab boats to remove bilge water using the engine powered water pump. This made fishing more effective and less time consuming.

Many fish species have declined and the most common activity in the region is netting and lining, potting for lobsters and crabs, however the need for new grounds for wind farms is also reducing the fishing area for the remaining fishermen.

Wells-next-the Sea

Wells-next-the-Sea is a town located in the North Norfolk district. It has a population of about 2,500 inhabitants and traditionally has been a small-scale fishing port, with fishing mainly done from beach-launched boats. Eleven boats of 7-13 meters go up to 40 miles offshore. The rocky grounds of the sea bed made the town famous for hosting fine crabs and due to the large stretches of marshlands and nature reserves there is also gathering of cockles, mussels and winkles. In 1970 the harbour was used to bring in fertiliser and animal feed. Nowadays, it is used to support crab and lobster fishing vessels and wind farm vessels. The town is long steeped in fishing tradition and fishing used to run in the families.

Wells-next-the-Sea became a tourist destination in the late nineteenth century when the railway arrived. Nowadays, crabbing is an activity developed all year round in Wells but less in winter as crab needs a minimum temperature of 4oc. However in July and August, during the holiday season –and when the crab season starts- is when women are seen selling and dressing the caught crabs at a strategic place in town close to the port and on the way to the beach. It is said that dressing crabs is a skill “passed down each family business”[1]p.75.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Weatherhead, F; (2011), North Norfolk Fishermen, The history press. Stroud, Gloucestershire.
Arguile R (2013); Well Next the Sea A little History, Poppyland Publishing, Cromer.