Hastings Herring Fair 2019



From NFF Admin

In category - Members News - News

January 22, 2020

We have just held the eighth Herring Fair in Hastings Old Town, at the end of November 2019. It took place on open space just one hundred yards from where the boats have been pulled up on the beach for hundreds of years.

The weather wasn’t great, but the event, organised by Hastings Borough Council, was a great success. Our gang were working in conjunction with the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society and asked to promote the herring, which has declined since the total ban on catching herring was imposed by the government in the 70s.

This lasted five years, and I’ve always blamed this for the lack of popularity for this underrated fish known as the ‘silver darlings’. In the 50s and 60s we had ten or twelve boats fishing for herring, they would have landed thousands of stones (one stone is fourteen pounds, just over six kilo) of herring in our short season.

Everybody ate herring in those days. If you walked down the street all you could smell was herring cooking. Today only a couple of boats go out for herring, and they only put to sea if they have an order.

Our stall at the herring fair was over forty feet long, and started with an antique fish hawker’s barrow, which contained a herring display on ice. Next was a filleting area where I demonstrated just how easy it is to prepare herrings for cooking. Next to that my wife Pat worked with brother in law Dave cooking the herring. These were served to the queueing public by Pat’s sister Sheila. I would jump in to show the public how to eat the herring without getting a mouthful of bones!

At the end of our stall was the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society promoting Hastings fishermen. Answering questions were Yasmin Ornsby and her husband Phil; Yasmin plays a big part in organising our involvement in the event. Our area was completed by Rock-a-Nore Fisheries, run by Sonny Elliot and his wife Jacky selling different sorts of herring :- including kippers, bloaters and buckling.

It was the first time our gang (Dave, Sheila, Pat and I) had worked together since Pat and I retired from our fishermen’s rolls business in Rock-a-Nore Road in Hastings Old Town, which is now run by Dave and Sheila.

Herrings have been a big part of our lives. Just after Pat and I got married in 1967 we sold our boat and bought the oldest fishmongers and curers in Hastings. In those days we would work day and night in the very short herring season, smoking thousands of herring, both kippers and bloaters. Many times Pat got up at three o’clock in the morning to turn the bloaters that smoked through the night. When ready they were all sold in our shop, the old photos of the shop and smoke house (locally known as the Deeze) were on display around the herring fair. We looked a little younger then…

We still work together teaching filleting and fish preparation, sometimes working with CJ Jackson from the Billingsgate Seafood School. She was also at the herring fair giving demonstrations on how to cook the silver darlings in many different ways. CJ is always popular when she comes to Hastings.

Hastings puts on many events on the Stade throughout the year, including the very popular seafood & wine festival in September.

The photos were taken by the council’s marketing manager Kevin Boorman who can be seen at many of the town’s events. Hastings is well worth a visit :- give it a go.

John ‘Tush’ Hamilton

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