By Chris Hughes:
Driving along the coastal road into Southport from my home in Ainsdale I pass a motley collection of vehicles parked up on the beach. Half lorry, half boat these are, or rather were, the shrimpers of Birkdale. The photographs in this article were taken 10 to 15 years ago and there are fewer and less interesting vehicles left now. Although shrimping is still carried on it appears to be largely tractors employed in the process today and far less people are engaged in the activity.
Information, photographs and videos can be found on Flickr and You Tube showing the work of the Southport shrimpers – ie ‘John Coulton is 76 years old. He has been a shrimper on Southport beach for the last 60 years, and built the Venture, this amphibious shrimping vehicle, in 1963, although he no longer owns it, and is unimpressed by its present dilapidated state. Beach shrimping is all that remains of a once-vibrant fishing industry in Southport, and John remembers a time when over 80 shrimpers followed the ebb tide along the vast expanse of sandy beach, trawling for the brown shrimp which Southport became famous for. There are no more than five remaining shrimpers, all of John’s generation, and he blames the decline on the pollution of the Irish Sea by the dumping of raw sewage, industrial chemicals, agricultural pesticides, and effluent from the nuclear power station at Sellafield in Cumbria.’
Shrimps are trawled, or ‘scanked’ at low tide, cleaned and boiled on board the vehicles during the drive back up the beach and then taken back to be shelled and, more often than not, potted in individual pots for sale in local and national shops as a delicacy. What was once a readily available local food of the people has once again become a rare and fine dining experience. Fortunately for those of us living in Southport they are readily available, for others they can be bought over the internet too. Harry Foster’s book provides a detailed history of this declining activity.
But it is these highly individual, home-made lorry boats that fascinated me as I passed them on my journeys to work and I am glad now that I made the effort to go and photograph them. I have recently digitised my colour slide collection and so many little stories such as this have emerged tied up in a few images taken, stored and, sadly, only rarely looked at.
It is good to know that such activities still go on and the idiosyncratic vehicles that the fishermen built to try to make their hard life a little easier still exist, even if only just.
Words & Pictures: Chris Hughes
What a fine record, Chris – and great photos … no doubt John Coulton is right in his assessment of the deadly pollution of the Irish Sea … the full impact of which is yet to be quantified.
Thanks for the memories Chris. I remember these from the late 60s when I lived in Southport. Funnily enough I have been back this year for the first time since then and noticed there were only a few shrimpers left, and only with tractors. What a great record to have and an incentive for me to digitise my slide collection too! Also coincidentally it has similarities to the cockling industry in South Wales (where I also have family connections). That has recently suffered from pollution as well as cockle wars!
Great photos Im trying to remember the Burscough family whose’ maternal grandfather worked the nets -he did dress up as Father Christmas at school party’s.
. .Asparagus fields next?
yes i agree with everything said. on this page. those boat wagons have earned there corn in there lifetime it is a crying shame that this business has fizzled out i only wish that i could rig one up and have a go myself.
Great post, great memories. The red and white wagon on the top photo belonged to my dad. It got burnt out in an arson attack in the late eighties. Good to see a photo of it after all this time.
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