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