Maritime: History re-enacted

The last steam-powered herring drifter in the world has recently undergone major restoration work, and a few weeks ago travelled under steam from Lowestoft to Great Yarmouth. Mick Harrod tells the story.

It was a moment that has been dreamed of for many years. The Lydia Eva, the only remaining complete steam-powered herring drifter in the world, has once again set off to sea under her own power. It was history re-enacted on Saturday 15th May as she left Lowestoft, where she has undergone a huge amount of restoration, to successfully steam to her port of registry at Great Yarmouth. She will be on view to the public as a floating museum of this important bygone industry.

A crowd of supporters and well-wishers watched her departure from Lowestoft and arrival at Great Yarmouth. This icon of a bygone fishery left belching dark smoke and with a few blasts on the ship’s whistle. Even the smell of smoke and steam together was vividly reminiscent of the days of the “Silver Darlings”.

Shetland, along with Scottish ports of both east and west coasts were renowned for their drifter fleets and many ex-fishermen and their families will have fond memories of the steam vessels. A group of ex-fishermen and fishing related visitors from Shetland actually went on board the Lydia Eva a couple of years ago at Lowestoft, on a trip organised by the Fishermen’s Mission.

Lydia Eva is a nostalgic reminder of the once great herring fishery of East Anglia, when there were, at times, around a thousand vessels like her seasonally fishing from Great Yarmouth.

She used to alternate between Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth for many years, as a visitor attraction, but around the year 2000 her condition became so poor that it was considered unsafe for the public to go on board, and she was laid up for seven years.

The restoration was made possible when the Lydia Eva and Mincarlo Trust were successful in being awarded a grant of £839,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since then, it has taken years of dedicated work by companies involved, and the trust members and volunteers. The total restoration has cost well over a million pounds.

Lydia Eva has had a chequered career which began in 1930 when she was launched by the owner’s daughter – Lydia Eva Eastick, as she was then.

Apart from the vessel’s fishing career as a herring drifter and seasonally as a trawler, she saw service with the air ministry in WW2 and also served the admiralty later. She was re-named Watchmoor at one time and bore the RAF roundel on her bows. She last steamed in 1978 when she was taken from Yarmouth to London where she spent several years on view in the Historic Ships Collection in Saint Katherine’s Dock in London.

Her Crabtree triple expansion steam engine is the original, and was made in her home port of Great Yarmouth – a tribute to their engineering. It’s the vessel’s 80th birthday this year and a celebration is being planned.

Mick Harrod


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