Monday September 4 2017

Every month, a member of staff from the Britten-Pears Foundation choose their favourite item or object from the collections. This month Collections and Learning Curator, Joe Carr chooses Two Boats and a Lightship embroidery by John Craske as his object of the month.

‘Two Boats and a Lightship’ embroidery by John Craske (1881-1943). From the Britten-Pears Foundation Art Collection.

‘This object is an important piece of local and social history and example of a topic which is close to my heart.

The embroidery is by John Craske (1881-1943), a captivating scene of two sailing drifters working tirelessly in the North Sea. Craske was a Norfolk fisherman who began suffering from a serious illness when he was 36 years old. Unable to continue as a fisherman, he began to make paintings and embroideries of fishing boats which he could sew from his sick bed. His works are a unique example of a now unrecognisable fishing industry, one that would have transformed the east coast.

I began working in museums developing Time and Tide Museum at Great Yarmouth and since then I have been fascinated by the effect that the fishing industry had upon communities all along the east coast. Its impact was huge. In 1913, Great Yarmouth had 227 registered fishing vessels and 742 from Scotland, landing a record catch of 824,213 crans (a cran is around 1500 fish). On the busiest day 655 vessels landed their catch and in this year alone 12 million tons of fish were landed.

It was amongst this industry that Benjamin Britten spent his childhood, in the fishing town of Lowestoft. He lived in a house that overlooked the North Sea. He would have grown up around this flourishing fishing industry. He would have seen how a fishing town’s population could be swelled by 10,000 during the season, with the influx of Scots fishermen, fisher-girls, curers and coopers.

It is fascinating that this experience provided the inspiration and the material which later emerged in the form of Britten’s grand opera, Peter Grimes, and Sea Interludes, which convey Britten’s deep familiarity, respect and love of the sea.

However by the late 1960s herring fishing from Great Yarmouth had ceased altogether and by 1966 it was all over. Fishing boats had become too efficient and herring shoals disappeared.’