A community-driven words, film and music project about Lowestoft’s almost forgotten fishing village – devised by Poetry People, in partnership with the Lowestoft & East Suffolk Maritime Museum – has just been awarded a £55,000 National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Led by Lowestoft-born poet and writer Dean Parkin, ‘The Grit’ project will deliver workshops in eight primary schools, a Grit Celebration Day in Sparrows Nest Park, a local history teaching resource, a permanent Maritime Museum installation, and a new live touring show. Working across the generations, the project will involve 240 children and residents from care homes and sheltered housing.
In 1900 Lowestoft was one of the country’s leading tourist resorts and a top fishing port with a population of 23,000. The town’s fishing village — known as ‘The Grit’ or the ‘Beach Village’ to locals — was the most easterly point in the country, right next to the North Sea. There was a spirit of independence amongst the often poor ‘Gritsters’ and they built a self-sufficient community, home to 2,500 people, 13 pubs, three schools, two churches, shops and cafés. The decline of the fishing industry, coupled with World War Two and the 1953 flood, resulted in its demise. By the early 1970s, few houses remained and Birds Eye and other new industries made use of the site in subsequent decades.
A book celebrating the fishing village and the people who lived there was published in 1997. Also titled The Grit, it was co-written by Jack Rose – fisherman, lifeboatman and local legend known as ‘Mr Lowestoft’ – and Dean Parkin. The book took them nearly three years to write and involved many interviews with Gritsters who’d grown up in the early 20th century. It became an immediate bestseller but has been out of print for many years. A new revised edition will be published next summer to coincide with The Grit community project and Dean is keen to include new stories and photos.
Dean says: “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to share the story of The Grit with Lowestoft’s younger generation and to create a new live show celebrating some of the remarkable characters who lived and worked there. We can all learn from the spirit of The Gritsters who stuck together in hard times with resilience and humour.”
On Saturday 27 January, 10.30am – 4pm, there will be a chance to learn more about what the project entails and help with new material, photographs and stories. Grit Gathering day takes place at Christ Church Centre, Whapload Road (entrance on Herring Fishery Score) Lowestoft NR32 1XD
If you’d like to contribute to ‘The Grit’, get in touch by email on [email protected] or write to Poetry People, The Cut, 9 New Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 8BY.
The Lowestoft beach population is in every sense of the term a peculiar people. They acquire a sturdy independence of character and are generally speaking a quiet unobtrusive class of persons, but when the latent ‘Viking’ spirit is aroused in their breasts, they are like the ocean in a storm.
The Lowestoft Journal, 1903
Poetry People is a new Community Interest Company, co-founded by Dean Parkin and Naomi Jaffa and based in Halesworth. Poetry People projects reach out to the wider community through competitions, poem posters, workshops and live events.
Dean is a full-time freelance poet, delivering his own residences, projects and workshops. He has published four poetry pamphlets, a full-length collection, The Swan Machine, and his first book of poems for children, The Bubble Wrap, was released this year. He has also written and published over 20 local history books. To find out more, go to www.deanparkin.co.uk
Naomi began in music management before becoming Suffolk’s first literature development officer. She started work for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 1993 and was its Director 1999–2014. Her second pamphlet collection, Driver, was published in 2017.
Heritage Lottery Fund
Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported
Extracts from the book of The Grit
There were three cottages in Spurgeon Score which had 70 young children between three houses. All the men were fishermen. The man in the middle was lost at sea, and between the three houses they brought up these 70 children. This will tell you what the Beach people were like. Generous and kind-hearted. ROSE SANSOM
Our house in Coleman Square was tiny, two up, two down with an outside lavatory. There was the luxury of gas light in the downstairs front room – the rest of the stone-floored house was lit by candles and paraffin lamps. The small kitchen had an open fire, with an oven set in the wall beside it. All the family cooking was done there, including the twice-weekly bread making. SHEILA MAY
On our way to school we would run and kick the herring barrels so the brine would go all over the boy running behind us! And after that, if you got to school at Mariners Score, sat near the stoves and got hot, you would really stink of fish! RONNIE JAMES