Annie Dearman and Steve Harrison sing Barking Town

Annie Dearman and Steve Harrison performed this charming song of the East Coast fishery at the Frittenden Old Fashioned Night Out day of singing and dancing on the 31st March.

The words come from an old printed ballad – a ‘broadside‘ – made to be sold by street hawkers and around markets, fairs and doubtless pubs also.

Although there’s no indication of what the tune should be, the lyrics leave not doubt that the printer meant it to be sung to the tune used for the better known song Swansea Town.

Barking’s a very different place today, but in the first half of the 19th century it was a centre for the trawling trade, and only began to decline as a fishing port after about 1860.

This was partly because of the discovery of the ‘silver pits’ fisheries 70 miles off Spurn Point, after which most of the local fishing boat owners moved their home ports to Yarmouth, Hull or Grimsby.

However, another factor in the decline of trawling at Barking was was the development of the railway network, which made it quicker to transport fish from the new ports directly to London, and yet another was a dreadful storm off the Dutch Coast in December 1863 in which 60 Barking men drowned.

Annie comes from coastal Essex, and research by a family member has revealed that she might well have a family connection to the disaster off the coast of Holland and for her this knowledge has made this appealing little song seem very personal.

The story is that Edward Melvin (Annie’s great-great-grandfather), who was born between 1810 and 1820, lived near Barking Creek in the 1840 and 1850s; his father was a sailor and Melvin himself was a fisherman.

There are no records of Melvin’s death, but his wife (Elizabeth, nee Arnold) is listed as a fisherman’s wife in the 1861 census and as a widow in the 1871 census. Of the 60 who died, only about 15 men are named in press reports of the time – so it is therefore very possible that he was among those who were lost that day.

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John Connolly’s great song Fiddler’s Green

Thinking about the crew of the Humber sloop Spider T spending a night at Grimsby Docks caused me to reminisce and reminded me of the song Fiddler’s Green, made by local musician and librarian John Connolly.

As a song it has earned my respect over the years for the number of people who know and sing it, including fishermen in the area where we now sail – and for the way the Connolly’s lyrics manage to be sentimental without becoming mawkish. He’s a clever chap, that John Connolly.

I grew up a few miles away from Grimsby, and a trip to the docks with my father was a favourite outing when I was a teenager – it had smells, sounds and sights that I hadn’t come across anywhere else, and of course there was the impressive Dock Tower standing like a sentry near the dock gates. The Wikipedia says it’s modelled on the Torre del Mangia tower on the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, though I remember that it was often called the Venetian Tower by locals.

Whatever the derivation of the tower’s architecture, it remains a powerful symbol of Grimsby’s maritime past and is Grade 1 listed.