A BRIEF HISTORY OF GRIMSBY DOCKS
Grimsby is a long-established port on the east coast of England, with a population (together with Cleethorpes) of around 120,000. The population of North East Lincolnshire is approximately 157,000.
Since mediaeval times, fishing has been important to the town, but it was during the second half of the 19th century that the fishing “boom” began. In his 2009 report for English Heritage, Matthew Whitfield wrote:
“Gordon Jackson…described the development of Grimsby’s port in the 1840s and 1850s as representing the ‘first truly modern dock in Britain’. This claim is based on the almost wholly novel and comprehensive application of communication and engineering technologies in the creation of the Royal Dock and its subsequent neighbours. This innovation was possible, of course, because the Lincolnshire landowners who decided to speculate on Grimsby’s economic potential by means of a merged dock and railway company were doing so at a time of enhanced technological possibility, but also because the chosen location, being hitherto undeveloped, offered a clean slate. In fact, the port depended for its success on the integration of docks with a rapid transport system.”
By 1851, the population of Grimsby had doubled, to 8,860, and during the latter half of the century there was an extensive building programme, one result of which was the laying out of the East Marsh district (a working-class, residential area, on either side of Freeman Street) immediately to the south and south-east of the docks. Until the 1950’s and 1960’s Freeman Street was a bustling hub of commercial activity; the shops, pubs, cinemas and market thrived because of the fishing industry. As the industry declined, so did this part of the town, and the East Marsh is now the second most deprived ward in the country.
However, the Grimsby Ice Factory remains, dominating the historic dock peninsula, a landmark for the town.
To the north of the Ice Factory lies the historic Victorian dock area known locally as “The Kasbah”. “The landscape of docks, quays, transport systems and specialised building types within the Fish Dock ‘peninsula’ and adjacent land forms the most important representation of the industrial-scale fishing trade in England. This landscape and its constituent buildings survives with a high degree of integrity and forms a unique environment of great historic interest.” [Matthew Whitfield, English Heritage, 2009] The Kasbah contains the largest concentration of fish smokehouses in the country. Grimsby Traditional Smoked Fish was awarded European Protected Status in November, 2009.
After a prolonged period of economic depression, Grimsby’s hopes have been raised by the advent of the Renewables industry. Wind farms are being established out in the North Sea, and the whole region is ready to capitalise on opportunities for support services, Operations & Maintenance (O&M), etc. These developments promise to provide improved employment prospects and a significant boost to the local economy. However, it is important that the economic and social benefits are channelled into Grimsby and its community, and that this opportunity is not lost to provide much needed funding to regenerate the town’s heritage.
GGIFT has advocated for part of the historic dock peninsula, on which the Ice Factory and the Kasbah are situated, to be designated a Conservation Area, as recommended by English Heritage since 2009. This would make the area eligible for Townscape Heritage Initiative funding, to assist in reclaiming the redundant buildings for re-use, and provide an historic context for the Ice Factory project and the listed smoke houses. Development of these historic buildings for uses other than port activities would both conserve an important part of the nation’s fishing heritage and enhance the destination experience for visitors. Examples around the coast of Britain where a successful mix of commercial and cultural activities exist include Ipswich; Ellesmere Quays; The Fish Quay, North Shields; Dublin Docklands.
This is a classic opportunity for conservation and refurbishment to lead the way in regenerating a waterfront area, as has been done on similar sites in towns all over Britain and Europe. In East Anglia, for example, the previously run-down dockyard at Ipswich has been regenerated in spectacular fashion, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of local residents working in tandem with a far sighted councilMarcus Binney
The Grade II* listed Ice Factory is one of very few examples of its type to survive. It is a vital part of the rich landscape of Grimsby Docks – an area of national importance with many remarkable buildings including the Grade I listed Dock Tower. The docks also contain the highest concentration of surviving smoke houses in the country as well as shops and warehouses that were built to service the fishing industry. Many of these buildings are listed.Christina Emerson
The fish docks are a wonderfully intact reminder of the nation’s fishing heritage and the importance of Grimsby. Designating a Conservation Area would recognise this and could prove a catalyst for sensitive regeneration. These buildings have the potential to bring in visitors and tourism. They add greatly to the interest of the town, and represent the soul of Grimsby.Chris Costelloe