For centuries, fishing came second only to agriculture as the main occupation in Happisburgh. While some men worked from small boats close inshore – known as ‘long shore fishing’ – others joined the deep-sea fleets and were away from the village for months at a time. ‘Long shore’ fishing continues today.

Herring and Mackerel are caught in drift nets.

Sole, Plaice and Cod are caught on long lines and trammel nets. The latter are vertical nets kept in position with floats and weights.

Whiting and Dabs are fished from the shore with rod and line.

Pots are used to catch Crabs, Lobsters and Welks. Shrimps are caught in a small-meshed net dragged behind the boat. Fishing can be a dangerous occupation, and lives have been lost here. From time to time, boats have been stolen.


This method of fishing, which requires a team of three men, was used to catch flat fish such as Sole and Skate.

Seining has not been possible in Happisburgh since the erection of the groynes and breakwaters. One man standing on the beach would hold a rope attached to the net which was taken out to sea by two men in a boat. One towed out for 70 to 80 yards while his companion cast out the net. The boat was turned and towed parallel to the shore until the net had been fully cast. Then the men made for the beach, and the net was pulled in.

Fishing for Herring

There was regular fishing for ‘Long Shores’ (Herring) at Happisburgh until the catches began to diminish in numbers. Two men go out in a boat just before high tide reaches its peak, fish during the half-hour of slack water, and return as the tide begins to ebb. Casting begins between 30 and 40 yards from the shore. The net is held vertically in the water by floats – generally corks attached to the rope. A Dan Buoy marks the end of the net by day, and a lantern by night.

As the net is hauled in it is shaken, and the fish, which are caught by their gills, fall into the boat. In the past when catches were good the net would be re-cast.
When Herring were plentiful, 132 fish ‘went to the hundred’. Before 1914 they were sold at the rate of twenty for a shilling, and by 1939 the price had risen to eight for sixpence – today they are xxx.

Herring Nets are 1¼ inch Scotch nets. For deep sea fishing they are 33 yards long and 18 score meshes deep. For ‘longshore’ fishing they are cut to make two nets each 9 score meshes deep, or two of 8 score meshes deep – the odd pieces being joined to make another net.

Herring are now scarce, and this may have happened for several reasons.
* Pollution – untreated sewage, oil, etc.
* Large fishing vessels, who fish continuously in all weathers, catching huge quantities of fish, and destroying the fish spawn.

Fishing for Mackerel

Until the outbreak of the 1939-45 War, Mackerel were fished regularly at Happisburgh. They were caught in the area of Sea called ‘ The Would’. The boats went North to ‘Bacton Buoy’ to cast their nets, and fished back along the coast and down on to Winterton. The method was the same as for Herring, but the net mesh was larger. At night flares were lit to warn shipping to keep away from the nets. (The Would was then a much used shipping lane). Rags soaked in paraffin were put in bottles, and if a vessel approached, these were lit and waved in the direction the ship musty go to avoid the nets. Boats regularly came ashore with several hundred fish, and catches of two to three thousand in this area are remembered.
When sold, 120 Mackerel ‘ went to the hundred ‘ …

Bank Line or Night Line Fishing

A HOOK LINE, about 25 yards long, is fitted with 25 or more hooks, each one being suspended by a short length of line. Hooks are baited with lug worm for preference, shrimps or herring pieces.
A SINKER or weight is also attached, more being added if sea conditions warrant it.
AT LOW TIDE the hook line is thrown out to sea with the aid of a pole.
A TRIP LINE, which is tied to the hook line, is taken up the beach and secured.
AT HIGH TIDE the line is hauled in.

This type of fishing takes place mainly in winter, when cod is the chief catch. Dabs are caught in the Spring and Autumn. In Summer the bait is quickly devoured by shrimps and shore-crabs.

Christ’s Dole

From very early times the fishermen of Norfolk and Suffolk worked mainly in three areas:

  • Off the coast of Ireland
  • Off the coast of Scotland
  • In the North Sea

A Fish-Tithe or Christ’s Dole was paid on the catch. The fish taken on a voyage were divided into doles, each man taking his dole in proportion to his share in the vessel. Christ’s Dole was the first share, paid either in money or fish, and divided equally between the home port of the vessel, for harbour maintenance and the church. \the Church’s share was divided again into two, one part to the parson of the home port as a mixed tithe, and the other half as personal tithe to parsons of parishes in which the fishermen dwelt.

Much friction was caused, as the home port parson often claimed the whole tithe, leaving the fishermen to pay the personal tithe from their own share.