What to see
You’ll find accounts of Grimsby’s tourist attractions in Towns of Two Halves (and of 91 other places: order the book now for £8+P&P from email@example.com. For additional information plus shopping, eating out etc there’s Visitor UK’s website or the tourist information centres in Cleethorpes and Grimsby.
Comment and colour
Grimsby needs to work on its time-keeping if it’s to make the most of its tourism potential.
The Town Hall, with its much-vaunted Time Trap Museum to delight the kids, is closed on Saturday and Sunday; Grimsby Minster, known for its stained glass, two pipe organs and outstanding cakes, is open every day but Saturday. For a while I thought I was going to have to go shopping (look along Abbeygate for chic boutiques) or spend several more hours than I’d planned in a pub.
Happily the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre is open on Saturdays throughout the year. Even better, it’s very good. The promising impression Grimsby will have made on you since you left the train at Grimsby Town, dissipating in the closed faces of some of your tourist targets, will be restored.
Grimsby Town is not, however, the appropriate station for Grimsby Town FC. The football club is technically in neighbouring Cleethorpes and the nearest railway station to Blundell Park is New Clee. I hope that’s clear. If you disembark at Grimsby Town you leave yourself either a bus ride or a brisk 40-minute walk to get to the football ground.
On the plus side, you immediately encounter a distinctive Grimsby sight: a kind of parquet pavement in 50 shades of grey stone, roadway and pavement alike, indicating a shared space on which it is as well, despite appearances, to take care. In the sun it’s a fine sight, and it also serves to identify the central area: if you walk back to the main railway station from the football ground you’ll know when you’re getting close.
The Fishing Heritage Centre is a short walk north of the main shopping areas, overlooking an arm of the docks on which board-sailors practice. From a distance, they look like a poster for The Magnificent Seven walking along the water towards you.
Back to the Fishing Heritage Centre. Tickets are £6 for adults, £2 for a child and under-fives went free in 2017. The ticket also covers a guided tour of the Ross Tiger, an old trawler drawn up alongside. Since the museum walks you through the people and the processes of trawling, I’d imagine the Ross Tiger shows you something of the conditions trawlermen lived in.
The museum begins with a formal museum-style explanation of the history of navigation and exploration; so far, so predictable. But your steps are guided through a door on the top floor into what proves to be the first of a series of tableaus, reconstructions of all aspects of fishing.
The first is the backyard of a trawlerman’s home, with vocal sound-effects; from there you pass to the fish dock and then on to the vessel, as it were, with stage sets representing the radio room and the bridge. There’s a figuratively chilling interlude with a display devoted to apprentices: short of labour, the industry ‘recruited’ from the workhouses and orphanages of other Midland towns and cities, where the boys had usually never even seen the sea. The sequence of sets then moves on to a recreation of a fish deck, dark and encrusted in ice, followed with a dramatic change in temperature by the boiler room.
Through the galley and the crewmen’s quarters, you emerge eventually on to the fish dock of the home port where unloading and payments are explained and demonstrated. Finally, the story moves on to land, with a 1950s fish and chip shop to indicate where the catch ended up, and a pub of similar era to show the crewmen, off-duty but smartly turned out in suits, collars and ties. By now you are on the ground floor, having circled the interior of the building who knows how many times.
Because the displays are so well done it seems like quibbling to find fault. But why, when you’ve put so much care into putting such a museum together, would you skimp to save a few quid on decent proof-reading? The information boards are clear and informative, as you would hope, but they are not error-free and whoever produced them didn’t know how to coax a proper apostrophe out of his or her computer. That hideous wedge that inferior software inserts is not an acceptable element of typography.
That said, it’s a fine and unusual museum and the appeal to people of all ages is clear. There are screens throughout for kids to use, plus other examples of interactivity, plus explanations of quaint old terms like ‘shilling’.
The tableaux obviously work on youthful imaginations. In the recreation of the pub I stood at the bar and made a few notes. Alongside me, mannequins representing a dour barmaid, a standing drinker and two men (one of whom bore a startling resemblance to a young Christopher Walken) at a table populated the bar. Around us, a recording projected memories of the bar (the Freeman Arms) and the circumstances of life in those times, when Freeman Street had 50 pubs and a dozen pawn shops. Into this harmless setting came two small boys running ahead of their parents; when I moved, one of them took fright and ran shrieking back to his mother. “Ey, ma, one of ’em’s movin’ in ’ere!”
If you’re tempted, by the way, to look at Freeman Street now – it is on the way to the football ground – don’t bother. A long road running inland from the docks, Freeman Street looked a long way past its best. Most of the commercial properties were shuttered and boarded up on a Saturday afternoon. A kiosk that may once have added a touch of Parisian gaiety to a street corner was so heavily fortified that it called to mind a Belfast police station during the troubles.
But you mustn’t leave the Fishing Heritage Centre just yet. On the first floor, on the way to the beginning of the ‘tour’, there’s a permanent exhibition of ceramics and paintings and a temporary exhibition of photography, called (when I visited) Steaming Home.
By Ash Gollings, these were pictures of trawlermen alongside fragments of their memories of the life. The recollections were as striking as the faces and the tattoos, but the most extraordinary aspect was the degree of nostalgia many of these men expressed for what must have been an awful working life.
One in particular, a deckhand called John Bee, waxed lyrical about the Aurora Borealis. “What we saw… nowadays people would pay thousands of pounds to see. Y’know the Northern Lights? We used to get that. A free display all night, while we was gutting. And it just used to warm your heart…” And at last, a real apostrophe.
If you have time, overshoot the football ground, cross the railway line and walk along the front into Cleethorpes. If you want fish and chips, the locals recommend Steel’s in Cleethorpes. And at the match itself, try to get a seat well up in the main stand; if the game is dull, you can watch the shipping moving up and down the Humber. I was at Grimsby the day after England struggled to break down plucky Malta. Grimsby against Crewe was like watching Barcelona by comparison.
Grimsby Town 1 Crewe Alexandra 0
Blundell Park, 2 September 2017
Also in Grimsby:
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