Fishing communities were famed for their belief in the strangest superstitions. The local superstitions were well known. Anyone with any sense did not attempt to break them. Everyone knew certain words could not be mentioned. If someone did mention the word "pig" or 'rabbit' or 'hare' then fishermen would turn their boats around and refuse to go to sea. It was considered a bad omen. Yet there were some who did not know these superstitions. Take a hawker who visited Flamborough in the 1940's. He tried to sell a fisherman a nice rabbit and did not really understand the scornful look the man gave him. So he then tried to sell him half a hare. The fisherman exploded and chased him down the street. You just didn't say these words and everyone knew it.
Superstitions were everywhere. Flamborough Fishermen were not allowed to use the word 'last' when hauling in - they had to refer to the 'end line' or 'end crab pot'. Even the women had superstitions. It was considered bad luck to wind the wool for the jerseys by lamp light. Quite why these odd beliefs ever got started is difficult to say.
The fishermen also had their lucky charms. One such lucky charm was a lucky sixpence which was passed down to Mrs George Cowling from her Grandfather and before that her Great Grandfather. Her Great Grandfather, Mr William Cockcroft fished for herrings in his yawl, 'Hope' in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft during the herring season. Her own grandfather, Mr George Bielby, was given the sixpence when his father retired. He fastened the sixpence to a cork attached to his nets. George Bielby fished for herrings out of Whitby and Scarborough. When he retired he gave the sixpence to his granddaughter.
The fishing industry used to be very dangerous. The great herring fleets used to have hospital ships which were kept busy. The era of sail was especially dangerous. Storms arose out of nowhere and families could lose several relatives in one go when boats went down. Today noone believes these quaint old beliefs. But nowadays its not as dangerous to go to sea. They rely on satellite navigation and long range wheather forcasts. The superstitions are dying out. Speaking in 1959 Mr RB Cowling, the cox of the Flamborough Lifeboat, said the old superstitions were forgotten. They were only mentioned when grandparents reminisced about the past.
Indeed the dangers of being at sea are not so bad nowadays. The number of lives lost at sea is not what it used to be. The vast majority of vessels today sail for pleasure. So by definition they avoid the bad days. There are very few fishermen around today. In the early 1900's there were 210 fishermen sailing from 70 sailing boats in Flamborough Head. By 1959 this was down to just 20 men using seven to eight boats. In the year 2000 there are still some small cobles but they are used as much for pleasure as for fishing. Nowadays Flamborough
- Meadleys Memorials
- Scarborough Evening News 27-2-1959 Page 6