Fish Tales Man: The Romance of the Docks

19 Dec 2016

Another fine reminiscence of Grimsby life from our local 'Fish Tales Man'

Now, I may not have been blessed with the looks of George Clooney, but I have been fortunate enough to have been blessed with a good memory. So please let me share some more of my ‘dock’ memories with you.

The first ten years of my working life were spent ‘down dock’ at sixteen years old. And what an important role it was – not! It carried the mightily impressive title of “Junior Clerk”. A role destined to include the task of tea making. Well, someone had to do it – and at least I could put my own milk in the mug, couldn’t I?

In September, 1962, having successfully convinced the Personnel Officer of the British Transport Commission, that I was capable of simple arithmetic and Basic English, I was appointed to the charge of the Docks Superintendent, a Mr Stan Harley. But first, I had to spend some time out of the main building. At the rear of the docks offices there was a stores department, situated at Taylor’s Wharf. Mr Jack Barrett and Mr. Frank Robinson took me under their wings.

“Here’s the kettle, here’s the tea and the sugar, don’t forget the milk – oh, and here’s your work desk.” I sat in the chair, and looked out of the window. Oh, what a view through that window on Taylor’s Wharf. The whole of the Royal Dock was displayed to me, with that window acting as its frame.

The Dock was a continuum of comings and goings. Timber ships from Scandinavia and Russia, bringing the wood that would fill the timber yards of Grimsby. And there, standing majestically at the head of the Royal Dock, our inspirational Dock Tower, which was still accessible to the general public.

For the next two or three months, this would be my window of the world. My first dock romance had begun…

After a couple of months ‘mooning’ over the Royal Dock and all its splendour, I was informed that I was being transferred into one of the offices in the Dock offices. (Did you know that a model of the dock offices can be seen at LEGOLAND® Windsor Resort?)

The only time I’d now witness my ‘partner-in-romance’ would be when I parked my bike in the bike-shed at the back of the offices…

My new work base would be on the corner of the ground floor, over-looking the main railway line onto the Docks. My view of the world altered, but it was equally stimulating. Every fish wagon loaded down dock passed that window on its way to the fish shops of Britain. No doubt, the Coulbecks had the fruits of their labours on board quite a few of those wagons.

Part of my ‘most important critical’ duties entailed ringing the Fish Dock Agent’s office for the details of those fish trains, and one such call introduced me to the young lady who worked in the office.

“Mm, she sounds nice”

“She’s called Gwen”, interrupted a female colleague, “she passes our window on her way to the Dock Stations.”

So, a further attraction was added to the view from the window. I eventually plucked up the courage to ask Gwen for a date – and there followed a second “docks romance”. But unlike our wonderful Dock Tower, my first human romance didn’t stand the test of time!

Human romances need ‘commitment’, and unfortunately at the age of 17, I found ‘commitment’ difficult. And have you noticed how much easier it is to start a romance than to finish it? No cowardly text messages back in 1963. The coward’s way out back then was a ‘note’. 53 years on, I still cringe at the thought of that cowardly note. Romance?

Nothing but trouble… the Royal Dock was so much easier to deal with. I wonder if the Dock Tower fancies a night at the pictures…

  • “Every fish wagon loaded down dock passed that window on its way to the fish shops of Britain. No doubt, the Coulbecks had the fruits of their labours on board quite a few of those wagons.”

    Fish Tales Man