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29 October 2014

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Frank Castleton and 'Tut' at sea
Taking a break at sea

Northenders: Audio diaries

From fish and chips to Sir Paul Getty, the North End had many memories and tales to tell. When Pat Midgley started to record the stories of Northenders 20 years ago, she knew that they would become an important historical record.

When retired teacher Pat Midgley bought a house in Pilot Street, King's Lynn, which had been saved by the Preservation Trust, she had no idea she had bought into what little remained of the old fishing community, the North End.

She had a passion for knitting and was determined to unearth patterns for the distinctive fishermen's guernseys. It was this which led her to realise there was a whole story to be told about the North End community.

She began to amass as much information as she could. She and others started collecting memories of the people who were still alive, using ordinary cassette recorders. Now these cassettes are a valuable record of the voices of those who remained 20 years ago.

Frank Castleton

Frank was the first president of the True’s Yard project. He remembered his earliest days of going to sea in the Wash, including his claim to being the youngest seaman to serve in WW1.

As a youngster he and others acted as pilots, bringing in vessels in total darkness.

Polly Goodson's shop
Polly Goodson's shop was popular

"In the dark they used to come straight for us," he said.

"It was terrifying in the dark, you were only a small boat, 10 miles out we were. Put the wind up me more than I had it put up since. It was a nerve-wracking job."

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Harry Ellis

Northend was a self-contained area with its own school, churches, plenty of pubs and a range of shops.

Polly Goodson's shop was one of many. Fish was an important part of the diet and Polly ran both a fish and chip shop and a grocery.

Polly was generous in giving credit to help families and it's said she would have been very wealthy if she collected it all back. Frank recalled the fish and chips and the generous portions

"You would get what they called 'a piece and a penn'th' - a piece of fish and penn'th of chips for tuppence or something like that – and you really got a good amount," he said.

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Jasper Guy

Fishermen like Frank Castleton and Jasper Guy were special because they were the last to use sails. In 1987 Jasper, who'd been a crewman with Frank, was 87 and proudly claimed to be the North End's oldest surviving fisherman of that era.

"I worked for 17 years in the 'Gladys'. She had an engine. That was the first engine I was with. I had 14 years under sail. There is nobody older than me what was in the (sail) fishing."

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Maggie Castleton

Maggie Castleton was a woman with a remarkable memory who lived until she was almost 100 years old. She was married to Frank Castleton's brother Jim and they had their own business, processing fish.

Jasper Guy and James Smith
Jasper and James from The Mystery

Maggie was born and lived in Begley's Yard. She was proud of the area and remembers how they kept their yard clean.

"Every Friday night five of the women used to get their buckets and brooms and scrub the big square down," she said.

"We children used to fill the buckets while our mothers scrubbed. That was kept perfectly clean and there wasn't a cleaner yard in Lynn."

audio Listen: Maggie Castleton >
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Pat Midgley

True's Yard Museum and the detailed knowledge of the North End fishing community owes much to Pat Midgley who was awarded the MBE for her work.

She began in the 1980s simply searching for knitting patterns for the fishermen's guernseys and it was this which led her to research the lost community.

Pat believed in the project so passionately that she initially put her own house up as a guarantee.

As well as establishing the museum she did succeed in finding the knitting patterns – she's documented 11 distinctive to King's Lynn. And when Prince Charles officially opened the museum in 1993 she presented him with one.

"I was given a photograph of this old Lynn fisherman Duggie Carter clearly wearing a hand-knitted gansey and that's what began it all," she said.

"I started searching for photographs of other fishermen, of other patterns purely related to King's Lynn itself. And that's when I got talking to Northenders and fisherfolk and people who actually lived in the North End and realised that there was this tremendous story to be told."

audio Listen: Pat Midgley >
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Tom Long

Tom Long was a retired fisherman who was a guide at True's Yard. This recording was made as Tom showed a group around the museum.

He had a distinguished wartime career, including landing spies on the French coast. His wartime friendship with the millionaire Sir Paul Getty led to him becoming a benefactor to the True's Yard Museum.

He remembers how the guernseys played an important role in the North End.

"The mother would hand the know-how down to the daughter and they went right through from Tudor times like that," he said.

"They stuck to the same patterns and they worked it out like this: if there was a storm at sea and anyone was lost overboard, they looked at the gansey, they knew which family they came from."

audio Listen: Tom Long >
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last updated: 25/05/07
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