MEMORY LANE: Kipper memories are catch of the day

FISHY TALES: The kipper smoker at W and G Cook Ltd in the 1950s. Up to 15,000 herrings would be cleaned, cured and smoked there each day.
FISHY TALES: The kipper smoker at W and G Cook Ltd in the 1950s. Up to 15,000 herrings would be cleaned, cured and smoked there each day.

A TRIP to Hartlepool landed Scottish trawler skipper William John Cook with a new business opportunity just after World War One.

William initially planned to take up command of a steam trawler owned by the Davison family - but a strike by fishermen was to change his life forever.

“My grandfather was born in Torry, Aberdeen, and followed his brothers William, John and George Albert down to Hartlepool in 1919,” said grandson Peter Cook, of Town Wall.

“When he arrived, however, a fisherman’s strike started in Aberdeen - because German trawlers were landing fish, which greatly annoyed local people after five years of war.

“They took to the streets to protest and the Riot Act had to be read. After that, grandfather thought it would be a good idea to buy fish in Hartlepool - and sell it north of the border.”

William had funds aplenty to start his venture - after volunteering to stay on an extra year with the Royal Naval Reserve following the Great War, sweeping mines from the North Sea.

As a skipper, he was paid a bounty of 2/6 for every mine destroyed. Such was his success that he “made himself a handsome purse” by carrying out the dangerous task.

“All these half-crown bounties helped start W and G Cook (Hartlepool) - a fish business which would survive for decades and become a household name,” said Peter.

“My grandfather’s next step was to get more help, so he sent for his brothers Charlie and George. Their other brother, Frank, stayed in Aberdeen and continued as a fisherman.”

William’s home at 9 Arch Street, Central Estate, was unable to accommodate Charlie, so he found lodgings with next-door neighbour Jimmy James and his young daughter Jessica.

“In later life Jessica went on stage as a singer and starred in one of Ivor Novello’s shows, called Lisbon Story, at a theatre in Newcastle,” said Peter, an ex-oil rig worker.

While William tackled the business side of W and G Cook, so Charlie took on the transport issues - with the first fish carts being drawn by a horse called Morgan.

As business boomed, so a motor lorry was purchased - constructed from a Ford chassis with solid tyres, which had a cab and flatback added by a local joiner.

“Whilst the vehicle was still clean and new Charlie and grandfather thought it a good idea to take the family, including Granny Cook from Aberdeen, for a run up the country,” said Peter.

“So, after borrowing wooden forms from St John’s Presbyterian Church in Brougham Street, now Durham Street, to give everyone a seat, off they all went to Hesleden Dene.”

The Hart Road kipper house continued to flourish after World War Two, with Charlie travelling the “length and breadth” of Britain to bring back “silver darlings” - herrings.

Before each trip he would fill his fuel tank “right up to the neck” at Sandy’s garage in Northgate - as petrol stations were few and far between on the road to Kinlochbervie.

“I remember smartly painted carts and proud horses filling the smoke-house yard and Charlie laughing and talking with the people who called to buy kippers,” said Peter.

“He never lost his broad Aberdeen brogue. He lived and loved the fish trade. He knew drifter skippers and crew in most of the ports around the country.”

Dozens of people worked at Cooks over the decades, including Elizabeth Knappett, George Marwood, Cissie Bramley, Mary Mounders, Tommy Scorer, Tom O’Dell and Fanny Dougal.

And, although the days of Cook’s kippers are long gone, Peter still has vivid memories of the smell of smoking kippers - as well as the general hustle and bustle of the smoke house.

“Cooks supplied kippers as far south as Cornwall and, if you purchased kippers from Nobles at Whitby - or anywhere else - you may have been buying Hartlepool kippers,” he added.