Curator’s Choice – Silver Cod Trophy

Posted: 14th April 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Silver Cod Trophy

The Silver Cod trophy was awarded by the British Trawlers Federation between 1954 and 1968, to the skipper and crew of the trawler with the largest total catch of fish each year. This particular example, now in Hull Maritime Museum’s collections, was presented to Norman Longthorp, skipper of the trawler Falstaff in 1959, which in 330 days at sea landed almost two and a half thousand tons of fish. The Falstaff was owned by Hellyer Brothers Ltd, a company which had helped to kick-start Hull’s trawling industry way back in the mid nineteenth century. Like many of the trawlers belonging to this company, the vessel was named after a Shakespearean character; in this case Sir John Falstaff who appears in a number of plays including Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The Commercial Fisheries Review, in reporting the Silver Cod winner for 1959, noted that seven of the eight high-liner vessels that year were from Hull. The Falstaff was a brand new diesel-electric trawler which Longthorp skippered around Iceland, the North Sea and the Norwegian Coast. He claimed that the vessel’s speed and seaworthiness were a great advantage in winning the award, and that the trawler was able to operate in extreme conditions which forced many less able vessels to stop fishing.
Winning such a prestigious accolade catapulted individual skippers to instant fame, at least within the fishing industry itself. They would be invited to attend a formal dinner at Fishmonger’s Hall in London to receive their award, which was presented by high profile figures including Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Skipper Longthorp was awarded his trophy by Admiral Sir Charles Lambe, a senior officer in the Royal Navy.

The trophy was well known in the industry, and even inspired the name of a pub on Anlaby Road and a fish and chip shop on Sutton Park in Hull – both were opened by Skipper Billy Brettell who had also won the trophy on numerous occasions.

When looking at collections we can easily get swept up in the beauty of an object, but the Silver Cod trophy equally represents the deeply personal stories of many fishermen. In one sense it signified ultimate career success and was a true acknowledgement of the unrelenting hard work and commitment demonstrated by skippers and their crews. Yet it was also criticised for symbolising the ruthless and aggressive nature of trawling. The industry was highly competitive, and the forces that drove skippers and their crews to strive for the huge catches that might earn them the award could also put them at significant risk. Wages were reliant on the amount of fish caught, which pushed trawlermen to work long and exhausting hours in Arctic waters where vessels were often overwhelmed by extreme weather and icy conditions. Lives were literally at risk; and objects like this are a permanent reminder of the very real experiences that Hull’s communities endured and the difficult decisions they had to make.

Written by Assistant Curator Susan Capes.

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