Ernie Nicholson: Netmaker and Fisherman

Photograph of Ernie Nicholson, interviewee for oral history project.
Morecambe Fishermen's Cooperative Society entry in the local carnival 1.
Keith Willacy collection
Women picking shrimps at Morecambe Fishermen's Co-operative Society
Keith Willacy collection
Picking shrimps at Morecambe Fishermen's Co-operative Society. Pictured are Ada Bartholemew, aunt of Eric Morecambe, and Ginny Gardener
Keith Willacy collection
Packing shrimps at Morecambe Bay Fishermens Co-operative
Keith Willacy collection
Model of a shrimping net
Malcolm Sole
Fishing with push nets for shrimps.
LM88.110.3097 Courtesy of Lancaster Maritime Museum, part of Lancashire County Council Museum Service.

Did you know that from the 1920s up to the 1970s Morecambe was home to a thriving fishing factory? It was called Morecambe Trawlers, a cooperative set up by local fishermen to make sure they were getting a fair price for fish caught in the Bay. Traditionally the women played a key role, gathering round tables to pick shrimps.

Connected to Morecambe Trawlers was a netting shop stocking fishing equipment. For a time it was run by local fisherman and netmaker Ernie Nicholson. By the sounds of it, not only was it the place to go to pick up the latest gear, it was also a central hub for gossip.

Ernie got into net making purely by chance. Unable to fulfil his national service due to ill health, ‘netmaker’ was the only job going at the local job centre. With a flair for figures he turned out to be really quite good at it. Under the watchful eye of Tom Baxter, he learnt to cut, knit, and oil cotton nets.

We used eight gallons of double boiled linseed oil…I dipped the nets in and he looked at it and said “oh yes that’s alright”…He said it was the best he’s seen in the knowledge of net making. He said you’ve picked it up better than I’ve done and I designed these nets. My head was right big. I said I’ll have to open the garage doors on the shop so my big head can get in. He was pleased as punch.

Ernie remembers the introduction of the courlene net (manmade plastic fibre net), which changed fishing forever.

A cotton net was like having a mini. A courlene net is like having a Rolls-Royce, you can’t go better.

Before the age of 30 Ernie lost use of his right arm in a car accident. It took him
five years to re-learn his trade with only one working arm, but he persevered and continued to have a successful career as both a netmaker and fisherman. He also
once knocked himself unconscious while out on his fishing boat and somehow lived to tell the tale, but that’s another story!

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