Grimsby (or archaically Great Grimsby) is a large town and seaport situated on the South Bank of the Humber Estuary close to where it reaches the North Sea. The town was traditionally in Lincolnshire, until it was absorbed into the new county of Humberside in 1974. After the abolition of Humberside in 1996, the town was returned to Lincolnshire, and it now serves as the administrative centre of the North East Lincolnshire unitary authority.
There is some archeological evidence of a small town of Roman workers sited in the area in the second century. Located on the River Haven, which flowed into the Humber, this provided an ideal location for ships to shelter from approaching storms. It was also well situated to exploit the rich fishing grounds in the North Sea.
According to legend, Grimsby was first founded by Grim, a Danish fisherman. Grimsby was settled by Danes sometime in the 9th century AD. The name Grimsby originates from Grim's by, derived from the name Grim, the Danish "Viking," and the suffix -by being the Old Norse word for village. The legendary founding of Grimsby is described in Lay of Havelock the Dane, but historians consider this account to be myth.
In Norse mythology, Grim (Mask) and Grimnir (Masked One) are names adopted by the deity Odin (Anglo-Saxon Woden) when travelling incognito amongst mortals, as in the short poem known as 'Grimnir's Sayings' (Grimnismal) in the Poetic Edda. The intended audience of the Havelock tale (recorded much later in the form of The Lay of Havelock the Dane) may have understood the fisherman Grim to be Odin in disguise. The Odinic name 'Grimr/Grim' occurs in many English placenames within the historical Danelaw and elsewhere in Britain, examples being the numerous earthworks named Grimsdyke. As other British placenames containing the element Grim are explained as referring to Woden/Odin (e.g. Grimsbury, Grimspound, Grime's Graves, Grimsditch, Grimsworne), Grimsby is likely to have the same derivation.
Grimsby is listed in the Domesday Book as having a population of around 200, a priest, a mill and a ferry.
During the 12th century, Grimsby developed into a fishing and trading port, at one point ranking twelfth in importance to the Crown in terms of tax revenue. The town was granted its charter by King John in 1201. The first mayor was installed in 1202.
Grimsby does not have town walls. It was too small and was protected by the marshy land around it. However, the town did have a ditch.
In medieval times, Grimsby had two parish churches, St Mary's and St James. Only St James, now known as Grimsby Minster, remains. St James is associated with a folk tale of an Imp who played tricks in the church and was turned into stone by an angel (a similar story is told for Lincoln Cathedral; see Lincoln Imp).
In the mid-14th century, the town benefited from the generosity of Edmund de Grimsby, a local man who became a senior Crown official and judge in Ireland.
In the 15th century, The Haven began to silt up, preventing ships in the Humber from docking. As a result, Grimsby entered a long period of decline which lasted until the late 18th century. By 1801, the population of Grimsby numbered 1,524, around the same size that it had been in the Middle Ages.
Rise of fishing and maritime industry
The Great Grimsby Haven Company was formed by Act of Parliament in May 1796 (the Grimsby Haven Act) for the purpose of "widening, deepening, enlarging, altering and improving the Haven of the Town and Port of Great Grimsby". After dredging of The Haven and related improvement, in the early 19th century, the town grew rapidly as the port was revived. Grimsby's port boomed, importing iron, timber, wheat, hemp and flax. New docks were necessary to cope with the expansion. The Grimsby Docks Act of 1845 allowed the necessary building works.
The arrival of the railway in 1848 made it easier to transport goods to and from the port to markets and farms. Coal mined in the South Yorkshire coal fields was brought by rail and exported through Grimsby. Rail links direct to London and the Billingsgate Fish Market allowed for fresh 'Grimsby Fish' to gain renown nationwide. The first true fish dock opened in Grimsby in 1856, and the town became a centre for the development of the commercial fishing industry.
The Dock Tower was completed in 1851, followed by the Royal Dock in 1852. No.1 Fish Dock was completed in 1856, followed by No.2 Fish Dock in 1877. Alexandra Dock and Union Dock were completed in 1879. During this period, the fishing fleet was greatly expanded. In a rare reversal of the usual trends, large numbers of fishermen from the South-East and Devon travelled North to join the Grimsby fleet. Over 40% of these newcomers came from Barking in East London, and other Thames-side towns.
In 1857 there were 22 vessels in Grimsby. Six years later there were 112. The first two legitimate steam trawlers ever built in Great Britain were based in Grimsby. By 1900, a tenth of the fish consumed in the United Kingdom was landed at Grimsby, despite the many smaller coastal fishing ports and villages that also supplied the nation.
The demand for fish in Grimsby grew to such an extent that, at its peak in the 1950s, Grimsby laid claim to the title of 'the largest fishing port in the world'. The population of Grimsby grew from 75,000 in 1901 to 92,000 by 1931.
But, the Great Depression and the restructuring of the fishing industry caused a severe decline in employment. The population was fairly stable for the rest of the 20th century.
Second World War
The Royal Dock was used as the UK's largest base for minesweepers to patrol the North Sea. The Admiralty requisitioned numerous trawlers to serve as minesweepers for the Royal Naval Patrol Service. In many cases, their crew were ex-trawlermen, as well as men from the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Navy volunteers. Trawlers would use the winches and warps from fishing operations to tow a paravane with a cutting jaw through the water in what was known as a 'sweep' to bring mines to the surface and allow for their removal.
− The dangers faced by the 'Patrol Service' ensured that it lost more vessels than any other branch of the Royal Navy during the Second World War with 2385 lives lost. Grimsby’s Royal Naval Patrol Service veterans financed the construction of a memorial beside the Dock Tower to ensure that the bravery and sacrifice of their comrades is never forgotten.
On 14 June 1943, an early morning air raid by the Luftwaffe dropped several 1,000 kg bombs, 6,000 incendiary bombs and more than 3,000 Butterfly Bombs in the Grimsby area. Second World War bombing raids in Grimsby and Cleethorpes killed a total of 196 persons, 99 that night. In addition 184 people were seriously injured. The Butterfly Bombs, which littered the area, hampered fire-fighting crews trying to reach locations damaged by the incendiary bombs. The search for recovery of bodies continued for a month after the raid.
Post Second World War
Following the pressures placed on the industry during the Cod Wars, many Grimsby firms decided to cease trawling operations from the town. The sudden demise of the Grimsby fishing industry brought an end to a way of life and community that had lasted for generations. Huge numbers of men became redundant, highly skilled in jobs that no longer existed, and they struggled to find work ashore. As with the Ross Group, some firms concentrated on expanding industries within the town, such as food processing.
Grimsby's trawling days are remembered through the artefacts and permanent exhibits at the town's Fishing Heritage Centre. The preserved 1950s trawler, Ross Tiger, is located here. Few fishing vessels still operate from Grimsby's docks, but the town maintains a substantial fish market important in Europe.
Since the mid-1980s, the former Humber ferry, PS Lincoln Castle, has been moored in Alexandra Dock. She was used during this time as a pub\restaurant. Although her design and status as Britain's last coal-fired paddle steamer was unique, these operations no longer yielded a profit, and the ship was broken up in 2010. Berthed in the Alexandra Dock is the Ross Tiger, the last survivor of what was once the world's largest fleet of sidewinder trawlers.
The town was described in The Daily Telegraph in 2001 as a town "subjected to...many crude developments over the past 30-odd years" and as a town which "seemingly shuns the notion of heritage". Redevelopment was planned as part of Yorkshire Forward's Renaissance Towns Programme; however Yorkshire Forward was abolished in 2012.
In the early part of the 21st century the town faced the challenges of a post-industrial economy that was also affected by a decline in the fishing industry: the East Marsh ward of the town is the second most deprived in the country, according to the governmental statistics.
Since 1977 Austin Mitchell (Labour) has been the Member of Parliament for the Great Grimsby constituency. This is generally considered a Labour stronghold although Austin Mitchell only narrowly held the seat in the 1983 and 2010 general elections, both times with a majority under 800.
In 1974, the County Borough was abolished and Great Grimsby was reconstituted (with the same boundaries) as the Grimsby non-metropolitan district in the new county of Humberside by the Local Government Act 1972. The district was renamed Great Grimsby in 1979. Local government in the area came under the review of the Local Government Commission for England and Humberside was abolished in 1996. The former area of the Great Grimsby district merged with that of Cleethorpes to form the unitary authority of North East Lincolnshire. The town does not have its own town council, instead there is a board of Charter Trustees. During 2007, in the struggle for identity, it was suggested that the district could be renamed to something like Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes to give a stronger indication of the towns the district consists of. This did not meet with favour among local residents, and the Council Leader dropped the idea a year later.
Council Wards North East Lincolnshire Council has eight Council Wards within the area of Grimsby.