Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
George Greaves at home

George Greaves at home

George Greaves, A man of his word

HOT’s John Cole first met George Greaves when he came down from London to take photos of Hastings fishermen in 1991. Forever generous with his time George introduced John to the fishermen he knew.

John remembers “When he took a photo of me on the prow of a fishing boat I had just been out on, I asked if he’d send me a copy. I never really ever expected to see it, as most photographers — myself included — are notorious for promising prints that are seldom delivered. But a week later the print arrived.” A man of his word.

George Greaves has been photographing the Hastings fishing fleet for over 35 years. In his hundreds, if not thousands of prints, he has captured the essence of what he describes as “the bloody hard work it is to be a Hastings fisherman.”

His photographic record of the Hastings fishing fleet since 1987 is enormous in its breadth and is an invaluable record of a beleaguered industry. He has captured the  fishing boats and the men who man them on the Stade in all weather conditions: rows of boats resting on the beach, basking in the glow of the evening sun;  at sea in Turner-esque skies; silhouetted boats coming into shore; and men struggling to work in stormy seas and bashing waves. Many of these photos are now in the Hastings Fishermen’s Museum.

Part of George Greaves' exhibition at the Fishermen's Museum

Part of George Greaves’ exhibition at the Hastings Fishermen’s Museum

George was born in 1922, ‘the same year the BBC started’, he reminds me. A young 95 years old, his mind is still sharp, and he positively sparkles as he reminisces about his youth as a Royal Navy sailor during the Second World War. He was a telegraphist in the Royal Navy, serving in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. It was a time he is especially proud of and in fact has written the first draft of a book chronicling his training and adventures on the sea, with the working title, “Random Recollections of a Wartime Wireless Telegraphist”.

George has been interested in photography since 1955 when he was living in Skegness. He had no formal training and learned as he went along. “I joined photography societies and was at first only interested in scenes and interesting places. However, my love of motor sport led me to take photos at car rallies for motor clubs, plus doing a bit of social photography.

“In January 1977 I moved to Hastings to take a post with ITT as a personnel specialist. About ten years later, when I moved to Winkle Cottage in the Old Town, I was able to set up a proper darkroom and began taking photos of Hastings fishermen and their work.”

At first he just took photos of the boats but eventually the fishermen allowed him to photograph them at work. Knowing about boats from his time in the Royal Navy possibly gave him a bit more access.

“Fishermen can be suspicious by nature and somewhat sceptical of authority. They tend to be wary of outsiders. So it took me a while and a few pints before they trusted me. The truth is, unless you’re born within one of the families, you’re never really fully accepted as ‘one of them’.

“I was friendly with the Adams family, Wilf and his sons, who let me come out with them, which was a real privilege, not afforded to many people. Though being at sea in a small boat taking photos with water coming over the sides was never easy!”

George’s knowledge of boat building is considerable. He has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of boats of all shapes and sizes, especially Hastings’ fishing fleet, which he wrote about for Classic Boat magazine in 2001. Although George’s photos of fishermen at work are strong, his love of boats — especially the Hastings fleet — is what really shines through in his huge library of images.

George Greaves on the Stade

George Greaves on the Stade

As we sit in George’s front room, surrounded by shelves of well-ordered folders and boxes of prints and negatives, I ask George what he thinks about digital photography.

“I still use old fashioned film. Digital is a totally different approach to what I’m used to, it seems to me more a case of quick snaps viewed on a tiny screen on the back of a camera or mobile, which is not the way I’ve always worked. I started with a 5×4” plate camera, then a Rolleiflex and then moved onto using a 35mm film camera.”

George then shows me his prized possession, a 5×4” Sanderson camera in pristine condition which he bought for £5 in 1946.

George Greaves with his prized Sanderson 5x4 camera

George Greaves with his prized Sanderson 5×4 camera

For someone who’s documented the fishing fleet for so long, I wonder what George sees as the future.

“In my opinion, the Hastings fishing industry is slowly dying out. Ten years ago, there were more than thirty boats, most of them active. There are now approximately twenty-five boats on the Stade,” George says. “Some of them seldom get their bottoms wet, being kept so their valuable licenses can be retained.

“I don’t think there will ever be a total lack of fishing. There will probably be at least a token boat or two here. As England is a maritime nation, fishermen are revered and sometimes looked upon in a romantic way.”

If you haven’t seen George’s photos at the Fishermen’s Museum, I strongly recommend you see this very important photographic record of the Hastings fishing fleet. I am fortunate enough to possess an original George Greaves photo, the one he posted to me in 1991. It is pinned to a shelf in my office where I see it every day, a wonderful memory of when I met the man who has chronicled Hastings’ fishing fleet for over 35 years.

Posted 11:04 Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 In: Photography

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