Filey Literature Festival: Herring to be smoked at Yorkshire coast kipper smokehouse for the first time since the 1920s
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Maritime historian Mike Smylie will bring his mobile smokehouse to Filey Gin, a locally-owned business which occupies a building that was once part of the town’s booming 19th-century kipper industry.
Mr Smylie will prepare and sell his kippers from the gin distillery on the weekend of May 13 and 14, and on the Sunday at 2pm will give a talk about the history of the herring trade.
The distillery, now owned by Bill Rusling, Dr David Pendleton and Will Clarke, dates back to 1860, when it was built as a smokehouse to cure and process Filey’s herring catch.
The industry sprang up in the 1860s, once the coming of the railway enabled the fish to be gutted and smoked throughout the night before being sent to cities on morning trains. Kippers became a popular meal for industrial workers and their families.
The advent of steam trawlers meant the trade declined in Filey by the end of the 19th century, when it migrated to Hull and Grimsby, which could also offer larger processing plants. By this time, the smokehouse was owned by fish and poultry dealer Henry Cogill, who continued to use it for curing herring but also butchered poultry at the site until the 1930s, when its association with the fishing families ended.
By the 1970s the building had become a car garage, and in 2021 the three partners, who have trained themselves to produce artisan gins made from local botanicals, bought and restored it, incorporating many of the original features.
It is now the only surviving smokehouse building in Filey, with one of those that vanished having been next door and in the ownership of fisherman William Ross. Ross exploited the opportunities offered by rail transport and prospered, later moving to Grimsby and establishing Ross Frozen Foods Group, which became the largest in Europe.
Dr Pendleton said: “Given the history of the site, and Filey’s historic involvement with the herring industry, we thought that getting Britain’s leading historian on the subject to the festival would be a real highlight. The fact that he also smokes fish on his mobile smokehouse over the weekend is brilliant.”