Rapid growth down dock
Yesterday, it was announced that insolvency proceedings could begin before the end of the month at Cosalt Plc, as Grimsby's only listed company struggles to stay afloat with a £17 million overdue debt. As the 140th anniversary of the company approaches, Jeff Beedham looks at its history
DURING the 1870s, Grimsby Fish Dock was entering an era of seismic changes.
Despite the original Fish Dock being enlarged, it was packed with more than 500 sailing smacks jostling for space.
Fish was preserved or cured by either smoking or drying and salting. The main source of ice for keeping fish fresh while being transported each day by rail (before commercial refrigeration machinery was available) was from regular supplies imported from Norway, in fast sailing vessels called ice barques. The ice was stored in a purpose-built ice house on the east side of Royal Dock.
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In order to supply this growing industry there was an urgent need for a large co-operative company that could supply literally everything required by the rapidly expanding fishing industry that would soon start to change over to steam trawlers in the 1880s.
However, the high price of coal, salt and other commodities from usual retailers prompted a group of local businessmen, comprising mainly of fish merchants and vessel owners, to attend an inaugural meeting in the Temperance Hall, in Cleethorpe Road, on February 13, 1873, where the Great Grimsby Coal Salt & Tanning Company was formed. Mr J Meadows was appointed chairman and George Jeffs junior as company secretary. Messrs Grange & Wintringham were appointed solicitors for the company, which had an initial working capital of £50,000 made up of £10 shares.
It was resolved to buy the Grimsby Barking and Tanning Company that treated and waterproofed fishing vessel sails.
On February 17, in a room at the Navigation Hotel, Cleethorpe Road, 12 directors were elected. The first general meeting of shareholders was held on September 25, where it was decided to increase the number of directors to 15 in order to form three separate committees of five directors to manage the coal, salt and tanning divisions of the company.
At the end of the year, with a turnover of £5,800 6s 8d, the company bought their first batch of coal wagons.
Business increased rapidly as the company diversified into all types of fishing gear including nets, rope and twine.
By the 1880s when the first Grimsby steam trawlers arrived, quality coal was regularly transported from the South Yorkshire coal fields by the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway in wagons leased to the company. The company was ideally placed to supply the coal needed to fuel the new trawlers.
Initially, coal was transferred from railway wagons to lighters on the fish dock and then by means of baskets manhandled onboard the trawlers and carefully tipped into the coal bunkers by the coal trimmers. Later, mechanical hoists were built in the dock extension.
All types of fishing nets, rope and twine were manufactured by Coal Salt & Tanning at various premises on the fish dock and in town adjacent to the Holme Hill brick and tile works, off Convamore Road.
Calcium carbide was bought in bulk and stored in barrels for the steam trawlers.
They had an impressive new headquarters built on Fish Dock Road. In 1883, only ten years after their formation, at the International Fisheries Exhibition, in London, its impressive exhibition stand was awarded two gold, one silver and one bronze medal.
By 1923 the Great Grimsby Coal Salt & Tanning Co Ltd could, according to their advertisements "supply everything necessary for trawling, line, seine net fishing, drift net fishing, etc." They had "branches, depots, agencies and customers in every part of the world where deep sea fishing is carried on".
Arguably their finest years were between the wars, establishing the company as "the largest firm in connection with the fisheries in the world."
After the Second World War, Cosalt started to look abroad for new opportunities, creating an export division to manage operations in Newfoundland and Greece. It was also decided to start a caravan manufacturing centre in Grimsby.
In March, 1968, Carl Ross was appointed chairman and his son John became managing director. In 1971, the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange.
Today, 140 years later, Cosalt has three main divisions; protective clothing, leisure and safety equipment with a network of 16 offices from Lands End to John O'Groats.