“One Thousand Words” competition captures the magic of the Viola trawler

A writer and an artist who discovered the stories of the Viola trawler by way of a cultural competition have now been inspired to use their work to spread the word about her exploits and the campaign to bring her home.

The pair took first place in their respective categories in the “One Thousand Words” competition organised by the Viola Trust, challenging creatives to paint a picture or write a short story.

Alison Riley at her desk overlooking the North Sea in Hornsea.
Alison Riley at her desk overlooking the North Sea in Hornsea.

Alison Riley, whose writing desk at her home in Hornsea overlooks the North Sea, delighted judges drawn from the Viola trustees with her poem, “Far From Home” which charted key aspects of the Viola’s long and proud history and her series of name changes.

Steve Fletcher, a Hull-born sculptor and artist, submitted two works which he painted in his home studio at Patrington. The winning entry, “Heading Home”, shows the Viola in her fishing days, sailing past the chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head and Bempton on her way back to Hull.

Alison works as Communications Officer for the Peak National Park and has developed her skills to secure a BA Honours in Creative Writing.

She said: “I read about the competition and it captured my imagination. I saw there was a book about the Viola so I bought it, read it and found the most amazing story which fired my imagination. Now I want to know more about it.”

Alison is now in touch with Dr Robb Robinson, a Viola trustee and renowned maritime historian, to research further details of the ship’s history with a view to writing more poems and stories.


Far From Home

Here lies Dias,

Seven thousand, seven hundred and forty four miles from home,

Like an old bod, beached with her mariners’ memories,

Long weeks at sea long since gone by the board.

She’s still keeping an eye out for elephant seals,

Dreaming of whales in the South Atlantic,

Laid low listening to seabirds’ shanties,

Not speaking of the wars.

Here lies Kapduen,

Seven thousand, seven hundred and forty four miles from home,

Short of ten men to hold her on a course north,

Even at this stretch she’s striking the souls of East Yorkshire’s fishermen,

Ringing the hearts of Hull’s finest like a ship’s bell struck,

To think of one of theirs so far from home.

Sun-bleached paint and rust flakes from her hull

Falling like snow into the water.

Here lies Viola,

Seven thousand, seven hundred and forty four miles from home.

Nineteen seventy-four, snow-scuttled in Grytviken,

Castled by ice, pillars of frozen water heavy as dead whales.

Odd to think that a champion of North Sea storms,

Victor over submarines, could fall victim to midwinter’s snow.

Viewing her from high on the hill, old Ernest shakes his head,

As though to say, “Viola, it’s time you were home.”

By Alison Riley.


Steve Fletcher with his winning painting “Heading for Home”.
Steve Fletcher with his winning painting “Heading for Home”.

Steve has been drawing and painting since he was a child and heard about the competition from another Holderness artist Larry Malkin, who along with Hull-based artist Carol Davidson helped with judging the competition. Steve has offered to assist the Viola Trust by completing more paintings depicting other phases of the Viola’s career.

He said: “I paint horses, dogs even elephants and my family were involved with the trawlers so I decided to enter the competition. I looked at photographs online and after I’d finished the painting I saw a model of the Viola at the Hull Fishing Heritage Centre.

“I’ve never entered anything into a competition before so I’m very pleased to win and I’m certainly interested in doing more paintings to support the Viola Trust and help to bring the Viola back.”

Paul Escreet, Chairman of the Viola Trust, said: “Both categories were very competitive and we are delighted that the competition encouraged such talented people to explore the stories of the Viola and to create such wonderful work.

“We are extremely impressed with the calibre of entries which we received from artists and writers and we will use the work of Alison, Steve and the other finalists to promote the Viola and help to raise awareness of our campaign to bring her back to Hull. We hope to stage an exhibition of the works as soon as circumstances permit.”

The Viola was built in Beverley in 1906 and operated from Humber Dock – now Hull Marina – as part of the Hellyer fleet of boxing trawlers. She was requisitioned to defend the UK in the Great War and left Hull for the last time in 1918 on a career which took her to Norway, Africa and Argentina, catching fish, hunting whales and elephant seals and supporting expeditions in the South Atlantic.

The Viola sits on a beach where she was mothballed following the closure in 1964–65 of the old whaling station in Grytviken, South Georgia. The Viola Trust, which is led by a group of business people with strong maritime and heritage credentials with former Home Secretary Alan Johnson as Patron, has reached agreement with the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands for her removal and her return to Hull.

To find out more about the campaign to bring the Viola back to Hull please visit www.violatrawler.net

[Phil Ascough – Ascough Associates]