Death of Yvonne Blenkinsop, the last of Hull’s ‘headscarf revolutionaries’ and campaigner for the Triple Trawler Tragedy

Yvonne Blenkinsop’s son has confirmed her death to BBC Humberside.

She was among the ‘headscarf revolutionaries’ who ruffled feathers in 1960s Hull following the triple trawler tragedy, when three local vessels were lost in Icelandic and Norwegian waters and 58 men died.

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They were warned they were meddling in ‘men’s business’ and Ms Blenkinsop was even punched in the face by a man in a restaurant.

Yvonne Blenkinsop in 2018

In 2018, she became just the third woman in more than 130 years to be granted citizenship.

Born in the fishing community of Hull in 1938, she was just 16 when her father Eddie Horsfield died aged 48 after suffering a heart attack aboard the trawler Loch Melfort.

She was the eldest of six siblings and her widowed mother was still suffering from trauma after experiencing the Hull Blitz.

When the St Romanus, the Kingston Peridot and the Ross Cleveland sank within weeks of each other in 1968, she was a 30-year-old cabaret singer with three children.

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She stayed up all night writing 27 ideas for improving safety on North Sea trawlers, and became a member of the Hessle Road Women’s Committee alongside fish filleter Lillian Bilocca, wife of Captain Mary Denness and Christine Jensen. Their meeting at Victoria Hall brought together more than 300 women concerned about the industry’s safety record.

She recalls: “It was pretty obvious that I had been to the meeting – we had John Prescott there. They didn’t want women to meddle in their business – they should be at home, taking care of the children, cooking, cleaning.

They took direct action, storming the offices of trawler companies and even blockading the harbor to demand that all boats have a radio operator on board.

But the women’s perseverance paid off and, with massive media coverage and union support, they took their campaign to Westminster, to meet the Minister of State for the Chamber of Commerce, JPW Mallalieu.

“I said, ‘We have these security measures – are we going to get them. I won’t leave until I find out. I called it petal accidentally.

He just smiled at me. I said, “I really need to know”. He said, “Yes, dear, you have them.”

One of the main requests – the “mother ship” carrying medical support for the fleet – was delivered within weeks. “We got it in no time – I was flabbergasted we got it so quickly.”

But she says that with the exception of one company in Hull, Marrs, trawler owners were unwilling to invest in safety and new vessels. “They just wanted the money to come in,” she said. “Thank goodness for Grimsby.”

She finds it “shameful” that there is no longer a fishing industry in Hull. “I think the owners came up the gangplank when they had to pay for security,” adding poignantly, “And all those men who died and ships that sank.”

In 2015 the story was given a much wider audience by The Headscarf Revolutionaries by Brian W Lavery. Plays, poetry, music, radio and TV documentaries followed.

Hull man Ian Cuthbert is currently campaigning for a statue of the four women to be erected in Queen’s Gardens.

Thelma J. Longworth