Yvonne Blenkinsop, Hull Headscarf Revolutionary, dies aged 83

Yvonne Blenkinsop, the last remaining member of Hull’s famed Headscarf Revolutionaries, has died at the age of 83.

Yvonne was a true hero of the city who, along with Lillian Bilocca, Mary Denness and Christine Smallbone, campaigned for safety improvements on trawlers sailing from Hull following the Triple Trawler Tragedy of 1968. She died on Sunday.

In 1968, the St Romanus, Kingston Peridot and Ross Cleveland trawlers all sank within a few weeks of each other, with the loss of 58 crew members in total. Not only did this cause grief among Hull’s fishing community, but a sense of anger and injustice.

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The four woman believed companies were cutting corners to save cash and demanded a series of safety improvements be made. The campaign took wives, daughters, sisters and mothers from Hessle Road to the House of Commons.

Then a cabaret singer and mother-of-three, Yvonne knew the heavy price that could be paid for earning a living at sea. Her family had gone to sea for generations.

Yvonne Blenkinsop is made Freeman of the City

Her father had turned down a place on the Lorello, which went down in 1955 with the Roderigo, claiming 40 lives. He later died, suffering a heart attack at sea with no chance of medical help.

Hull Live spoke to Yvonne in 2018 where her effervescence shone through despite her health problems. “We actually all started separately and were doing our own thing,” Mrs Blenkinsop said at the time.

“I was just on my way to the shops when I heard both the St Romanus and then Kingston Peridot had gone down. I quickly organised a meeting in Victoria Hall off Boulevard which attracted dozens of people. We had another meeting that evening which attracted hundreds. It was choc-a-block.”

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At the time, she added: “I spoke first as they all knew me through the clubs and the fact I was part of a family of fishermen. After that, the campaign dominated my days. It became my life and my job.

“I even forgot about my husband and daughter’s birthdays which I would never normally do. I was so engrossed in what I was doing.”

But the wives didn’t just ruffle the feathers of the companies, there was also anger among the very people they were fighting for. “There was a lot of nastiness and many men resented the fact women were fighting their cause,” Mrs Blenkinsop said. “Those men that did speak out were in danger of being black-listed and not being able to find work.

The extent of that resentment became apparent one evening after Mrs Blenkinsop had spent a hard day’s campaigning. “I hadn’t eaten all day so me and my husband went to a restaurant for tea,” she said. “While in there a man came up to me and punched me full in the face. I was shocked and just stood there crying.”

Trawlermen's wives head for London with a 7000 signature petition protesting over trawler fishing in dangerous waters. Pictured are (Left to right) Yvonne Blenkinsop, Mary Denness and Mrs Lillian Bilocca. 6th February 1968

Trawlermen’s wives head for London with a 7,000 signature petition protesting over trawler fishing in dangerous waters. Pictured are (from left) Yvonne Blenkinsop, Mary Denness and Lillian Bilocca, in 1968

The women managed to gather a 10,000-signature petition, known as the Fishermen’s Charter, and headed to Parliament. This charter demanded radio operators for all ships, better weather forecasting, training for young deckhands, more safety equipment and a mothership with hospital facilities to patrol with the fleet. It also stated ships should also report in at least once a day.

As the Hull campaign attracted nationwide support, then Prime Minister Harold Wilson invited a delegation to London. On February 6, Lillian Bilocca, Mary Denness and Yvonne Blenkinsop left Hull for a meeting in London with Joseph Mallalieu, minister of state for the Board of Trade.

“I remember sitting in a semi-circle with the MP JPW Mallalieu, of the Board of Trade, and he laughed when I called him petal,” Mrs Blenkinsop said. “I showed him a long list of safety improvements and told him I wanted them all to be implemented. I got what I asked for.

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With more than half a century having since passed, in 2018 Mrs Blekinsop, who was made an Honorary Freeman of the City, reflected on the achievements of her and the other wives. “People keep asking me if I was proud but, at the time, I was just upset and disgusted about the lack of safety for our fishermen,” she said.

“Now I do look back with pride and I know my family are proud of what I helped achieve. With the safety measures put in place I imagine a lot of lives have been saved over the years so that does make me feel pleased with what we did.

Mrs Blenkinsop leaves behind 15 great grandchildren and six great grandchildren. She also leaves behind a whole city who will mourn her passing.

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