There’s no end to the beautiful information caught in the nets of a herring encyclopaedia, so there is no planned completion here. Each entry is accessible alphabetically and by theme: history, science, culture, fishing and/or food.
Each entry provides a range of links aimed at opening up individual routes through the fish’s curious narrative. Each month will see new entries, extended ones, corrected ones. Drawing on many books, articles, online sources and original research most entries respect the fact that as far back as the C16th the herring has been a comic fish. Its stories, intertwined with our own, tend to reveal the folly of mankind, which also has no end.
The most reliable herring books tend to specialise. An encyclopaedia is by definition generalist – suggestions and corrections are always welcome. Follow the herripedia on Facebook and/or Twitter for regular news and updates.
How it came to be…
Back in the late 1990s I made a BBC radio programme about Bombay duck (takh bombil, the dried fish which had been temporarily lost to curry lovers in the UK). I brought the tapes back to my producer Sue Roberts and she asked, ‘Could you do a series?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’ll do one about preserved fish… Rigby’s Red Herrings!’ Working with the chef Alastair Little, I made programmes about the Arbroath smokie, dried cod in the Lofoten Islands, Lamprey pies and red herring. The last was the least satisfying, simply because I never got to the bottom of it.
I decided on an encyclopaedia, but actually started to write fairly conventional book, a rehash of the histories and the natural histories of the C19th and C20th. My agent at the time, Andrew Hewson of John Johnson, said, ‘Why don’t you make it a proper encyclopaedia?’ The scale of it seemed daunting but the logics were inescapably attractive.
I got so far but was distracted by my work as a member of the Newcastle-based film & photography collective Amber. I never gave up on herring research, but for a dozen or more years I didn’t do much with it.
The many beautiful Amber distractions included working on two iterations of its website with Richard Cross of Control-X. I became fascinated by the possibilities the web offered for networks of stories and idiosyncratic journeys. Coming back to the herring in 2018 I asked Richard to help me create this on-going online encyclopaedia.
Contact, contributions, corrections and complaints
Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring – the herripedia – welcomes suggestions for new entries, corrections and additional information on subjects already covered.
Illustrations have come from a number of sources – if you feel that one should be more fully credited or shouldn’t be there at all, please get in contact.
I’m planning an entry on smokehouses and would be shamelessly happy to accept kippers, bloaters, buckling, red, golden and/or silver herring.