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With 2017 being the year that my hometown Hull hosts City of Culture I HAD to include an extremely influential and strong woman from Hull as part of this series. Tie this in with the sad news of the passing of one of the Headscarf Revolutionaries, Mary Denness, and it’s time to shine a light on the wonderful work of Lil Bilocca and these women.
Hull, widely known for its trawling industry, has had a LONG history of fishing. This is something that resonates through the heart of the city. We have monuments, a fish trail and docks (now forming beautiful gardens) to remind us of this rich culture. We also have the BEST Fish and Chips; sorry Hornsea/Brid but it’s true. Of course, there has been a darker side to this in the past and one lady from Hull dedicated her life to improving the circumstances.
Lillian Bilocca was born off Hessle Road (ezzle reeerd) in ‘ull. A road at the centre of the fishing community and surrounded by people whose safety and wellbeing Lil would later go on to dramatically improve. The sea was deep rooted in Lil. Her father was a seaman, as was her husband Charlie and her son Ernie. Therefore she passionately understood the constraints put on these men serving their lives at sea. When the trawlers St. Romanus H223, Kingston Peridot H591 and Ross Cleveland H61 went down in 1968 (resulting in 58 lives lost) Lil began to take up arms against some of the most powerful people in the fishing industry.
If you didn’t know about these trawlers, to give you a quick insight, the St. Romanus trawler was completely lacking a radio operator. The radio operator could communicate safety instructions to help protect the lives of the men on board. Whilst the Skipper of the ship could do this, it was not ideal to have such an important role lacking from a trawler crew.
This wasn’t right and Lil knew it. ‘Big Lil’ as she was nicknamed decided to take this up with the highest power she could summon. She met the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and battled for radio operators to become a legal requirement on board – and you know what – she won! Full credit isn’t just to Lil though, she had help from the women of Hessle Road who were deeply involved with the campaign. The ladies are now nicknamed the ‘Headscarf Revolutionaries’ after author Brian W. Lavery put paper to pen to cover this fantastic story of some extremely uplifting women. It’s the next Made in Dagenham!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all quite as rosy, and Lil’s dedication to improving the safety of fishermen led to unfortunate circumstances for herself. She lost her job at the fish processing plant and received threatening phone calls. When Lil appeared on the Eamonn Andrews show in the late 60’s some of the public wrote letters in describing her as ‘common’, ‘fat’ and a ‘whore’ – giving us an understanding of how Lil could be preserved in the media. People can sure be ugly about someone doing something so important and live-improving. Many would describe her as a stern, blunt woman. Yet those who knew her said she had the kindest heart.
Good for Lil for standing up for something so important and there is no doubt that her drive and stubbornness saved the lives of many. If you’d like to read up more on Lil and the Headscarf Revolutionaries’ story you can buy the book mentioned above here.