The History

About Klädesholmen

The history of Klädesholmen is strongly linked to herring. For generations, the island’s herring culture has been carefully managed and developed without sacrificing craftsmanship or sensitivity to the raw material.

16th century, first herring period

When people first started to settle on Klädesholmen is shrouded in mystery as there are no historical narrative sources. But in 1594 Klädesholmen is mentioned as “an old fishing village” in a travel report by Bishop Jens Nilssøns of the Oslo diocese, to which Klädesholmen belonged in 1658. From the same year, the island is also shown on a Dutch nautical chart. It is also known that just before this time there was a major herring period*, around 1556-1589.

*A herring period is a period of time when large schools of herring run close to the coast. In Sweden, herring periods are best known from Bohuslän, where they provided a major economic boost. Between herring periods, herring were usually far from the coast and were difficult to reach with the fishing methods used before the end of the 19th century. Bohuslän’s herring periods from the 16th century onwards lasted approximately during these years: 1556-1589, 1660-1680, 1747-1809 and 1877-1906.

17th century, permanent settlement

From the first half of the 17th century, the sources are rather silent about Klädesholmen. It is only in the mid-17th century that there are documents confirming permanent settlement on the island.

In 1658, at the Peace of Roskilde, Bohuslän became Swedish. The first land register drawn up the following year mentions ‘Klessholmen’. Shortly thereafter, the Bohus coast experienced a brief herring period. In the summer of 1666, the Board of Trade sent its Vice President Israel Lagerfelt on a trip to Bohuslän to encourage the population to fish for herring. One of the places Lagerfelt visited was Klädesholmen.

18th century, herring salteries and smoking houses

In the middle of the 18th century, the really big herring fishing period begins and this affected Klädesholmen to a very large extent. Lots of people moved out to the fishing grounds, and at Klädesholmen and other places in the archipelago, a lot of herring salteries and smoking houses were built. At the salteries, the herring was salted and at the smoking houses, cod liver oil was extracted from the fatty herring. The liver oil was then used as lighting oil, for paint, at the tanneries and in soap production.

19th century, emergency and fish preparation

Barely a decade into the 19th century, herring disappeared from the coast of Bohuslän. People moved from the archipelago in large numbers. The saltering and smoking houses were left to decay and several communities literally disappeared. Those who stayed behind experienced poverty, starvation and disease. On Klädesholmen, the urgency was particularly great. There are many accounts of starvation and disease. The cholera epidemic of 1834 killed more than 15 percent of the population of Klädesholmen, and the people there were among the poorest in the country.

From the middle of the 19th century, deep-sea fishing began to develop, along with the preparation of dried and salted fish. At the end of the 1870s, herring returned to Bohuslän and Klädesholmen entered a new golden age. The larger reservoirs, which were being built at the time, were used to salt herring and prepare fish for herring preservation, work that continued even after the end of the herring period at the turn of the century.

20th century, canning industry

With the 20th century came the seasoning of herring and sprat, and simultaneously the production of pickled herring fillets and anchovies began in Klädesholmen. The knowledge of seasoning was gained by buying recipes from wholesale companies. The influences on spicing can be traced to Norway, which was a bit of a pioneer in this area at the time.

During the 1930s, the herring canning industry became significant. Around 1950, there were 25 canneries and about 150 fishermen on Klädesholmen.

A crucial factor in the survival and development of Klädesholmen’s canning industry was that the island was connected to Tjörn by a bridge in 1983. Before that, all communication was by ferry.

21st century, continued living society

In the early 2000s there were only a few canneries left on the island, four of which chose to merge and form Klädesholmen Seafood AB. The company now represents a large part of the Swedish canning industry. For example, more than half of all edible herring comes from here. This means that unlike other smaller west coast communities, Klädesholmen is bustling all year round.

Source: History of Klädesholmen 1590-1900 and Wikipedia.
Photographer: Peter Sundsmyr

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