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Catching Herring

A fisherman's memories of the herring girls


I was in two types of fishing, two or three types; seine net, anchor, the herring, and deep-sea trawling.

I started when I was 16 on a steam trawler called the Ben Chourn, I went through my apprenticeship, it took me 2 years to get up to deckie. Went through all my fishing career, there was Hull, Grimsby, Aberdeen, Lowestoft, Yarmouth and at the herring. I retired when I was 69.

Photo of herriing boats at the Fish Quay 1912

Herring drifters at the Fish Quay-Newcastle Libraries

The drifters used to come up from Yarmouth and Lowestoft end of April, May. We’d start in Aberdeen, sail out at teatime, go away to the grounds put the gear in the water and about 1 or 2 o clock in the morning we used to start hauling.  If you had a big haul sometimes you took 8-9 hours.  When you got them on board you steamed back to Aberdeen to land. There would be roughly 100 herring girls with their mothers, all ready to start work. We used ti land the herring and there was big troughs around the market, and all the herring girls would stand either side of them. When a buyer bought the herring, he would get it tipped into these troughs and the herring girls would start to gut them. They would start about 9 o’ clock, 10 in the morning and could be 10 or 11 o’ clock at night when they finished.  In between their fingers were red raw with the coarse salt when they were salting the barrels and their mothers used to boil wholewheat meal, make it into little soft balls to put in between their fingers, and then wrap them with cloth bandages, ready for the next day.

They used to get 10 pence a barrel, paid at the end of the season. Their accommodation was provided and they would get bits of money here and there but their full pay didn’t come until they finished in Aberdeen. Then they moved to Shields and the same thing applied there and then to Whitby and from Whitby in October, they finished up in Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Photo of herring girls working at the Farlin

Herring girls working at the Farlin

They were mostly Scottish and their mothers used to come with them. Over a period of years, a lot of Scottish girls settled down in this part of the country.  Their mothers used to bring their knitting needles and they were knitting as their daughters were working. The speed of their hands, they were fast.  The barrels were this high; they used to salt it, lid on and put a steel band around.  10 pence.

The prices varied. When you came in from sea you used to take a sample to the herring market and they used to class it. The condition of it, that’s the price you would get. The season started April, right up until Christmas. A long season. It [winter] didn’t stop them. They used to have their head scarves on, their long black aprons, their wellies, sleeves rolled up. I can just picture them.

It did a lot of travelling. You used to get the big Polish and Russian sterns come in and pick it up, take it away back to Russia and Poland. I’ve seen 2 to 3 thousand barrels on that quay. It would last a long time with the coarse salt, it wasn’t the fine salt, it was like little marbles.

Some of their mothers were in their 60s and 70s. They were a stand-by if they wanted the help. Wherever they went they went with them to look after them. Their mothers had done it. Christmas time they would go home. Two or three months off and then time to start again.


Albert was interviewed as part of the North Shields Herring Girls Project

Fish Quay image is from Newcastle Libraries’ collections on Flickr
Thanks to Linda McCann for the herring girl image © all rights reserved

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