Skip to main content

Family Work on the Fish Quay

It was like a family affair, my nana, my auntie, my mother and me


My mother, my grandmother and my father all worked on the quay.  We came from Fraserburgh in Scotland when I was three years old.  My grandmother had moved there previously, long story; she was widowed when she was very young and left with 3 small children.  My mother, her brother and one of her sisters was grown up but she was left with the 3 little ones when her husband died and he was actually knocked down and killed.  In those days you know no cars, but he managed to get knocked down.  My nana met this man and they got together and they ended up moving down to Queens Street in North Shields.  They got a lovely big council house.  My mother who was with my dad married, she moved down with me and my older sister to join her family and they all ended up working down the quayside.

Herring girls gutting herring at the farlin

Herring girls at work on the Fish Quay

My nana used to work cleaning the crabs and my mother was a herring girl and my dad used to smoke the kippers in the yard and I remember going to the yard with my mam and dad and I can still smell the smoked kippers and see the wood shavings, you know in the little piles.  I used to go with them and used to play in this courtyard at the back of the fish yard and there was another little boy he used to go, obviously his mother worked there.  We both had little tricycles and we used to ride around.  Then my auntie she came to work there as well.  She was in the packing of the kippers and the vivid memory I’ve got of that was, they used to use like cellophane with like red stickers because there was no plastic or anything in them days.  She actually made me a little head band out of the cellophane to put on my hair.  I was only 3 but I mean it was hard, it must have been really hard for them.

I’ve got a younger sister, and she [my mam] got pregnant while she was actually working there and she was born when I was four and a half she was actually born in Stephenson Street in North Shields where they eventually got a flat.  My sister was born in 1952.  So basically, that’s the start of the story.


She used to gut the herring and that’s how my dad and her met.  I don’t know what he actually drove but I know he used to drive from Hull to North Shields then up to Fraserburgh.

Photo of herring workers on North Shields Fish Quay

Fish workers at North Shields Fish Quay

When she moved here, she got the job down there.  I suppose once my younger sister was born, she didn’t do it.  My sister now lives in Spain and we were talking about this and she can remember going to the yard.  Obviously, I had started school so maybe my mother must have started working there again.  She obviously fitted it around school hours because she was always there when we came home from school.  But it must have been hard really.

I think she must have enjoyed it obviously, or she wouldn’t have done it.  Because it couldn’t have been a very nice job really, very hard work.  I remember the big rubber aprons they had, my dad had one as well.  I mean they worked there together you know, it was like a family affair, my nana, my auntie my mother and me.

When we moved to East Howdon things got a little bit better. My dad got a better job and they left that behind but we used to often go down to the quayside because she knew a lot of the men on the boats coming from Fraserburgh and we would get a fry of fish from them.  Brought up on fish, cod roe, fish, kippers.

She actually started her training as a nurse, so the story goes, we don’t know because it’s a long time ago and I really don’t know what happened there.


What was your mam’s name?]

Isabel Mitchell, before she got married and then it was Acey, which is a common name down in Yorkshire.  But my dad was in the navy during the war you know so it’s quite a story.  And his father was a shipyard worker in Hull, he worked until he was 72 in the shipyards.  My mother lived until she was 93.  She was a tiny little woman, she was only about seven and a half stone, all her life, she never put weight on, very spritely.  Even when she was in the care home, she used to have her zimmer and kick her legs, and I suppose that’s from her past.  When she was a small child she lived in the country and they had no money, my granda liked to drink, but he used to go hunting and they were fed on rabbits and deer and fish.  She told us that he showed them how to tickle a trout in the stream. All her life, and I’m the same I love nature and she loved nature and I can remember her telling us the names of all the trees.  She knew the names of all the wild flowers and he had taught her that and he was a good artist, a very good artist and so was she.  I dabble a bit, but my son’s a very good artist, it’s in the family you know.

I love going down [to the Fish Quay], in fact I might have a trip down tomorrow.  It’s changed a lot, some of it for the better and some for the worst I think.  But I think if you look around North Shields, there’s still a lot to see.  There’s lovely old houses, you’ve got the quayside, and that park, I love that park.  My dad used to take us there every Sunday when my sister was in the pram and we would walk around and I still can see him when I go, you know.  It’s lovely, it is.


Linda was interviewed as part of the North Shields Herring Girls project

Thanks to Linda McCann for herring girls images © all rights reserved

If you've enjoyed this memory and would like to share a story of your own why not go to our Contact Page to find out more.