Skip to main content

Living on the Fish Quay

It was a hard life for all of them


Three herring girls on North Shields Fish Quay

Herring girl team North Shields

My Nana was a fish worker and she worked at the kipper house. They lived very, very poorly, in a hovel on the fish quay and they would take the Herring Girls in. Now where they would stay, I wouldn’t even begin to imagine because they were very poor. They probably didn’t have a bed, they probably ended up lying on the floor.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she took a couple at a time, but as I say, very poor circumstances, so there certainly wouldn’t have been any luxuries for them. I doubt there would have even been a bed, but these women were used to just sleeping wherever they could, apparently. I think it was just if my nana was chatting to them and one of them was looking for a bed, my nana would say, well, come along and see what’s available and you’re welcome to stay.

They lived the Low Lights, a very poor area of the Fish Quay. The street was actually Mill Hill, The Low Lights, and my mam was brought up there with a very large family. She had quite a lot of brothers and sisters, and I think that most of the time they looked to bring themselves up because my nana, being a fish worker, worked quite a lot of long, hard hours.

[What did your grandfather do?]

He was, he was a seaman, he went to sea as a fisherman. Previous to that he was a wagon worker at Chirton, which at the time used to be a little village. My nana was born, 1887. A very big family, so to take in a Herring Girl, they would have just had to adapt to whatever. Probably there was only maybe one or two rooms. They were really crammed in, especially at the Low Light

Loading carts at the Fish Quay

Loading fish at the Fish Quay-Newcastle Libraries (Flickr)

My Uncle Harry worked on the quay, Uncle Tommy worked on the quay and when my mam was young, she worked on the quay as well because my nana would have brought them in to work wherever she was working. Mostly it was at the kipper house, which was down Tanners Bank, which wasn’t far from where the herring girls would be.

My mam was born on the Fish Quay. I know it was a hard life for all of them then and they just had to make do with whatever was available. So, if there was Herring Girls around and they were there, willing to pay to stay at the house, they were so poor, they would be pleased to get the bit money, they would make room.

When I listened to my mam talking about it, she had a very hard upbringing. They were very tough on their children then. I think they brought each other up. That was the case of most of the families down on the Fish Quay. I think they all looked out for each other because of such a poor existence that they had. It didn’t seem to bother her too much. If she took us out as children, she would take us along to the Fish Quay sands, which we all hated because of the smell of the Fish Quay, but it didn’t bother my mam in the least little bit and she would point different places out. For example, as children they would go and peer in the windows of what she called the “Dead House”. It was a tough life but she never seemed to resent it because she was probably the same as everybody else.


Marj Banks was interviewed for the Herring Girls project 19th October 2023

Thanks to Linda McCann for herring girls image © 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.