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Mam’s Fish Shop and the Fish Quay

It was a hive of activity and loads and loads of characters


Fish and Chip shop, The Ridges North Shields-Newcastle Libraries

Fish and chip shop The Ridges-Newcastle Libraries

It was mid 1970s she just one day said, “I want to have a fish and chip shop.”  She said, “We can cut the middleman out you know, you’ve got the business, so surely we should be able to do that.”  And me dad says, “Right, and where would you like to open the fish and chip shop?” and she says, “Well what about on the fish quay?”  And his exact words were, “Are you stupid woman?  Whoever is going to come down to the fish quay and buy fish and chips?”  Because at the time you could literally walk along the quay and pick fish up off the deck there was that much of it.  I just look back now, and I think she was 20 years ahead of her time because mid-90s, late-90s that’s when the fish and chip shops first opened up down there, so things could have been a lot different.

Me mam was very head strong, and she was very independent.  She just decided she wanted to do this and she ended up managing to get the fish and chip shop right opposite where we lived on the bottom of Heaton Terrace.  She had that right up until the council put the compulsory purchase on and pulled the whole block down and then she moved to Chirton chippy.  She said, “I need somewhere with a big working area,” and a friend of hers used to have the Carlton Dairy and she said, “We’re putting it up for sale.”  So me mam converted it into the fish and chip shop.  She definitely was a grafter.

Men filleting fish on the quayside

Men filleting fish on the quayside-Newcastle Libraries

We used to always say if you could drive on the fish quay then you could drive anywhere because there was poppers, there was wagons there was lorries there was people. It was just so busy and everywhere you looked something different was happening.  And of course, as you walked along the quay all the guys used to do the filleting out on the actual road.  They had a small store and you might have two people filleting inside but there could be 6 or 8 filleting outside.  So people were walking past, it was literally a working quay and you could see the fish being gutted and filleted and if they were skinning dog fish or skate it was just literally a hook on the stanchion of the door and they were dragging the skins off the fish there, you know.  So it was a hive of activity, that’s the only way I can say about it and loads and loads or characters.

Photo of the Low Lights Tavern about 1990

Low Lights Tavern-Newcastle Libraries

If me dad finished work early and he went into the pub it was like, up the corner, tomato juice, packet of crisps, shut your ears.  And I learned from that age that you know, fishermen swear, they fill up their sentences with swear words, but they don’t mean anything by it.  And I have always found that, unless people direct anything towards me, I can just pass it off you know.  So yeah, I’ve got great memories of things that happened in the Low Lights Tavern.  I’ve got great memories in there and it was always a lovely atmosphere.  Yeah, they used to fall out but when the guys used to work together and they also used to socialise together so obviously they used to get on each other’s nerves at times and once they got a drink inside them, little niggles used to come out but overall, it was the camaraderie between them all.

Me dad went away, he was on the Phaeton and he went way away for about 11 or 12 days.  As he was going away me mam said to him, “I need money.  I’ve got to pay the rent; I’ve got to get food in you know.  I’ve got to do all these different things.”  So, he nipped down to Irvin’s which was the office and asked for a sub.  So, they gave him a £40 sub which me mam got half of.  She got the £20 and he had £20 for his back pocket because obviously you had to have a little drink in either the Dolphin or the Tavern.  And he went away for these 11-12 days and when he came back, he gave me mam her pay packet and that’s what she got for the 11-12 days work.  He’d taken the £40 sub and he actually made £40.18.  Me mam came to live with us about 6 years ago and when we were moving her, I came across this pay packet, hadn’t even been opened and that was the 18p that was still inside.

I was talking to one of the schools, we were talking to the children there and it was the headmistress after we’d finished, she was like, “Can I ask how did this work?”  I said, “Well, he’d borrowed £40 and he made £40.18 so he had to pay the £40 back.”  She said, “So what happened then?”  I said, “He had to go down and get another sub on the strength of what he was going out to earn the next trip.”  And this headmistress couldn’t take in, she said, “How can people live like that?”

It was part and parcel; it was just life, it’s what you got on with you know.  So yeah, the 18p for eleven days isn’t bad.


Lynn was interviewed as part of the North Shields Herring Girls Project.

Images are from Newcastle Libraries’ collections on Flickr

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