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My Family and Fishing

My dad used to say, "Fishing is in the blood."


My great uncle was on the Herring Girl Merchants Association. They were at the western end of the eastern extension of the fish quay and they put all flags and banners up congratulating him on his wedding. He is the only one out of the family that had anything to do with the herring girls.

My great grandfather, was one of the youngest skippers, they were known by the bowler hats. The skippers always wore the bowler hat and he got his skipper’s ticket when he was 21. Then his sons Timothy and my grandfather John George he followed in his footsteps then his sons went to sea. Then my dad and my uncles. They all ended up going to sea with my grandfather when they first left school.

Photo of steam trawler

A typical steam trawler – unknown

My grandfather was on the Ethel Irvin he brought back from Aberdeen without a rudder. He was on the Olden Times as Mate and he actually had an accident, he was thrown overboard. He ended up with a badly injured foot so they had to dash him back to Shields and get him straight to hospital. It’s really dangerous, you just didn’t think about it at all, it was just part and parcel of the job and it was only when there was an accident that it brought it home to all the fishing families.

My granda went up to Aberdeen, they were on their way to the Faroe Islands and they hit some bad weather and he decided as a skipper, “We’ll go in for the night, weather’s too bad.” When they went in, the owner of the boat, from Irvin’s in North Shields went up and told them that they all had to get on the next train home. He wasn’t happy that they’d come in and not gone fishing. So, he got their train fares and I think it was 5 or 6 of the guys left but my granda says, “No,” he says, “I’m not happy.” He was the skipper it was his boat. He’d gone out and he didn’t know why he was taken off the boat. At the nighttime there was four of them left they actually went on board and they hijacked the boat and they brought it home without the rudder because they had disabled it. So, they used just two baskets as a rudder and they came all the way from Aberdeen and my granda was actually interviewed on the radio. He’d made the decision because he was in charge of the boat he wasn’t prepared for anybody else to come and take the boat off him. They’d actually brought a crew in from Aberdeen and they were going to set them away to the Faroes and he says, “No you’re not.” So, he brought the boat all the way home. He was quite a character.

When I was a kid I used to go to their house and they always had a budgie. This little budgie was called Jackie, a Image of a blue budgie little blue and white one, and it used to sit on his pipe and go through the smoke and he’d have a little swag of rum and the bird would come and have a little drink of the rum. It fell off the door one day, it was a drunk little budgie. It was, because it used to say Georgie Porgy Pudding and Pie and it fell down the back of the door and all you heard was Georgie Porgy Pudding Pie, that was him gone for the night.

John George was the oldest one and then there was James Robert, my dad Stuart Anderson and then my uncle Gordon that was the four sons. My uncle John really used to hate the fact he was a grown man but at sea he was still called boy on the deck you know. In the house it was different but at sea he wouldn’t show any favouritism at all and that was it they were called boy.

[My dad] did about 4 or 5 years in the navy, and ended up working in a factory which he hated and his cousin they got together and they decided that they would give it a go down on the quay. He learned to fillet the fish in the Ranger factory and they managed to get a store of their own, and they were down there a good 20 years or so. That was in 1963 and that was the hardest winter that we’ve known and the Gut actually froze up so there was literally no fish coming in at all. It was a real hard time for the whole family you know. I was 5 years old then and that was my dad’s first year so there was nothing. He had no money literally so it was a real hard 12 months until they got themselves on their feet and started this business that they had. They went from strength to strength they had a good business and they supplied all over.

Photo of herriing boats at the Fish Quay 1912

The Fish Quay busy with boats-Newcastle Libraries

Because of the connection with Buckie – it was my dad’s cousin that married a herring girl – they ended up with a lot of the Scottish boats coming down but they couldn’t get into North Shields so they used to land at Blyth harbour. There used to be about 40 or 50 boats coming in every night and they weren’t landing massive catches it could be a half of box of lemons or a box and a half of haddock you know like that, and all these boats were coming in.

One of the stories I tell, I was probably about 9 or 10 years old at the time and I was still in junior school. My dad was working filleting constantly. There was sometimes I didn’t see him for two or three days at a time, my mam had nobody to look after me, but she had to go through to Blyth because of they were trying to get this business on the go and they would literally be tallying all the boats. Writing the name of the boat down, what they were landing and then they would sort out the money later on to pay the guys for what they’d landed. So many a time, midnight I was standing on Blyth dock with my mam and I’ve often said since then, if I’d ever gone into school and said I was down on Blyth dock at 12 o’ clock last night they would have come and taken me away you know. Unfortunately, they were trying to build a business and there was nothing else she could do, nobody to babysit so she had to take me with her.

So yes, and what they did then was the fish was landed at Blyth and they put it straight onto waggons bring it through to North Shields and they would stand filleting and prepping the fish for sale the next day and that went on pretty much constant through the summer you know. It was hard work, really hard work.

But my dad always said, “I’ll end up going back to sea,” and he did, he was about 55 when he went back to sea and he was there for another 8 or 9 years. It’s in the blood, you know. He always said, “I’ll go back fishing again.” He was sitting in the Low Lights tavern this day and a guy came in and said, “I’m looking for a cook aboard, anybody cook?” my dad said, “I can cook” and that was it, he was off.


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

Fish Quay image is from Newcastle Libraries’ collection on Flickr
Budgerigar image from bluebudgie on Pixabay

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