Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Herring Lassies

We have a few old postcards in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection that show people knitting, including these two of Scottish herring lassies.  Hundreds of these women left their homes every year for the fishing ports on the east coast, where large catches of herring were landed. Their job was to gut, salt and pack them.  At the end of the herring season they went home with their earnings which probably kept them and their families until the next year.

The first postcard here, "Scottish Lassies' Recreation" was postmarked Great Yarmouth in 1907, and I guess that the scene it depicts was also in Great Yarmouth.  The town was already a seaside resort and visitors were evidently interested in seeing the herring lassies, and buying postcards of them.

There are many other photos of herring lassies that show them knitting when they weren't working - it seems to have been their usual leisure activity.  I would love to know what they are knitting - the one on the left has what looks something like a Balaclava helmet in front of her apron, and the women next to her something that looks like a large sock (a sea-boot stocking?).

Scottish Lassies' Recreation
The other card is undated (and was never sent), but is probably about the same date. The women are both wearing knitted shawls around their heads.  The paler shawl seems to have a very open texture, and there are large holes knitted into the border.  (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

Herring Lasses off Duty

Herring fishing in the North Sea was disrupted by the First World War, and the herring lassies and their families lost a vital income. This report from February 1915 describes the work of the herring lassies up to the start of the war, and a scheme to pay the unemployed women to knit comforts for soldiers and sailors.  So knitting, which had been a leisure activity, became their main source of income.

(PS I have found a reference in the Dundee Evening Post, in October 1902, to the opening of a rest house in Yarmouth: "This season excellent provision has been made for the fisher girls, who last year numbered no fewer than 3000, by the erection right next to the gutting-grounds of a handsome bungalow residence, by the generosity of Miss Davidson, of the Church of Scotland, where the girls may go in the intervals between their work.  They will be also able to obtain hot meals, to avoid the necessity in times of pressure of returning to their lodgings in the town, and other arrangements are made for their comfort and convenience, such as attending to cut fingers, &c., in what has been named the Rest House for Scottish Fisher Folk".  This appears to be the building that is in the background of the first postcard.)


  1. Thank you for posting the article and photos--although I would point out that knitting back then, especially for the working poor, wasn't a leisure activity. It was a necessary and important skill to make items of clothing needed to survive the cold and harsh living conditions AND also a way to earn extra income, by selling pieces they made.

    1. You're right of course that for many people, knitting was done to earn money. And for many women, even up to the 1950s, knitting for themselves and their families was an economic necessity. But I meant that knitting was a leisure activity in the sense that they weren't gutting herrings. Knitting must surely have felt like leisure by comparison.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...