The Fishing Industry

Eddie Grey

When I was young I used to go with the boats here. Billy Smailes and Bartie Dawson used to fish for herring and I went with the Silks a few times - night time drifting with the cobles. It was like Piccadilly Circus out there 'cause you used to get the ring-netters, the Scotch boats, going backwards and forwards. They had it off to fine art how they used to work their gear. In fact, when you think back, you weren't safe there in a coble, the lights they used to have were just like a jam jar with a bulb. There was no navigation like there is now. The Scotch boats had the white lights and what not, but the cobles were pretty primitive, the rig that they had. It was quiet weather when we went out. It was still, but we could hear when the ring-netters were going steaming about. You could hear the wake coming off them, you couldn't really hear the engine, just the wake off the boat and they used to come steaming close past you.

I remember the first time I was there. I was with Billie Smailes. I'd never been to the herring fishing before. I can remember him hauling the nets. I think there was about five or six cran, I can remember the herring coming over the side and they were squeaking, like a mouse. When you see them in the water it's like fire in the water, they shine.

Eddie Grey

To be a good fisherman is mainly just practice. You pick it up as you go along but I served my time with Billie Smailes. When I started originally, I went with Billie when he had a trawler 'The Germania'. We fished out of Seahouses, I went with him for three year there and then I got a coble of my own, I wanted to be back here. I didn't think much of the trawling. As Billie said to me, 'You're better off in Durham Jail, as doing that job'. I hadn't been married that long and I had two young children and I never used to see them when I came home at night - I used to see them at the weekend, like. They were in bed when I got home - sometimes it was 9 o'clock when I got home and I was away again at midnight, they really didn't know me. I wanted to be back here. My heart was here. I wanted to go lobster fishing. I love cobles.

Jack Browell

I took a bloke called Jamesie Smailes' berth, when he packed up. The boat was called 'Just Reward', a coble. There was Bartie Dawson and Vincent Morris and myself. That time of year we were working three to four miles of track, fishing 8 by 30 pots. A fleet of lobster pots consists of 30 pots. Later on we were fishing for lobsters. I got pushed into steering the boat. I had to learn all this and I used to get pointed out the landmarks. I used to have to take compass readings, pocket watch time -I used to have to carry a pocket watch, which I still have, that was my job. You were told once and you had to remember, you were never told a second time. We used to work right on the five mile track and about Christmas time we used to cut the fleets back to six, land the newest nets - as long as you got Christmas in, the lobsters was good then - you were doing well. It was hard graft because there was no such thing as self- haulers then. Everything was done by hand......

Dougie Hogg

I used to gan myself and there was one day, I was fishing just beside the Castle and I got a rope around my leg and it pulled me over the top of the engine box and my hand landed on the gearstick, otherwise I would have been ower the side and away. So I got somebody after that and we done away quite well, but when the weather broke in September time, we always used to lose our gear, cos we couldn't get to the nets as the lobster pots were falling about as the boat wasn't big enough.

The fellow who first had the coble (I had bought), came from Newbiggin and he died in the stern of it and one day we were out at sea, I was with Peter Browell, he was one of my crew. It was a lovely day and the engine started to rev up and down and Peter looked at me and I looked at him. I said “he's come back”. It had done it loads of times; the engine was revving out of control and to tell you the truth we had the wind up, we didn't know what was going on and we got a look, it was a big crab under the floorboards and it had hold of the throttle cable and was pulling it every now and again. We were relieved after that......

Eddie Grey

You used to have seasons, crab fishing come the spring and then the lobster fishing, but the seasons seem to have changed now......

There was no crab fishing in the spring like there used to be. About three or four years ago we started fishing further out, about five or six miles out and there were plenty of crabs. They were a Godsend really 'cause we were nearly on our backsides then. The crabs were maybe there years ago but we couldn't go out that far, we daren't go because you used to get the Scotch boats fishing for haddock and whiting and that. Your gear wasn't safe......

Jack Browell

Lobster fishing started July working very close to shore - “The Rock Ends' - working eight fleets of 30 pots per fleet. We had catches of sometimes up to 100 to 200 pounds of lobsters at the start of fishing. As the months went by and nearing December we would be off to 5 miles and deeper water. Some winters were very poor and we use to lose some pots if it was really rough.

January & February we landed our lobster pots (trapnets) and prepared for the crabbing season. Crab pots were different to lobster pots. We shot 8 fleets of 40 pots on the 20 fathom depth (1 fathom = 6 feet) about the end of Feb. If the weather was reasonable, by March & April time we were working about 15 to 20 minutes from home in an easterly direction. We'd catch anything between 60 and 100 stones of crab per day, but as time went on we used to be put on quota of 10 to 15 stone per crew member.

The ropes weren't like they have now, our ropes were tarred. You used to tar and bark them, your hands got all tar and you used to get spikes off them with running through your hands. What we used to do when we came home at 12 o'clock, the catch had to be in then to get away to the market, we used to try to get in between 12 – 1 o'clock, then we used to come home, have our dinner and then back to the shed where we used to knit covers – our goal for the year was to knit 100 covers and wood for 100 bottoms, knock them up, bore them and stack them and then go away and cut ash sticks for the bows, bend them and shape them......

We used to come home and go to bed sharp and that was it, up early in the morning again. Then when the crabbing really started, there were always crab, once you started getting loads of crab, I'm talking about 80, 90 a 100 stone

That was the crab season and then we started with the lobsters again in July and August, around the weirs. We used to work 8 x 30s lobster pots. The worst thing that ever came out was self haul and the steel pots. When we worked, we had to watch the weather. We didn't want to lose our gear, so you worked off the shore. The steel pots were never out of the weir, amongst the rocks, they leave them in now - the ruination of fishermen. The self haulers took all the hard work out of fishing.

The herring fishing came about in September, we had a bash at that. The Scottish driftnet men all used to come down to this part of the coast, and we decided to go with the cobles. We used to work with seven herring nets, used to go away about 7 o'clock at night working at the west end of the drifters. Bartie Dawson, myself, Vincent Morris and we had an old fellow, called Geordie Norris. We used to carry flasks of soup and coffee......

We carried on with the lobster pots in September time, right through the winter and of course there were some poor, poor winters and we lost a lot of gear sometimes. Had to go away and cut boat sticks once or twice a year, these were to haul the boats up and down on. These were mostly ash and oak and we used to soak them with water......

Danger at sea: “I was thankful we got in alright”

Willie Archbold

About 20 years ago, it was one day it came away very bad and he (Dougie Hogg) had his nets right in at the rocks and at that particular time, he had all the nets he had at sea, he had none in reserve on the beach and if the sea had come really bad, which it was mekking, he would have been cleaned out and had to pack up. So he asked me if I would gan to sea with him, because his mate was away for the weekend. So I said yes I would gan and it was a pretty rough day, I'll tell you, and we went away and there was one fleet north of the Muckle Carr rock and we went in as far as we could and we saw that it was going to be dangerous and we just left it. Now that fleet, later that day was washed clean ashore and they were nearly all right, on the beach, the whole lot. We went to the back of the Castle where he had two fleets and we got them out. It was a poor day and after that we went away south and we got two fleets in off Cullernose and we got them out and then we turned home and it was high water and that helped the situation 'cause it's dangerous coming into the harbour, when it gets shallow between the two rocks and it was a big tide which helped as well. I was thankful that we got in alright.

Another day, I wasn't out with Dougie, it was about 1984 and it come bad and when he was coming into the harbour, he was coming in all right, coming between the Carrs but just outside the pier, this sea come from nowhere and there was three in the boat, Andrew, Dougie and Dick and it broke underneath the boat and had it broken right on the stern I think she would have foundered and sunk just outside the pier, but fortunately it broke under the boat and he was lucky. He had gone out in pretty good weather and then it just broke. That harbour is a good entrance to come in but if it's an easterly sea, it's not so easy.

Joan Angus

The boats and cobles had wonderful names - The Lizzie Buist Rennie, a herring boat bought from a fisherman in Newbiggin for £90; The Verbena; The Lady Fanny; The Margery Banks; The Elizabeth & Mary; Charles William; Mayflower; The Water Lily; The Annie & Nellie; and Isabella. I can remember cobles with names like: Our Girls 1 & 2; Our Brother; Thankful; Silver Spray; Supreme; Just Reward; Eleanor Dawson; Jane; Unity; Anne B. Smailes; Anne B; Thomas H; Marian; and Star Trek. I think Dodie Archbold had Silver Spray, John W. Dawson had The Thankful and Ralph Martin Archbold and Jack Hall, The Isabella Buist Rennie belonged to Bob Smailes and the fishermen called it 'Lizzie Bust Rennie'.

Extracts from the Shipping Register ~ Craster Boats 1920's

Thomas W
Martin & Ralph
Joseph Tait
Thomas Nesbit
Built 1922, sail and motor, lost 22.3.23
lug sail, motor installed 13.8.23
lug sail, foremast & jib
lug sail, mizzen mast, condemned 5.1.25
lug sail, motor added 8.12.22, to N Shields 23.6.28
lugger, foresail & jib
sail fore & aft, lug &jib
sail fore & aft, motor added 10.2.20
lug sail, foresail and jib, went to Blyth 25.2.25
sail, lug, foresail & jib
Sep & George
sail, lug, broken up 31.12.28
sailing lug
sail, lug, foresail and jib
coble, lug sail, condemned 31.12.27
broken up 30.12.26
William VERBENA sail, lugger, foresail and jib, transferred to Blyth 13.3.29
Robert ROBERT & JOHN sail, lugger, foresail & jib
coble, sail & lug
coble, sail & lug, condemned 31.12.27
R, G & W
coble, sail lug

Friday 10th February, 1928
Photograph from Articles in Northumberland County Gazette and Guardian, Saturday Feb 18th 1928. William Stephenson (left), James Sanderson (right) and Thomas Archbold (right in group) who were drowned in gales whilst hauling their lines at sea.

Willie Archbold
My mother's brother's boat, 'The Provider' with two other fishermen from here, Tom Archbold and James Sanderson and my uncle, William Stephenson and they went to the long lines. It was 1928, Friday, 10th February. There would be about 9 to 10 fishing boats from Craster then and my father said it was a pretty good morning when they set off. It was flat calm, but there was a red sky and they didn't like that, but never mind the boats went away. They shot the lines and as the day wore on, coming up to 11 o' clock the wind blew up from the south east and the boats were fishing south east of here. They had to come forward, which is very bad for a coble - they are better coming into it and they had to come into Craster and my father was the last in, bar the one that never returned. He was with the two Smailes brothers - Billy Smailes father and uncle. And my father told me that they were still hauling the lines when they passed the boat that never returned and they seemed OK when they were off Cullernose about two mile out, coming in.

There was a tremendous sea had started the back of them, what we call a south easterly lipper and they saw it coming towards them and one of them in the boat asked if they were going to turn the boat to head up to it 'cos they were stern onto it and they said no, in case it caught them broadside on and that would be a bad job. They put the boat's engine out of gear and, when they were hit, the boat was nearly stopped and when the sea hit them there were two or three bucketfuls came into the boat, but one of them seas had hit the boat that never returned. It just took one, that's what they thought and I'm sure they were right, but my father said they never got another bad one like that, for a good job and they just put her into gear again and put her in the harbour. They got in about 11 o'clock and they reckon the boat was lost about 12 noon.

There was an old fisherman on the summerhouse, they called him Simpson. He died in June of that year. He was 88. He wasn't getting out with being old and he was looking out of the window and there was a man called Bob Taylor, he was going back and forward asking him if he could see it, 'cause everybody was watching for it. About 12 noon, he must have seen out the window and he said, “if that boat's not in now, it'll never come back” and he was right. The sad thing about it as well, the Boulmer Lifeboat was sailing then and my uncle's father, his brother, was the coxswain of the lifeboat and it was sad for him, because it was my uncle who was in the boat.

There was only one motor lifeboat then on the Northumberland coast, between the Tweed and the Tyne and that was at Holy Island and they fetched it out and it came right up here and they asked the shipping to look out. As the day wore on the wind turned to the land and my father said that about 2 o'clock, he asked for volunteers and the two Smailes volunteered and they launched the coble and they found a hat and an oar and some dead fish, not exactly where the boat had sunk. They did know exactly where the boat had gone, 'cos there was oil and that winter it broke up on the bottom 'cos there were bits coming in. There were three crew lost, my uncle, William Stephenson who was 31, Tom Archbold, the skipper was 51 and James Sanderson, he was about 39. They were all bachelors at that time, although my uncle was courting.

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