Curing Herring for the Craster Kipper

Eva Archbold - from written notes 1950s
Craster has earned worldwide fame for its kippers. This may sound exaggerated, but it is perfectly true as we have had proof from South Africa, America and Denmark. I am told Craster kippers were first made by a man called Jack Mason, who came from Tweedmouth. This Jack Mason married Mary Archbold, my grandfather's aunt. They lived in Coquet View.

Willlie Mitford
Sir John (Craster) used to come down with his own little box and he got to pick his own kippers from the rack. When he got his Knighthood, he took kippers down for the Queen. The Queen came up to Holy Island and he took her some kippers then.

Rosemary Gibbs
I remember my uncle saying that some visitors came as a boat was coming in and asked if they could have some fresh kippers straight from the boat!

Marjorie Clarke
I was born in Coquet View where my mother still lives. My father was the Fish Merchant, Kenneth Luke Robson and continued the business from his father, Luke Robson, who died in October, 1948. Dad had come home from the war and he and Alan went into business together to continue fish curing. I was an only child and Alan has a son called Neil.

As a child, I was always given a new pair of black Wellingtons to work in the yard. I was probably about 5-7 years. In those days my mother used to sell the kippers which were so many pence a pair. She worked with Bill Seager and he also worked for my grandfather together with Robert Stephenson......

Neil Robson
The fishermen used to always have their tea at 10 o'clock and if the boats weren't off - if there was a bad sea or there wasn't much doing, all the fishermen used to come along and Dennis Dawson used to come, and in the winter, when we were quiet, they used to discuss football and politics. It was really funny for a young lad to be sitting listening to them. You had about quarter of an hour for your tea and then an hour later they were saying, 'Oh, is that the time?' It was a more relaxed lifestyle in those days......

I left school in 1970 so this would be in the 70's or 80's. The fishermen were making good money in those days that was when the nets came out for fishing for salmon, previous to that they used to fish with nylon nets and they only went out at night. I remember one exceptional season, Billie Smailes came in with 96 salmon about 5 o'clock and then Bartie came in and I think he had 150 odd and an hour later, the Silks came in and they had 250 salmon. That's the most salmon that's ever been landed in Craster in one day......

Herring was still being landed at North Shields then. That would be about 1972/3, 'cause there was a ban on the landing of herring on this coast. I think about 1977, they put a 10 year ban on the herring 'cause it had been so drastically over-fished. They were frightened to wipe the stocks out

Willie Mitford
There used to be a herring yard at Newton, my grandfather started there, he was a cooper and a curer. In fact my Uncle Luke and Jim were born at Newton. My mother was born here.

My grandfather came here to work and then he started up on his own. I can remember my mother saying, all the family worked for him and he always paid his women but if he had a bad year, he didn't pay his daughters......

Winnie Hogg
When my mother worked at the herring, before the war, in the 1930's, she was a packer. There were two of them working together. One was gutting and my mother used to pack them into barrels. Sometimes they had a glut of herrings and they were there until midnight in the kipper yard. They worked by paraffin flares. When I was 7 or 8 I used to go along to old Lizzie's about 9 o'clock at night and get a can of tea off her mother and a can off my granny to take to my mother and go to the herring yard, so they had a break. They used to stop there until all the herring was finished.

I didn't realize until I was married how hard my mother worked. If we went into the kipper yard, her backside was in the barrel, sticking out of the barrel, 'cos she was the packer. They were on piece work. All these barrels were dotted around the village, especially around the pub. Then they went from there to Berwick, where they were put on a ship and apparently they were exported to some of the Scandinavian countries. That was in the summer. They had to work hard, to cover themselves for the winter, if the weather was bad, because they didn't get dole.

In the winter my mother baited lines. She was up at 5 o'clock in the morning scenning mussels and limpets. She would stop for a while and get us ready for school, and then she would do some chores. When the boats came in all the lines had to be baited with the limpets, ready for the next day. If they were snarled up, the lines, sometimes they were in a bait house, (which was at my granny's at that time), until sometimes 12 o'clock at night. These lines had to be finished for the next day to go to sea......

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