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.
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
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!
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......
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
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......
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
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......