Craster Village Life

Joan Angus (written notes)
Until the late 18th century, Craster village was still at the top of the hill, immediately north and east of Craster Tower. A map of 1723 shows an E-W road running straight down the bank next to the Tower, with 12 houses in 2 rows on each side of it, still to be seen in the pasture. The present road did not exist and there was nothing by the sea apart from the little cove where the fishing boats were beached.

The exact date of the exodus down to the haven is uncertain, probably about 1800. The haven was a natural harbour with two limestone islets (Muckle Carr and Little Carr) acting as breakwaters. By 1801 there were nineteen houses in 'Craster Seahouses', as it was called until 1828. It had a population of 100.

The earliest cottages were along the North side, just above the shore, where the present gardens are now situated. Rateable value was one shilling and sixpence (1/6) in the pound. An old plan shows two cottages on West End and four on Dunstanburgh Road. The summer house on the South side is dated 1769, and was used as a picnic venue, and bathing cottage for the Craster family. I believe that this cottage is the oldest in Craster, albeit completely refurbished.

The village was naturally divided into the north and south side by a stream known as Craster Letch.

In 1906 the piers were built in memory of Captain Craster, killed on active service in India. As well as fishing, Craster also developed a prosperous quarrying business, shipping stone by sea on lighters to be taken to London and Roker Pier. The stone was taken down from the quarry by an overhead rail system of wires and buckets, which were tipped into bins on top of the South Pier. These bins were taken down at the beginning of the Second World War, as they thought they could be used as landmarks for enemy planes.

Joan Angus
Other early buildings were - The Jolly Fisherman, Coquet View (1860), the Old Square or Curtain, as it was called (1822), Church Street, Coastguard Cottages (1870), and the Reservoir (1820). The gardens for the Old Square were situated where Robsons fishyard is today. There is in the middle of the present yard a well, completely covered up now. At this time, the most common family names were Archbold, Stanton, Smailes, Simpson and Grey. The old Square, built entirely in whinstone, was demolished in 1962 and rebuilt with modern houses. There were no flush toilets before that date in that area. Hence the chute below the shop.

Most of the houses just had one room, that's why babies had cradles, so the mother could rock the cradle with her foot, whilst baiting the lines. The women worked very hard and lived in a damp atmosphere all the time, their men came in wet and there was no means of drying, consequently the women didn't live very long. If they weren't working most of them were knitting. They knitted all their own gansies.

Jimmy Shaw (extract from house deeds)
There were formerly 14 houses in that part of 'The Curtain' which was on the site now occupied by seven houses on Whin Hill (nos 6, 8 ,10, 12, 14, 16and 16a). In 1934, the tenants of those former houses in the 'The Curtain' were: 12 W Seager; 13 Mrs W Archbold; 14 Mrs J Robson; 15 T Straughan; 16 R & J Archbold; 17 J W Sheehan; 18 J Simpson; 19 Mrs W Grey; 20 A Straughan (snr); 21 Charles Vaughan; 22 J Carss; 23 T Grey; 24 Mrs Simpson; 25 Mrs J Hall.

Adam Dawson
Now before my time, Craster had street lighting. There were cages on the comers of the buildings, where they used to put an oil-light in to show the fisherman the way down to the harbour in the wintertime. I didn't know that, but the relics were still there when I was going to school about 1910. They were like wooden cages with a light in, paraffin lights.

As time went on, we had a Dr Jackson who came from Alnwick. Now Craster was in a bit of a state, and this doctor cleaned it up, starting with shells, mussel shells and everything, and he put Craster in a nice state. He cleaned it up, no pig sties, no pigs, no nothing, 'cos I mean then Craster was getting on its feet

The houses in Craster were all whinstone that was from the local quarry round about. There was no water in the houses, it came from a reservoir on top of a hill, there was a spring that used to fill this reservoir, but we used to be very, very careful with the water. We never used it for washing. Outside every house in Craster there was a barrel we used to have for washing the clothes and everything. We used to use rain water which was pure and clean......

Winnie Hogg
If it was a day when they weren't at the sea, my mother used to wash. Now that was another big job. We had a wash house. The night before they used to have a pot, which had to be lit early on to heat the water. From there the water was put into a big red barrel and then the clothes were put in and possed up and down. They were scrubbed, rinsed, put through a wringer, and put on the bushes, or a line up the top of the hills. At that particular time I put my thumb in the wringer, when I was small, and lost the end of my thumb and had to be stitched. My mother had to bake twice a week. All this was done with no electricity, no vacuum cleaners, no washing machine or anything like that which could help you. I never realized until I was married and had some of these chores to do, how hard my mother had worked.

At the Square the houses were in a square. The numbers were on the doors, the buckets over the 'shut'. The floors were cement. My Aunt Bella's toilet was so clean that you could eat your food out of it - she had all these things for pouring down, I think most people did. The upstairs had originally been lofts for the nets and everything, eventually they were made into two bedrooms - there was a ladder to get up. One of their walls was actually made of sailcloth. The floorboards were creaky. This was about 1927/28......

Doris Clarke
The bottom row was built in 1933 and that is Heugh Road. The Breezes' row was built in the 1920's, they are built of stone. That was the original row. We've got the board in our house that tells when they were built - it was on the inside of a cupboard door - it was a made by a foreman joiner.

Joan Angus
In 1947 there were:

  • Two grocery shops. E. A. Grey and G. W. Nelson
  • An off license (Forest)
  • A butchers shop (Scotts)
  • A hut that sold dressed crabs (Norris)
  • A market garden (Baxter)
  • Two Herring Yards. T. S. Grey and L. Robson
  • Two Sunday schools, C of E and Methodist
  • And at least 2 church services on Sundays
  • There were at least 6 cobles at this time and a taxi service to Little Mill Station and Alnwick. There were only 4 cars in the village at this date.

Adam Dawson
Now South Craster, it was owned by the Squire, all them houses there was owned by the Squire and they used to pay rent, the fishermen.

Winnie Hogg
I got married in 1949 and lived in the Square. We moved in with my mother. Later we moved into the house next door to this one and my mother lived in this one. The last man to leave the Square was Billy Simpson and ,do you know what, he said, 'I'm not moving along to the old age pensioners' houses, I'll be carried out' and they found him dead in the house. At the top of the Church Street are the Reading Room (right) and the Church of St Peter the Fisherman (left).

Willie Archbold
I was born on the North Side, 3 West End, at my granny's, but when I was six months old, I come over to the South Side and I come over to the Square. We lived at No. 25 and faced the north, the Castle. It was right above the herring yards. There was five houses faced the north and two or three across the top and others down the side. I lived there from December 1935 till I came out in June, 1954 and when we came out there was no water in the house, we had earth closets. We put the electric light in ourselves, but the house next door never had electric in and it was still without electric till 1960 and he was found dead in the house. They called him Willy Simpson and I was an under-bearer for him. That was the last house that never had electric in......

Adam Dawson
All the houses on the North side, which was the posh area, were fishermen - they belonged to fishermen, and me granny's house, which is now called Coble Cottage, years ago cost a hundred pounds to build, which in them days was a lot of money - she was a Smailes, her name was Jane Smailes before she was married. Now me grandfather's name was Dawson, Edward Dawson, he lived till he was 84. Me granny lived until she was 88

Billy Lumsden
The Sutherlands owned land in the village. The north side belonged to the Earl of Tankerville. Marjorie has got the Deeds - they were given to all the tenants. At first it was leasehold and he let the fishermen build 14 houses, but after they'd had a bad winter or something happened and they hadn't a lot of money, he gave them the freehold and he also gave them a third of an acre to go with the house, so that they could produce food to feed their families......

Billy Lumsden
I wouldn't like to live any where else. It was a good place to bring a family up. I wouldn't like to live anywhere else. I've gotten on well there. This thing where they say you're an interloper, well I think it's just the way you think, because I've never felt an interloper. (Moved into the village in 1950)

Willie Mitford
I was born in Morpeth, I came to live in Craster when I was about 2-year old because my mother belonged to Craster, she was a Robson, my grandfather started the kipper business. My father was a Morpeth man. We came here during the Miners' strike [1926], my father was a miner and we came here and he got a job in the quarry, with McLaren.

Joyce Shaw
Apparently (many) people died of fever and it's in the Parish records. When I first read it I thought it was Scarlet Fever, but my granny said it was Enteric Fever, caused by the water and my aunt confirmed that and she said that the well was somewhere beside the kipper sheds, just below Michael Doherty's place. Apparently the water was infected because when they got piped water here, there was no more fever. The child mortality rate was high. You can see it in the family trees.

Marjorie Lumsden
Ada's granny lost two daughters within nine months and her husband within a year, with TB. He was 32 and her daughters were twelve and six.

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