about writing and life and God

Traveling light – the fisher lassies of Scotland

on September 4, 2012

Day 2 on the fisher lassies who followed the herring fishing round the British Isles.

They were often away from home for months at a time so they needed to take everything they needed with them:

  • their working clothes. They needed a different set of clothes for working as the work was smelly and the clothes were usually old ones they didn’t need to worry about. It was usually a blouse, hand-knitted jumper and cardigan, tweed skirt a little shorter than usual. It needed to be shorter than the waterproof apron they wore over it. Gumboots and warm woollen stockings. A shawl and a headscarf to cover their hair. And of course long knitted woollen vests and knitted knickers. It was cold in the gutting yards!
  • Sunday best clothes. The Scottish boats did not go to sea on a Sunday so from the time that work finished on a Saturday, the girls were free. They brought their best clothes – for going to the dances and/or church: their best blouse, hand-knitted cardigan, skirt, stockings, coat, hat and best shoes
  • their working equipment – the gutting knife (cuttag), a sharpening stone, clooties (strips of cloth to wind round their fingers to protect them, though these could be bought locally)
  • thin mattress,  sheets, pillow and pillowcase, blanket, towel, flannel
  • their knitting kit of needles, wool and a bag for it that they wore tied to their waist. (The girls knitted constantly when they weren’t at work – even when walking around!)
  • Personal items such as soap, hairbrush and kirby grips
  • a Bible

Everything was packed into a kist (Scots word for a chest or cabin trunk). The fish curer who hired the girls to work at his yard paid for their transport by train and that of their kists. The kists were then collected and delivered to the girls’ lodgings.

And off they went, in a spirit of adventure.

‘I loved to travel,’ declared Susan Telford’s grandmother in her book In a World A Wir Ane: a Shetland Herring Girl’s Story (Shetland Times, 1998). ‘We were poor but we had some fun.’

‘Oh it was  a happy, healthy life. … I had the time of my life at the fishing!’ Translated from Chrissie Smith’s recorded memories. See


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