about writing and life and God

Lodging in the Rows – the Scottish fisher lassies

on September 5, 2012

Once the fisher lassies arrived in Great Yarmouth, most of them found lodgings in the narrow medieval streets – the Rows – the cut crossways from the quayside. These streets were so narrow, you could touch both sides if you stood in the middle and special carts had to be designed to bring provisions to the houses.

The Rows were a mix of fine merchants’ houses, pubs and homely terraced cottages. English Heritage has two preserved and on show till the end of September. One – a fine house with wonderfully elaborate plaster ceilings. The girls would never step foot there! The other is a homely working-class home which would have taken in fisher girls. Often rooms would be cleared for the three-month season. Brown paper was put over the wallpaper to protect it from the oil and smells brought back by the girls redolent of herring!

There was a little yard outside with a tap where the girls would wash down their oilies – the long apron and their gumboats – hanging them up on the washing line strung across the yard to dry. They would rinse out the clooties they had used to protect their fingers from the lethally sharp gutting knife and wash themselves with a kettle of hot water in the scullery of the house if they were lucky. On Saturdays after work, they made a special effort but even then the smell clung to their hair and fish scales often escaped the scrubbing to sparkle on their bare arms!

The girls bought their own food and had it delivered to where they were staying. There their landlady would cook it for them so there was always a solid meal waiting for them at the end of a hard day’s work.

The town benefited in many ways from the influx of Scottish workers. Landladies – often fishermen’s wives themselves, or widows – made a bit of extra money. The town’s shops provisioned both the boats and the fisher lassies.

Maybe this mutual benefiting is partly why Yarmouth is still such a welcoming town to visitors today!



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