Sunny evening, 6 June 2018

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Views of a dead industry

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the herring industry was a cornerstone of the island economy, here in Lewis. The same applied up and down the coasts of the United Kingdom as a whole. In my transcription of the findings of the Napier Commission, I came across the testimony of a fish-curer from Burghead, on the east coast of Scotland. Thomas Jenkins had been plying his trade at Castlebay, Barra, for 13 years when he was quizzed by Lord Napier and his commission. It makes faintly sad reading to see the earnest and detailed outlining of the problems afflicting the herring trade in 1883 - and knowing that within a hundred years, there would be hardly any herring left. The only tangible memory of the herring trade in the Western Isles is in the statues of the herring girls along the harbour front in Stornoway, as shown on the left.

In the early years of the 20th century, young women would flock to the fishing ports of the UK to gut herring at a rate of 60 a minute, packing them into barrels, with copious amounts of salt. The barrels would go as far afield as Russia, where they were considered a delicacy by the ruling classes. Like the herringtrade, the ruling classes in Russia would be swept away within fifty years.


  1. Very interesting reading Guido.It also brought back memories of my Mother making Father pickled Herrings.Good grief I can smell that horrible smell there was in the house now He-heee.Having said that I was only about seven years old at this time.Love the photo you have inserted.Take Care God Bless Kath xx

  2. My elderly neighbour, who will be ninety next month, remembers his home town of Scarborough and its fishing fleet heaving with large cod and mackerel when he was a boy. His father owned two fish reastaurants near the pier. He still extols about how busy the fleet was by comparison to todays industry, which is almost non-existant. It saddened him to watch its demise. I listen to him and his tales with awe sometimes.
    Your entry was very interesting Guido.

  3. A very interesting read. I have just read the history of the Midland and Great Northern railway which ran across Norfolk and North Suffolk. In the herring season they used to run special trains from Scotland to both Yarmouth and Lowestoft for the herring girls. Can you imagine that happening now because I can not.