Saturday, December 07, 2013

Sepia Saturday 206 : Gipping In Scarborough


I had a clear idea of which photograph I was going to use for Sepia Saturday 206 - the theme of which is women in aprons. It was a photograph of my mother in an apron at home in the kitchen : and then I discovered I had used it for a previous Sepia Saturday post. I thought there might be a load of photos in the family archive shoebox featuring matriarchs in aprons, but strangely there were not. I can almost hear the conversation : "Let's take your photo Harriet", "Nay lad, tha's not taking my likeness looking like this, let me take my pinny off". 

If the conversation continued, Harriet-Ellen, or Kate, or Isabella or whoever would no doubt say, "you don't want me looking like a Scottish fishwife", and it was that thought that sent me digging and delving in Fowler Beanland's vintage postcard collection. And that is how I came to find the old postcard entitled "Girls Gipping & Packing Herring, Scarborough".  The card is unused, so I have nothing to date it; but the style and the publishers' details (WR&S) suggests the first decade of the twentieth century.

The herring fishing fleets used to move down the east coast of Britain following the shoals of herring. Their journey south from Scotland was matched, on land, by groups of skilled fishwives, who would move from port to port to gut and sort the catch when it came ashore. Intrigued by the term "gipping", I went on-line and found this wonderful description from an article in the Brisbane Courier of 23 April 1932. Entitled "North Sea Herring Fishing" it is by H Wetherell, who had just returned from a visit to England where he witnessed the landing of the herring in Scarborough. The full article - which is worth reading if you have a few minutes to spare - can be found HERE. It is the final paragraph which relates to "gipping".

"Next morning I watched the Scotch girls "gipping" herrings on the wharf. Every year hundreds of Scotch girls come down the English coast for this work. The herrings are put into a trough with salt so that they can be more easily handled, and the "gipping" consists in inserting a short bladed knife beneath the gills and tearing out the gills and gut. The girls in oilskin apron, rubber top boots, bandeau on head, and with fingers tied up, work at almost incredible speed. I timed one and found that she did one a second. And they not only "gip" them, but throw them according to size, into different barrels. They work in crews of three, and are paid £1 a week and 1/-  for each barrel. A crew can do 50 barrels a day by working, as they sometimes do, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. They are fine, strong girls, and they need to be!"

If all that leaves you a bit exhausted, settle down, take your apron off, pour yourself a soothing drink and wander over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and see what the rest of the Sepians are up to.

17 comments:

  1. I can imagine that fish guts and salt were not kind to the hands of these women. The postcard really captures the flavor, smell, and noise that was once common to all the wharfs around Britain. The newspaper account of the North Sea Herring was terrific too. Those old newspapers filled space with something like an early version of Wikipedia's random pages.

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  2. A great old postcard of those working girls- no messing around there!

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  3. That’s a nice piece of history. There are similar shots of Canarian ladies doing the gutting of fish; I expect there will be others round the world. I’m sure it was the cookery lessons at school that put me off fish. We had to make ‘soused herring’ and it included the task of gutting. The smell is apalling - I’m full of admiration for those ladies.

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  4. Well I've done and seen a lot of things in Scarborough but gipping is something new.. Historic card and what don't newspapers print stories like that these days. Gipping would be a good task for some of these 'celebrity' TV 'game' shows.

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  5. Very interesting. I'm glad you found this postcard.I never knew what a "fishwife" was and I never even heard of "gipping" before (spell checker hasn't heard of it either).

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  6. I have a couple of cards from Flamborough from about the same time showing the fisher girls Among my 'Flamborough books' I have some that reference the Scottish girls coming down the coast for the herring. Some did winkling too, I think. It was a Flamborough fisherman who taught me how to clean a fish when I was about ten years old.

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  7. And one little postcard gives us a detailed description of another age.

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  8. Wonder where the children were while they were doing this from 6AM to 10 PM. Poor old granny must have had the job.

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  9. Imagine their hands at the end of the day!

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  10. This is very interesting, and I'm glad everyone is avoiding talking about the guy with the whip walking by. Obviously not happy. And the woman looking up at the photographer seems to be his target.

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  11. I guess if you grow up in a place where all the women go down the coast to gut fish, then you go down the coast to gut fish. Feeling very lucky to grow up in HGS where women worry about whether Waitrose has whatever it is they need in stock.

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  12. I don't think that is a whip in the postcard but a young boy with a whip and top. This was not slavery but a necessity for survival that these girls were doing.

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  13. New meaning to Ronald Reagan's "one for the gipper"?

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  14. I expected to see more aprons in my collection too but alas ~
    But good news for us since you managed to rebound quite well with this post.

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  15. Glad you researched "gipping" because I tried and what I found did not reflect what the picture was talking about. The gipping girls - what a talent! I'm off to skim the net for 'oilskin apron.'

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  16. Imagine the smell! They'd never be able to wash it off - apron or not

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  17. Thanks for the tutorial on gipping herring...looks like back breaking work to me standing there all day long:(

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