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!"