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Sea Fish and Shellfish

The Herring Girls

The curers employed teams of women, known as herring-girls, to do the gutting and packing in the herring curing yards.

A team was usually allocated to a particular boat for the season. The women worked in teams of three – two to gut the fish and one to pack the barrels.

The herring-girls received a small sum on engagement at the beginning of the season and were then paid per cran, or 28 stone weight of fish packed in the barrels. The amount the women received depended on how efficiently the whole team worked and how quickly they could fill the barrels.

They worked six days a week, outside and in all weathers, often starting at 5.00am and continuing until all the catch was gutted and packed, sometimes late at night.

During the season, the women followed their fishing boats as the shoals of herring migrated along the coast. They started in May in the Shetlands, Wick or the West Highlands, then moved round to Fraserburgh and down the East coast of Scotland and England. The herring-girls arrived in the East Anglian ports of Yarmouth and Lowestoft in September or October and stayed there almost until Christmas before returning home.

They often travelled between ports in special trains and their luggage was carried in wooden or tin chests, known as “kists”. In the larger ports, accommodation was provided for the women in dormitories near the harbour.