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Tweed Salmon Fisheries

The London Trade

There is a long history of salmon being shipped from Berwick to London.

In the 16th century, the Guild of Berwick controlled all the salting, packing and exporting of salmon.

The Regulations of the Guild required that the merchants employ only “sworn packers of salted or dried salmon”, who had to take an Oath before entering the trade. At that time the English Crown gained one barrel in every twelve exported from the port of Berwick. In 1568, 60 barrels were sent to Queen Elizabeth I as the royalty on the 720 barrels exported that year.

Salmon, grilse and sea-trout were shipped “raw” between January and March. The trade in fresh salmon finished by the end of April, as the increasing temperature of the season rendered it impossible to bring the fish to market in a proper state. When the voyage to London proved longer than usual, the ship would land the salmon in the nearest port so that it could be sold locally, rather than let it spoil by taking it on to London.

By the 18th and 19th centuries large quantities of salmon, grilse (young salmon) and sea trout were being sent by sea from Berwick to London.

In the summer, the fish were sent to London ”cured”, or pickled. By the end of the 18th century, the trade in cured salmon had declined and most of the fish were being sent fresh to London, packed in pounded ice which preserved it in good condition for up to six days. The first cargoes of Tweed salmon packed with crushed ice were shipped from Berwick in 1788.

The Tweed Foundation’s “ History of Tweed Salmon Netting” including a description of salmon curing in Berwick in 1682

Until the 1830s, the fish were carried to London in fast sailing ships called Berwick smacks, many of which were built at Berwick and Tweedmouth. Some of the vessels had water-filled wells in their holds to carry fish live to London.

 From 1838, a faster and more reliable service was provided by steamships like the ”Manchester” and “Rapid”, both owned by the Berwick Shipping Company, which later became the Tweed Salmon Fishing Company. The Company also owned several smacks, including the “Stately”, “King William” and “Ceres”.