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The Newhaven Heritage Centre is recognised as a Scottish registered charity No SC044837.
Inspired by the past to build a better future together
n their day the Newhaven fishwives were famous throughout the country for their brightly coloured traditional outfits, their robust stature and handsome faces, their panache and quick wits. They were renowned for their sharp tongues, which gave rise to the Scots expression ‘a tongue like a fishwife’.
Charles Reade wrote a novel in 1853 in which he described the typical Newhaven fishwife: ‘On their heads they wear caps of Dutch or Flemish origin with a broad lace border, stiffened and arched over to forehead, about three inches high, leaving the brow and cheeks unencumbered. They have cotton jackets, bright red and yellow, mixed in patterns, confined at the waist by the apron-
’ On holidays the shawl is of silk, the petticoats of gay colours, striped yellow or red, the stockings are white, and a silken handkerchief is thrown over the head’ .
Until the 1950s, they used to tramp into Edinburgh with their creels on their backs to sell fish from door to door, their cry of ‘Caller Herring’ (‘fresh herrings’) or ‘Caller Ou’ (oysters) echoing around the streets in the old town until it became a song.
However, the wife of the fisherman was the mainstay of the household. They arose early to harvest mussels to bait the lines. They prepared and sold their husband’s catch on the street corners and around the houses of the Town. They cooked, cleaned, kept the house, and reared the children. But to quote Maggie Mucklebackit, a character in one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels, “Them that sells the goods. guide the purse — and them that guide the purse rule the house”. Indeed, all that that man of the house was expected to do was to provide adequately for the family, a task he undertook with diligence and single-
Read an article, “Wearing the Braws”, here > > >
. . . and an Ode to the Fisher Lassies of Newhaven here > > >