The Banff and Buchan Collection

Agnes and J. D. Buchan, Peterhead, 03/05/1995

Interviewer: Gavin Sutherland

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NEFA 1995.003.01   Transcription
P: Agnes Buchan
T: Packing herring barrels

S: Three women worked at a barrel. 1000 herring per barrel. AB was at Cross and Blackwell first, but others started at 14. That was all the life many people knew. They would sing at the herring, mostly hymns, even outdoors in the winter. They would work till 6 three nights and till 9 three nights. AB was a packer. There was not much skill in it, just speed.

NEFA 1995.003.02   Transcription
P: Agnes Buchan
T: Herring in the Second World War

S: There was some home business in fresh (iced) herring during the war, but the overseas salted fish markets were inaccessible. They would bring Ullapool herring to Peterhead where they were kippered. Her husband moved into fish curing after the war.

NEFA 1995.003.03   Transcription
P: Agnes Buchan
T: Peterhead fishing in the war
 Peterhead fishermen tendered the fleet in Scapa Flow. Some concientious objectors continued fishing. The North Sea was heavily mined, so the boats went to Ullapool. AB wanted to go to Yarmouth for gutting. She was also in the Orknies and Hartlepool. Her father would be away all winter. There was a special, West coast, cure for America. Freshin herring was putting ungutted fish into barrels with salt.

NEFA 1995.003.04    Transcription
P: Agnes Buchan
T: Changing Peterhead fishing trade
 Whitefish is the main trade now, but not before the war. Still herring caught, but there are only a few boats licensed now (Pelagic license). Pursenet boats catch mackerel and herring. There are only a handful of families involved now. You can sell your license (which was issued free) if you leave the trade. Many fewer boats are catching twice as many fish. The crews hardly touch the fish. The owners make most of the money, though the crews make some. They travel around the coast for mackerel and herring.

NEFA 1995.003.05    Transcription
P: Agnes Buchan
T: Fresh fish in Peterhead

S: Mackerel is iced and sent to the markets. The whitefish is landed in Peterhead, filleted and frozen. Summertime, June, July, August, Peterhead used to be seething with West coasters working in the fish trade. There used to be special trains down to Yarmouth for the gutting. The boats took a few days to get down to Yarmouth and would sometimes fish along the way.

NEFA 1995.003.06    Transcription
P: Agnes Buchan
T: Gutting in the old days

S: AB's mother used to go to the gutting long ago. Everyone went out to gut. The Queenie was a hive of industry and you had to stay and gut till the fish was gone. There was an auction room where samples were laid out and the buyers would bid. The skippers made an effort to get in first. Sometimes there were too many fish and they were dumped. Prices varied. There were a couple of big curers, but also smaller ones. Herring was sometimes bought on spec. and if the prices fell, the curer went bankrupt. There was no committment to the workers; they were just hired and fired as needed. The morning after filling a barrel, you would fill up the settled barrels before putting the lids on. They would sit another week and then be topped up again.

NEFA 1995.003.07    Transcription
P: Agnes Buchan
T: Shipping herring and collecting china

S: Inspectors came to look and buy the herring and it was then shipped. They were paid weekly, except the hourly barrel topping up pay (2 s. per hour). They used to collect china from the places they worked. The travel and freedom was some compensation for the hard work. It was like a holiday apart from the 12 to 15 hours work a day. They got paid at the end of the season. You signed on in Peterhead and then took the train down.

NEFA 1995.003.08    Transcription
P: Agnes Buchan
T: Trains to Yarmouth
S: AB does not know of any photographs of gutting trains. The last two years AB went, they went by bus (cheaper), which was not a good journey. The trains were full of gutting quines and coopers. Two crews stayed together (six women). Most women took their own knives with them. [Husband and daughter arrive.]

NEFA 1995.003.10    Transcription
P: Agnes and J. D. Buchan
T: Changing careers

S: After the war, the diesel boats came in. JDB left the fishing during the war and built up a curing business, but his mind was still on the sea. Their son still fishes for whitefish. Pursenet licenses are a closed shop. Buchans and Taits have most of the licenses. [GS discusses what's behind the Peterhead maritime heritage centre.] There was little else in the way of employment in Peterhead. There were fishing people and there were townspeople. They never mixed. In the early days, a townsperson could not do a fisherman's work.

NEFA 1995.003.11    Transcription
P: Agnes and J. D. Buchan
T: Sma lines and great lines
, and changing fishing life 
 The small lines finished around the First World War. The sma lines caught haddock, whiting, etc. The great lines caught cod, ling, etc. The boats went further. The sma lines were baited at home and then shot from smallish boats. The ripper boats did not use bait, the fish were so plentiful. There are far fewer fish today. Fishermen have no nets to mend today. A fisherman needed to marry a fisher woman, so she would be able to mend his nets. Summer fishing locally, down to Yarmouth in the autumn, then tied up in the winter. The fishermen go to sea all year around now. Trawlers from Aberdeen went all year round (ca. 1900). The boats go further out now, and there is less manual labour. It is a different job entirely. Scottish boats would not fish on a Sunday. [Level lowers.] There was not gutting on Sunday either. Sundays they would relax and recover.

NEFA 1995.003.12    Transcription
P: Agnes and J. D. Buchan
T: Saturday and Sunday off
 and the changing herring trade
 They would go dancing on Saturday nights in Yarmouth. They had their own church down there. Two crews were lodged together (six people). English women did not gut; it was only considered fit for Scottish girls. Special trains took the girls down south. Many of the gutters went up to Shetland too. The boats started in Lerwick (March/May), then down to Peterhead till September, then in Yarmouth till the end of the year. They tried Falmouth, but that was not successful. After the First World War, the Russian market was gone and the herring declined. The Russian buyers would take a bite from a herring to test it. A Russian's word was good. Many of the curers went bankrupt; German Marks were useless.

NEFA 1995.003.13    Transcription
P: Agnes and J. D. Buchan
T: Successful boats
S: Fishing is on a bonanza now. A successful skipper will always win out. JD never got much chance as the herring business was already up and running when he came out of the service. The servicemen were promised first chance, but were priced out of the market by the conscientious objectors (many in Gamrie) who had made money throughout the war.

NEFA 1995.003.14-15    Transcription
P: Agnes and J. D. Buchan
T: Fisherfolk and superstitions
S: There's more intermarrying now, as women do not need the skills they used to. There are few women in the fishing trade (at sea, that is). JD's father used to have a lot of superstitions: no whistling, no speaking about caul iron (salmon), no minsters on or near the boat, pigs were called sandy camels on board a boat. Some people are still a little wary of saying on board, etc., though times have changed. The minister's place was in the pulpit, not on the boats. A missionary could go on board, but not a proper minister.

NEFA 1995.003.16    Transcription
P: Agnes and J. D. Buchan
T: Gutting and singing hymns
S: See 1995.004.01


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