In early 2021 when living in London I was awarded Arts Council England's Developing Your Creative Practice Grant to explore womxn workers rights and develop some theatre writing and seed some projects. This led to research shaping Following The Fish Workers and forged connections with me working across the North of England and Scotland.
SIT BACK I’m giving you a backie on my bike Tina from the Shetlands down to Great Yarmouth Following the Fish Workers.. 1700 km over 1 month, This is a little taster of much journey and discovery.
PODCAST CREDITS: Featuring in order: Polly Rowley Sams (Singing) Come on ye Fisher Lassies by Ewan McColl. Jimmy Laurewson - Unst. Gannets at Muckle Flugga, Unst. John Morrison reading Poem For Da Gutters, Lerwick, Shetland. Fisherman George Carter, Lybster (Wick) Anne Coombes, Dornoch, Highlands Anji Hancock and Paul, Lossiemouth Gail, Buckie. Margaret Ritchie, Edinburgh. Angela, Fishmonger at Phil’s Plaice, Northshields. Jerry, Hull Fishing Heritage Centre, Hull. The Criterion Pub, Hull. Nathan Premier Seafoods, Grimsby Lowestoft Wind Turbine.
GUTS : LIVE RADIO PLAY (WIP) @ Camden People's Theatre 02/10/2021
GUTS @ Camden Peoples’ Theatre Supported by Arts Council England ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ Grant Credit to the fish workers, and thanks to all the people who have shared their experience, stories, knowledge and time with us on this journey. Picture courtesy of Ang from Tyne Brand Herring Factory
"The sea, clock of ages, is full of time. In the tide ebb and flow the sense of the moment is critical, but it is the coasts which are affected by tides not the ocean depths, so while the sea, at its shoreline, represents the now of events, yet a paradox of the ocean is that it is in its depth it is a symbol of eternity." - Jay Griffiths Pip Pip.
I am working on a theatre research project WORK WORK WORK, on the experiences womxn workers and what we can from them about time. I am interested both in how some forms of labour are valued economically and some people's time is valued in society, but other people's labour and time is not. I have been supported by the Developing Your Creative Practice fund from Arts Council England to do this research and develop my playwriting and theatre making practice. I am taking an intersectional approach to look at gender, time, value and labour. Using verbatim and playwriting strategies, I’m in the process of story gathering/interviews over the next few months and developing some short theatre pieces/ scenes from these as small experiments and hopefully to seed future participatory projects.
Through my fascination with the sea I have been researching and thinking about what it is to work in the fish industry. I landed on the incredible history of the fish gutters. Often referred to as the fisherwomen, herring lasses, fesh quines, these incredible self-organised women, hardy as hell, were the fastest fish gutting teams in (our) history.
Many talented historians, researchers, documenters and artists have recorded and documented the lives, work and history of the fish gutters better than I can do here - (so please see the list of resources below!). But If you don't know, to give you a brief overview:
The Herring Workers
From the 18th century through the 19th century up to the first world war, and then again NH that to the second world war, many generations of women travelled from fishing communities on the East and North coasts of Scotland, all the way down to the ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, on the Norfolk coast, following the herring shoals and the boats catching them. Known as the Scottish lasses’ invasion the women fish workers who came from Scotland were so fast and so effective they were notorious. The women worked incredibly long days, usually with no stops for breaks. They worked in teams of 3: 2 gutter and 1 Packer commissioned on behalf of a particular fishing boat. It was brutally hard work. The fish workers could get up to 60 or 70 fish and minute and would read them in terms of size and then pack them into barrels which would be pickled and then shipped to Europe and Russia. Whenever the women went gutting and packing the fish, they were knitting. there are famous Scottish fisherman's knitwork and would be found to be singing.
Seemingly scarcely documented, ( and very excitingly for my interests), the women organised successful strike action a number of times. Largely unsupported and unrecognised by the male - run unions of the time, the fish gutters organised a number of actions through the 1930s, shutting down the pickling and curing yards in Norfolk, and winning better pay and better working conditions for themselves and their coworkers.
I am on a mission to find out more about the lives, work and experiences of fish gutters from the past, and present. I am excited to explore what they can teach us about time value and labour. What can we learn from them for workers’ struggles today?
Following the Fish Workers : the journey
Over the course of a month I am aiming to cycle the route of the herring fish gutters. I am travelling from Shetland and stopping off in the fishing ports and harbours where herring was landed, through Scotland ,down the East coast all the way to Great Yarmouth.
I am hoping to meet people on the way who have a relationship to this history: whether that is as present day fish workers, or involved in some way in fisheries, or through their own personal relationship to this labour and the women who did it. I am wanting to chat to anyone one.com uh whether they want to make a play about fish gutting, when they can show me how to get a fish, why they no wonder songs and would be happy to let me record them singing it.
Travelling by bicycle and sleeping in a tent along the coast (following national cycle route 1) ,chatting to people,I will document my experiences. I will be uploading regular voice notes and pictures to this website, so if you are interested, do follow me following the fish workers then go here.
"Perhaps nowhere is there a more fascinating complex of time than in the seas. Cicero recorded that the flesh of oysters at sea waxed and waned with the full moon (and so, as women know, does the human oyster)." Jay Griffiths Pip Pip.
I am a dyspraxic and dyslexic person. Recently, the definition of dyspraxia as 'a different experience of space and time' was brought to my attention by a fellow dyspraxic. I have also thought for some time that maybe I'm on the autistic spectrum, but that's neither here nor there. Any which way, I consider myself neuro-divergent and, depending on the structures I am trying to fit myself into, I identify within the social model of disability as a disabled person: disabled by the ableist world around me. I do not think in a linear way and my experience of people and time and structures is not straightforward.
I have always been quite obsessed with the sea. Perhaps that is growing up near it, near Brighton, perhaps it’s that it has been known for eons to be a source of health benefit. Whatever, I need to jump into it, look at it, be near it.
WORKING TIME I have come to this work through my own experience of different types of work. many exploitative, brutal and underpaid; others, incredibly well paid and sometimes easy.
My working life flits between manual, seasonal, artistic, corporate, care work, community phased, activism. I'm fascinated by how we experience time differently, depending on the activities we are doing, as well as at different points in our lives. That the work of mothers, of carers, is undervalued to say the least. You know that domestic and caring work are often invisible and the people who do it, often migrant women, are made invisible too.
An overall research question that frames my work is:
How can storytelling reshape how we value time and labour?
I believe we have a lot to learn from the experiences of workers that are invisiblised by a sexist white supremacist capitalism that doesn't value certain types of work or those that do it.
I am fascinated by why the different experiences of time change depending on what sort of labour you are doing, whether that's different job labour or unpaid labour such as raising families, caring for people or community / political organising. Beginning on this endeavour, on this research exploration I have begun to explore the different gendered labour roles from care work to sex work and alternative models and resistance.
And now this Is where I'm at:
"The Scots Herring Lassies' Strike in East Anglia 1938 was a strike by female seasonal workers from Scotland who traveled to East Anglia in the United Kingdom to gut herring (which is a step in fish processing). "Lassie" is the word for "girl" in the Scots language. Before the First World War, 80% of the herring catch at East Anglia had been exported to Russia, and the collapse of the Russian and German markets meant hardship for the herring industry during the 1920s and 1930s. It was still mostly Scottish, but the Scots were withdrawing. In 1925, they had 757 boats and 4,000 fisher women. By 1936 the numbers were about 460 and 2,000 respectively. In 1936, the fisher women went on strike, and succeeded in obtaining an increase in wages. By 1938, it was clear that many steam drifters were not earning enough to cover expenses. In the autumn of 1938, the Scots herring women who traveled each year to the ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft in East Anglia to gut herring went on strike over their pay and conditions. This strike was over the same issues as the strike two years before, plus their protest was directed against the general decline of the industry. This strike in 1938 was also in support of the men who operated the herring drifters which caught the herring. English boats were engaged in Sunday fishing, which the Scottish women said gave an unfair advantage to the English over the Scottish fishermen, as the Scottish fishermen did not fish on Sundays."
More on the Herring Workers
Shetland to yarmouth Herring Girls : https://engole.info/herring-girls/#:~:text=Herring%20girls%20or%20herring,south%20during%20the%20herring%20season
The sounds https://www.scotslanguage.com/articles/node/id/394/type/referance Song of the fish gutters Chrstine Kydd https://soundcloud.com/christinekydd/fisherrow-the-song-of-the Singing the Fishing https://ewanmaccoll.bandcamp.com/album/singing-the-fishing Jess the herring lass : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0VZ9xMdQF8&ab_channel=Haycroft2
Seafood industry today : https://www.seafish.org/document/?id=16687d65-6e8c-488d-ac3f-f592f9fe9253
VIDEOS: Scotch Fisher Girls at Yarmouth :http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/181
The HERRING girls, kippers and baskets http://wovencommunities.org/collection/the-herring-industry/
STRIKE: The Scots Herring Lassies' Strike in East Anglia 1938 was a strike by female seasonal workers from Scotland who traveled to East Anglia in the United Kingdom to gut herring (which is a step in fish processing). "Lassie" is the word for "girl" in the Scots language. Before the First World War, 80% of the herring catch at East Anglia had been exported to Russia, and the collapse of the Russian and German markets meant hardship for the herring industry during the 1920s and 1930s. It was still mostly Scottish, but the Scots were withdrawing. In 1925, they had 757 boats and 4,000 fisher women. By 1936 the numbers were about 460 and 2,000 respectively. In 1936, the fisher women went on strike, and succeeded in obtaining an increase in wages. By 1938, it was clear that many steam drifters were not earning enough to cover expenses. In the autumn of 1938, the Scots herring women who traveled each year to the ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft in East Anglia to gut herring went on strike over their pay and conditions. This strike was over the same issues as the strike two years before, plus their protest was directed against the general decline of the industry. This strike in 1938 was also in support of the men who operated the herring drifters which caught the herring. English boats were engaged in Sunday fishing, which the Scottish women said gave an unfair advantage to the English over the Scottish fishermen, as the Scottish fishermen did not fish on Sundays.
Articles: C. Lewis. The Yarmouth Herring Industry (Norfolk Museums Service, 1988) Davies, S., "'A whirling vortex of women': the strikes of Scots herring women in East Anglia in the 1930s and 1940s", Labour History Review, vol. 75, no. 2, 2010, pp. 181-207, Maney Publishing