Ways of Life

In the past fishing was very important to peoples' way of life in the North East of Scotland. In fishing villages, whole families were involved in the work. The men would go to sea to catch fish. Sometimes the father, son and grandfather from one family would all be on the same boat. The women who were married to the fishermen were sometimes known as "fish wives". They were in charge of selling the fish. They usually gutted or smoked it first. They would then carry the fish in a basket, called a creel, on their backs. It was carried in much the same way as a backpack today. Women also collected the bait that the men used for fishing.

One hundred and thirty years ago fishing for herring was big in Aberdeen. Every year millions of these fish swam in the North Sea close to Scotland. Many fishing boats sailed from Aberdeen to catch the fish. Women got work in harbours like Aberdeen gutting the fish. It was hard work. These herring lassies had to work outdoors in all kinds of weather.  For hours they were bent over huge boxes filled with cold fish. They cut them open and packed them in barrels. Although it was back-breaking work, the women enjoyed a close friendship with each other. They would travel from place to place for work. They might start in Shetland in May and end up in Great Yarmouth in December.

People in the North East of Scotland still catch and process fish although fewer people do this than in the past. Over-fishing has led to limits on the amount of fish that can be caught. This, in turn, has led to a reduction in fishing fleets throughout the country. Gutting and packing fish is now carried out indoors.

Since the oil and gas industries arrived in Aberdeen they have become very important to the City. Oil companies employ many people in Aberdeen. Some work in offices while others work on oil platforms, and like fishermen they have to stay away from home when they are working. Many offshore workers are away from home for two weeks at a time.

Fish Wife Doll Herring Barrel Stencil Herring Lassies

Related Timelines

Local History - Industry


  1. Look at the photograph of the Herring Lassies. They had to work outside from very early morning.  Try to imagine being a herring lassie?  Write about a herring lassie's day.
  2. Look at the fish wife doll. Think of a job done by people today and design a doll wearing the clothes worn by people doing that job.
  3. Find Shetland and Great Yarmouth on a map of Britain. Work our how far apart they are?