What We Know About East Coast Fishwive’s Creels

Fishwives from East Coast fishing villages used creels to carry the fish they had for sale. The creels were loaded with fish that the men had caught while line fishing, and the fishwives took them to sell inland and to larger towns like Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, and other towns. Apart from in an area around Arbroath where a type of large frame basket called a Rip was used for this purpose, the back creel used by the fishwives was similar in construction to the back creel used on crofts in the Highlands and Islands. It differed from these in that the sides were completely filled in with weaving apart from a small gap, on each side, for the strap.

Two Fisherrow fishwives at the foot of Bush Street. 1904. Musselburgh Museum Committee

Two Fisherrow fishwives at the foot of Bush Street. 1904. Musselburgh Museum Committee

The women carried the creels on their back by putting the strap either across their shoulders or across their forehead. The creels were made from willow and more recently sometimes from the more hard wearing cane.

Liz Balfour, whose father lived in Montrose and told her stories about life in the fishing villages, told me that when fully loaded the creel could weigh up to eight stone and it had to be lifted onto a woman’s back by another two women. She also explained that the women each had a list of names of people to go to on their rounds selling fish. There were a lot of names and often there was a waiting list to get onto a fishwives list. According to Liz the fishwife often came to the front door and not the trademens entrance.

Another top basket sometimes sometimes called a cob, murlin, or scull would balance on top and be used for displaying the different types of fish she had for sale, and also carry the gutting board and knife. As Linda Fitzpatrick from the Fisheries Museum explains when going inland the creels would often be used to carry peats on the way back. If not going round houses the fishwives would set up stalls in the main towns. The advent of railways made it a lot easier to travel and the fishwives laden with creels of fish were often seen on trains traveling to these towns.

We do not have much information about where these baskets were made or who made them. It is likely that as with the creels of the Highlands and Islands of the west coast the design varied slightly from region to region. If you have any more information please get in touch.

by Julie Gurr

See Also Rips

Basket Types: