On the East Coast of Scotland fishwives from the villages were responsible for selling the fish the men caught while out line fishing. When they went on their rounds selling these fish, or into large towns to set up stalls they carried all the fish in a creel on their back. They also always had another basket for displaying a sample of fish and usually to hold a board and knife for gutting the fish. In areas where they used back creels the basket was called a murlin or top creel was balanced on top of the back creel. Liz Balfour told me that some people would say that fishwives had a creel that came in ‘two halves’, but actually what they were talking about was the back creel with the top creel that was balanced on top.
- The top creel was made of willow or rattan and was of a large deep basket frame basket construction. It was kept on top of the back creel when the fishwives were walking from place to place. When they stopped and put the back creel on the ground the top creel was a good height to display fish for sale and to use the board and knife that was carried in it to gut the fish they were selling.
In areas around Arbroath and Montrose, where rips were used instead of the usual back creels, a basket with a handle was used instead of the usual top creel so that it could be carried on the arm. These arm creels, or bow creels, were also sometimes called murlins. We can speculate that arm creels were used instead of top creels because of the design of a rip. When it was put down on the ground , the top of it was lower than a normal back creel and so a basket resting on this was too low to display fish to customers. Having the basket over the arm was a better height.
by Julie Gurr