The Cullercoats Fish Lass

Detail of a Cullercoats Fishlass, from Inside the Bar, by Winslow Homer 1883.
William Finden noted that the fishwives (wives and daughters of the fishermen) searched for the bait, digging sand-worms, gathering mussels or seeking limpets and dog-crabs. They also assisted in baiting the hooks. In addition to this, they carried the fish to the market to sell them. “When fish are scarce, they not unfrequently carried a load on their shoulders, weighing between three or four stone, to Newcastle, which is about ten miles distant from Cullercoats, in the hope of meeting with a better market.”

The Cullercoats Fish Lass became a popular subject for many of the Cullercoats Artist Colony, most notably Winslow Homer. While he resided from the spring of 1881 to November 1882, Homer became sensitive to the strenuous and courageous lives of its inhabitants, particularly the women, whom he depicted many times, hauling and cleaning fish, mending nets, and, most poignantly, standing at the water’s edge, awaiting the return of their men.

Jean F Terry wrote, in 1913, “The Cullercoats fishwife, with her cheerful weather-bronzed face, her short jacket and ample skirts of blue flannel, and her heavily laden “creel” of fish is not only appreciated by the brotherhood of brush and pencil, but is one of the notable sights of the district”.

William S Garson, in his 1935 book, The Romance of Old Tynemouth and Cullercoats, wrote: “The Cullercoats fishwife plays a man’s part in helping to launch the lifeboat, frequently wading waist-high into furious and ice-cold waters, and she never hesitates to allow her man to take a place on the boat, though he may go to face death and disaster.”

North Tyneside based film company, ACT 2 CAM, made a film in 2013 about the life of a young fishwife, entitled The Cullercoats Fishlass. The story follows the fortunes of a young fishwife living at the turn of the 20th century. Over 150 young people aged 8–18 were engaged in the creation of the film, working on screen and behind the camera

  1. Hi Vicki, Marc’s blog refers to W Homer. As you may well know, I have a photo of Isabelle Butcher’s mum who once sat for Homer.

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