From the book "Filey - A Yorkshire Fishing Town" by Irene E Allen and Andrew A Todd
Women and daughters seemed to have have helped carry gear down to the boats. Kendall writing in 1870 suggests that the men engaged in fishing out of Scarborough were actually accompanied by their womenfolk on the train from Filey on the Monday morning, carrying the week's provisions down to the harbour on their heads. Elizabeth Hunter recalled how her mother and three other women would skein for her father, Tom Cammish, George Jenkinson Mainprize and the other crew of the "Faith", and then accompany them on the train to Scarborough, the bait travelling on buckets in the guardsvan! They would then take a train down to Scarborough Harbour with this load. This would be at the beginning of this century. It seems to have been about then that the practice died out. Our Scarborough informants, in their seventies and eighties, could remember only the men arriving; and on Monday 7th September 1908, JS Wane recorded in his diary how he had witnessed the weekly trek to Scarborough:
"We went to Whitby on the 9:28am train, by which all the Filey fishermen travel to join their ships. A very short train it was that steamed into the station and a very large crowd wanting places. Every true fisherman in the Old Town seemed to be there, each with bronzed face, roughly shaven, and each wearing his blue jersey and carrying his oblong tin box. They swamped the train, all but the solitary first class compartment."
It was during the winter coble fishing months of the year that the wives had to work the hardest. The best bait for the line-fishing is reckoned to be mussels, but these have to be bought. To keep costs as low as possible, local bait would be sought. Limpets known as "flithers", were one possible substitute. One good spot was at "Aggie Point" on Filey Brigg, named after an Agnes who was drowned there. Numbers are chiselled into rock every 80 yards, each area being reserved for a family. Terence Collins remembered that "Bell Taffy" had area number five.
Unfortunately there were insufficient flithers locally to bait all the lines. (Each man shot four or five lines a day, 200 hooks to a line!) The women would walk along the sands to Scarborough, accompanied by strong daughters (removing limpets is a hard job!) It has been suggested that half the pathways down the cliffs to the sands along the coast near Filey and Scarborough have been created by these women bait-gatherers. It became common practice to take the train to Scarborough, and then walk to Cloughton or Robin Hood's Bay, collecting the limpets on route. Several baskets ("mawns") would be filled, and a carrier would take these back to Scarborough where the North Eastern Railway would take them on to Filey. Folk tradition in Filey relates that the women would formerly walk to and from Scarborough, but that a benevolent woman of means once met them on the road, and arranged with the railway company that she would subsidise their rail fare. The special "baitgatherer's" return ticket cost 4.5 old pence at the beginning of the 20th Century.
It would be a long day! If women were gathering on a Monday, she had to be up at 5am to do the family washing, and then set off for her day's work. She would return in darkness, and then have to start "skeining" to prepare the limpets for baiting. Mary Elizabeth Robinson can remember her mother going to Cloughton. Women would wear shawls, and their frocks were pinned up clear of the sea water. Bait would be put in baskets, and carried on the women's backs on on their heads, perched on wooden rings. If her mother misjudged the tide, or was late arriving at the beach, she would miss the last train home and would have to stay overnight at Cloughton. An elderly couple would put the women up, bed breakfast, for sixpence.
Some women would gather bait in order to sell it to the fishermen. "Tommy Laffy's mother Alice Ann Colling (aprox 1865-1944) used to earn about five shillings a tide. Women would still be doing this work in their sixties.
Although bait is now bought by the fishermen from commercial beds, the arduous labour of the fisherwoman is still well within living memory.Some of the last women to have gone bait-gathering are alive in Providence Place (this article written in 1983), Filey today, one being George Burton's Aunt, Mrs Johnson, who is in her nineties.
The women would normally get up with the men in the winter fishing period. They began skeining in the early hours, so that the lines could be rebaited as soon as the men returned. Two women were needed to skein for one fisherman. A third person, often a retired fisherman, might help to bait the lines. It was common for a woman from another household to be put to skein if a family had insufficienct women or girls of their own. Foster Holmes Jenkinson recalled his sister, Mary, being knocked up to start skeining at 3:30am. In the 1920's, the rate of pay was 9 old pence for the skeining of a sack of mussels.
It was a tedious, but skilled job.The living mussel is detached from the shell, the shell prised open and mussel scooped out all by one quick cut of the skeiners knife. Before the lines can be baited, however, any dead bait has to be removed. This is one of the women's jobs! (Elizabeth Jenkinson Allen). It would have been a common sight earlier this century to see women skeining and baiting in the yards off Queen Street in fine weather. Nowadays, this work is done indoors - often in baiting sheds specially built by the council at the back of its council houses. The work might be finished by 8am if they started early, women might be doing their shopping by 8:30am.
The fisher people were expert at getting up very early. Mary Bradley told us how two "solicitor lads" were staying at the Crescent Hotel, Filey, and were planning to go out with her father, "Titch" (Thomas Cappleman Jenkinson). They were told that they had to be on Coble Landing by 5am. "How do we get up?" they asked. "Titch" told them to put an alarm clock in a bucket. This successfully woke up the whole hotel the following morning.
There was plenty of other work to do besides skeining and baiting. In the last century women would collect water from the Ravine, near St Oswalds Church, and carry it down to replenish the stock on board the cobles. There was only one usable well, and the water was carried in buckets which were suspended from yokes carried on the shoulders. Fishing gear had to be regularly maintained. Earlier this century, lines were made by women in the evenings; nets were repaired and tanned; and the spare set of oilskins had to be oiled and varnished and hung up to dry. Much of this work would be done by women.
The fishermen's ganseys were knitted, along with woolen socks. A fisherman would have several such jerseys, the best one being kept for Sunday wear. It was a matter of pride that the menfolk were turned out wearing well-knitted ganseys. Many Filey fishermen posed in local studios around the turn of the century, and postcards of them, always wearing their very best gansey, were sold to holiday visitors. Many of these photographs survive today. The gansey was not darned if it became worn: a new patch would be knitted into it.
Each fishing town or village had a distinctive pattern, so that the experienced eye could determine where a man came from. This practice may have developed because it was it made the identification of drowned bodies easier. We have seen that bodies could be taken for miles by the action of the sea. The patterns were handed down from mother to daughter.
Ganseys were thickly knitted: they had to be if they were to keep the wearer warm, and keep out water. It was inevitable, though, that a fisherman attired so heavily, and also wearing large leather boots, had little chance of remaining afloat if he were swept overboard.
Much of this website emphasises the mens work in the fishing industry. It should be clear, however, that the fishermen were indeed "ships without rudders" without their women. If the fishermen's labour was normally over "as soon as the boat touches the sands", then, as Reverend Shaw put it in 1867, the fisherwoman's work had only just begun!