Sea Urchin Stall on the West Pier at Scarborough

In my younger years the harbour was our playground and there were many ways to earn a few bob in our play.

With friends we use to get permission to climb on the boats in the harbour after the boats tied up to land there catches. We searched through the nets on the pretences of cleaning them and we would gleam out as much of the hidden treasures that could be found. These treasures included sea urchins or fish still caught in the mesh with the gills. Sometimes the fishermen would save the urchins for us and I can only be truly thankful, as I never had to ask for pocket money at home. These boats included Caroline (Mickey Scales), Brilliant Star (Jocky Scales), Margaret Jane (1st) (Uncle Denk, Thomas J Mainprize), Marion (Uncle Cass, Castle J Mainprize), Progressive, Floreat (Johnny Norm John Normandale), Onward Star, to name but a few.

We would take them round to one of the warehouses and clean the sea urchins ready for sale at on the pier. It would entail removing the bottom of the urchin and scooping out all the innards. The spikes would be scrapped off the out sides with a knife purchased for the fisherman's store on the pier. After a good wash in water the urchins would be soaked for a while in clean water with bleach added to make them presentable. Sometimes we left them in soak too long and the sea urchin would go very weak and crumble.

On Saturdays in them days there was no shortage of customers. During peak season work could have worked every day. Streams of tourists would flock down on the sea front and would invariably take a stroll along the pier.

We would set a stall up using clean wooden fish boxes and display our wares on top. The prices were never displayed but we never were short of askers. Prices started from 2 shillings (10p in new money) to as much as 10 bob (50p). If you had 10 or more we would have as much as £10 to share. £2 to £5 was normal take home pay.

The colours of the urchins would be very bright and to the visitor were very desirable to take home a real souvenir from Scarborough. It would even smell the sea, but unbeknown to the customer, probably go green in a month or two.

Other good sellers on the pier would be the fish. These would include chat haddocks, whitings, herrings and the odd mackerel. I do not know what people did with them. We wrapped them up in newspaper but did they really take them home with them to eat them. I cannot see some guesthouse owner cooking them up for them and must have smell really bad leaving them in the car or in a bag on the train home in the warm weather.

I do not see if this would be possible to do now! You would have everyone on your back nowadays. But not then; you were encouraged!

Written by John Swift. John has made a website about the Mainprize family tree here Johns Website - Click Here


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