The Fisherrow Fishwives

Tuesday 24th July 2018
Musselburgh Baptist Church


Tickets £3
Alison Elgin – 07702 053 355

Or from our Pop Up Shop

Brunton Hall – 10.30am – 3.30pm
Thursday 19th July
Friday 20th July
Saturday 21st July

The Fisherrow Fishwives were legendary women who are an inspiration to us all. Women who worked hard, cared for their families and ruled the roost. In a very male-dominated age, they turned the tides and held the purse strings. They were part of a very tight-knit community and were highly respected not just in that community, but everywhere.

Nowadays the fishwives and their way of life are long gone. At Fisherrow we have the Harbour Ceremony when members of fishing families dress in their traditional clothing to give mussels to our Honest Lad, Honest Lass and their Attendants, but as a community we do not pay enough homage to these incredible women.

People, particularly the younger generation, should know their own history and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) agrees. As 2017 was the year of History, Heritage, and Archaeology the HLF issued the Stories, Stones and Bones award to pay communities to discover more about their past. Fisherrow Waterfront Group successfully applied for this award to make a film about the Fishwives.

Together with filmmakers Raw Film, we approached Margaret Elgin, Stella Armet and Simon Fairnie as between the three of them there was nothing they didn’t know about the Fisherrow Fishwives. Without the three of them we could never have made this film so our thanks to them all.

We approached Musselburgh Grammar School to ask if any of their pupils wanted to be in the film and learn about the Fishwives. Lucy Buchanan, Alex Lugton, Sarah Wilson, Felicity Johnston and Kristyn Rogan all agreed to be in the film and not only learned a lot about their past, but did a great job.

Discovering former fishwife Jean Wilkie, who is 97 years young, was a massive turning-point, helped by the fact that she is an amazing woman. Jean is the last of the fishwives and makes the film even more special.

The film has been a huge success and has been shown to full houses at two screenings at the Brunton Theatre. It has also been shown in schools in Musselburgh. More to the point, it has got people talking about these wonderful women and times long gone.

In her newspaper article in the Edinburgh Evening News, Susan Dalgety wrote:

The Fisherrow fishwives were a phenomomen. A tightly knit community of women and girls, they sold fish across Edinburgh and Fife, from heavily-laden creels that they carried on their backs. The last fishwife, Betty Millar, did not hang up her baskets until 1988. They were strong working-class women. Matriarchs who worked 14 hours a day because they had to feed and clothe their family, not because they wanted a seat in the boardroom.

Women who, on their “day off”, trampled blankets by foot and washed clothes by hand. They played golf and football, knitted while trudging miles to sell their wares, and unusually for the time, were economically independent. A fishwife did not tell her husband how much she earned. And they wore their red and white striped skirts and wool shawls with great pride, and far more panache than Jennifer Lawrence in her Versace. As 97-year-old Jean Wilkie, the last living fishwife, recalls, going to the creel was a calling, something special.

And the film even got a mention in the Scottish Parliament thanks to MSP Jeremy Balfour, so there will be a permanent record of our achievement.

We should be very proud of our Fisherrow past, and make sure we continue to honour the women (and the men) who moulded and shaped our community into what it is today.

Gaynor Allen (producer)