Supported by NEWHAVEN HERITAGE CENTRE which is recognised as a Scottish registered charity No. SC044837

NEWHAVEN — A  UNIQUE FISHING VILLAGE ON THE COAST OF THE FORTH, PROUD OF ITS TRADITIONS, CULTURE AND HISTORY

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Newhaven  Shops  


Walter Lyle Hume reminisces.


I am a latter day Bow-Tow, and proud of it.  My great, great paternal grandfather, and those before him, all belonged to the honourable calling of Marine Pilots, noted for their intimate local knowledge of the River and Firth of Forth from Stirling in the west to Barnsness/Fifeness in the east, as were the generations to follow.  On my maternal side going equally as far back were all fishermen/pilots, ultimately aspiring to trawler skippers and owners, all having been born and brought up in the village, between Annfield, Main Street, James Street, and the Laverockbank: the women folk mostly having been fishwives.


Arriving on the scene in the late twenties, at the back end so to speak of a once thriving fishing community, my recollections are even now quite lucid of the bustling village during the various seasons.  Living up the hill (known as `The Cut`) off Craighall Road, we would be sent on errands to this Aunt or that Uncle, more often to the local shops for such delicacies such as fresh baked Mason’s pies and vanilla cakes, together with a handful of ’edge cuttings’ for free; or to nip along to Tammy Liston, the butcher, for best steak mince (“none o’ his scraps, mind!”), delicious sausages — seemingly quite unobtainable today — and Tam’s haggis, that the common market moguls would not even entertain, never mind real fresh tripe with plenty of Rodicon and a nice bit of Crown; or perhaps a skinned sheep’s heid to be steeped overnight in a bucket of cold water to make the best broth, “and while your at that end of the Main Street, pick up a pitcher of thick fresh cream from the dairy on the corner of St Andrews Square - an’ mind the trams, cause they run gie close to the pavement into Main Street.  Oh all right, you can go into Ben Crolla for an ice cream slider”, (real-fresh-made on the premises).  In Crolla’s was old Mrs C who never spoke ‘inglish’ but understood everything you said, or old Ben who conversed in broken but understandable local dialect, son Ben stood no nonsense and let you know it.


The Leith Provident Co-op shops, incorporating all trades, supplied most other every day requirements except for specialist items as provided by Miss Frances, who ran the ’Beehive Stores’, with any material or wool to clothe the fishermen with jumpers or sea-boot stockings or the colourful material to make a fishwife’s working skirts.  She also sold the much admired and renowned colourful pretty pink and white walking out dress, adopted as the uniform of the Newhaven Fishwives Choir, who in their hey-day of fame aspired to radio broadcasts, record recordings and early television appearances.


Next door to the wee wool shop was the ‘telegraph office’, which to our generation of course was just the post office, just on its own.  No general shop, in the peak days of fishing, particularly herring, buying and selling was conducted, prior to general use of the telephone, through the medium of telegrams, therefore the Newhaven telegraph office was a hub of activity. So, to a quick run home up the Park Steps, along Park Road - past the pony park, where they used to have a Fair-Ground in the summer - across Stanley Road and home —— “where have you been all this time, I only sent you for !!!”


Sometimes in the evening we would be charged to go and get fish and chips, down to George and Mary Gisseteri, the chippy of all chippies, on the corner of Main Street and Pier Place.  To us, in those days, it was without equal — the very best last word in Fish n’ Chip’s.  George, a lovely quiet Italian who had fought in Russia (why?), would attend the early morning Fish Market Sales to buy his fish, push them on a hand-cart to his cellar below the shop for filleting then cook the same in crispy batter to succulent perfection  If the fish were slightly undersized he would put two fish in a fish supper. With salt and vinegar, it cost all of sixpence - 2.5 new pence. Utopian bliss!


Even in the dead of winter, day or night, we as youngsters would move about the village without any fear of trouble  Every one knew everybody, a vast number being related in some way.  Equally, if any of us stepped out of line, a quick cry of, “ah’ll tell yer mither” was enough to make us beat a hasty retreat. When the herring were in, usually in the winter months from late November until February, the big attraction for us was to converge at the harbour or market in the early morning when the boats would be landing the previous nights catch  If a boat had a big haul and a full hold to unload, the crew were too busy to visit the shops to obtain fresh stores before sailing for another long night of fishing and would get us lads to do the shopping.  To us an easy way of earning a few coppers and usually a blooming great bag of fish, which we usually sold round the doors on a string rigged through the gills.  The end result was enough for a visit to the cinema and a fish supper — never mind the state of our clothes with fish scales, to say nothing of the smell! Talking of which, the smoke-houses in the Main Street, Robert Main - up the Smithy Close to fetch six penny worth (at least a dozen) of the most succulent large kippers with a huge bag of Herring Roe thrown in - “ah weel ken yer faither” - on non Fish-smoking days a wee walk further beyond the smoke-house brought you to the Blacksmith shop, where apart from forming and making strange objects for the fishing industry he also attended to the shoes of the local Cart horses, which seemed to be more than contented to await being re-shod instead of trundling over rough cobble stones, our education was being unwittingly bettered at the same time of enjoying ourselves.


In quieter moments we used to help the fishermen with ‘Barking’ the nets, which originally used to be made of cotton thread, and in order to preserve them they were immersed in a vat of Cutch, made from tree bark, these nets were hung out to dry in the Fishermen’s Park, which lay between the Whale Brae and the New Lane, local myth had it that this piece of ground had been bequeathed to the Newhaven fishermen for all time coming, that is, until many years later the Edinburgh Corporation sold the Park and built new houses.


Somewhat long gone days along the seafront, one could look out from the front in the evening and see the numerous buoys and lighthouses flashing their warning lights to mariners, during the event of dense fog the sirens could be heard from Granton Pier Head, Inchkeith and Leith West Pier, after many hours of continuous repetition it was obviously annoying to some but a huge relief to sailors groping for a safe way to harbour, such help in our modern society has been removed in favour of electronic gadgets, but a memory cast back to Newhaven, even in the nineteen fifties, brought back what it used to be like.