Old photos offer insight into east coast’s fishing heritage

Newhaven fishwives in traditional costumes
Newhaven fishwives in traditional costumes
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Long-forgotten images that provide a snapshot of the hardship endured by Scotland’s fishing communities are being archived in an ambitious project that aims to document the history of the industry from the 19th century to the present day.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther has secured a grant to continue the digitisation of more than 8,000 negatives of stunning photographs that reflect a wide-range of tasks undertaken, from work carried out on whaling ships to the funerals of those who lost their lives at sea.

Young East Neuk brothers Thomas and Anstruther Anderson

Young East Neuk brothers Thomas and Anstruther Anderson

Among the images is a picture believed to be from the early 1900s of two young brothers, Thomas and Anstruther Anderson, from the East Neuk, who are posing with pipes in their mouths, beside the wheel of a motor launch – with a row of battleships in the background. Thomas drowned after falling overboard from the Just Reward 1.5 miles from the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth on 7 February, 1934.

Other images include a group portrait of Newhaven fisherwomen and a double funeral taking place in Ferryden, Montrose, during the early 1900s. It is thought to be the funeral of a father and son who died when the mast of their fishing boat, the Fifie Besty Inglis, ME165, was carried away.

Suzanne Paterson, digital project officer at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, said she “loves” her job and discovering the stories behind the images.

She said: “I love my job – when I’m scanning a negative I’m the first person to have properly looked at it in quite a while so it feels like I’m rediscovering the image, then I like to go off and find out more about the photographs and the people in them.

“It’s really nice to be able to engage with the images.”

The museum successfully applied for a grant from the Recognised Collections Fund administered by the Museum and Galleries Scotland.

However, they’ve had to scale back their ambitious attempt to digitise all the images.

Paterson added: “Our aim for the funded project was just over 8,000 images but we’ve changed some of the procedures and the workflow so we’re going to be looking at a smaller target between 4,000-5,000 by December this year.

“But once the project is finished we are hoping to attract volunteers who can continue the work.

“We are looking to apply for other grants that will link into the photography collection, for either our slides or our prints.

“The plans are for all the images to go onto our photo-search website and we’re doing two exhibitions – one was our information gathering exhibition last October where we had a small number of images that we didn’t have any information about and we asked local people if they recognised the person in the photograph or did they know where it was taken?

“The second exhibition will feature more of the highlights from the things we’ve uncovered so far – the stories behind the images and that event will be in August at the museum.

“We’re hoping to work with another museum to create an outreach resource which would contain images relating to other geographical locations.

“We have a research library at the museum and we do a lot of work with people looking to find out more information and it’s really lovely for a family to come in and do research and then be able to pull up a photograph of a family member or for example the boat that their grandfather worked on.”