Exhibition: That’s Women’s Work

‘That’s Women’s Work’, an exhibition about the important role of women in fishing and maritime industries over time is now open at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre, North Shields Fish Quay.

The exhibition which will run until the end of the year, looks at the changing roles of women in these industries over the past 150 years. (The centre is currently open to the public Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 3pm.)

“That’s Women’s Work” includes stories about:

  • The journey of the “herring girls” who every year from early summer to late autumn followed the fishing fleet down the east coast, from northern Scotland, stopping at ports to clean and cure the catch. Usually arriving at North Shields in August, they stayed with local landladies and were looked after by the Fishermen’s Mission and local churches. Some of the girls were from the Scottish islands and spoke only Gaelic. Their annual journey ended in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. There are also stories of local women who were herring girls. The peak herring catches were between 1900 and 1913 and the trade gradually dwindled and ended in the 1960s.
  • The lives of local fishwives who packed creels with fish, sometimes weighing as much as six stone which they carried on their back, to sell door to door or at local markets. There is also a tapestry of fisherwomen, based on a painting by American artist Winslow Homer who spent two years in Cullercoats in the late 19th century, which until recently has been on display in Hull.
  • How women whose husbands were at sea coped with tragedy and hardship and the support provided by the Fishermen’s Mission.
  • Local women who worked in the smokehouses and fish processing factories on the Fish Quay.
  • A North Shields woman’s working life as a trawler skipper.
  • Women and seafaring superstitions.
  • Modern day roles of women in fishing and maritime related industries.


The exhibition also includes works by local artists and crafts people such as:


  • A shoal of herring knitted by Old Low Light friends.
  • A ‘cabinet of curiosities’ with arts and crafts inspired by exhibition themes.
  • Some hand knitted traditional fishermen’s ganseys.

Coordinator of the team of volunteers that researched and curated the exhibition, Nina Brown, said: “The exhibition shows how, over time, women have played an important role in fishing and maritime related industries. We started by researching the fascinating story of women who travelled every year during the herring season from northern Scotland, stopping off at ports along the coast to clean and cure the catch.

“There has also been much interest from local people who have told us about their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers who worked in the fishing industry and who were also the backbone of the family when their husbands were away at sea.

She continued: “Our exhibition shows how women’s roles in these industries have changed, with examples of wide-ranging opportunities available to them today.”

The exhibition, which coincides with the re-opening of the café and galleries at the heritage centre, following closure due to pandemic restrictions, has been funded using money raised by plant sales organised by volunteers.

Nina added: “We are indebted to local people who have supported this exhibition in so many ways over the past year, during lockdowns and periods of restrictions. We look forward to welcoming them to our gallery in the coming weeks and months and sharing stories of these strong, independent and hardworking women.”

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