Auchmithie

of Old

 

Picture Copyright Angus Council

The Fishing

Picture Copyright Angus Council

Fishing has always been a precarious way to make a living and in common with those employed in other dangerous occupations such as mining, fisher-folk were superstitious.

 

Certain animals were never mentioned by name. Rats were known as lang tails, salmon was the red fish and pigs were curly tails.

 

The worst animals as far as Auchmithie folk were concerned were rabbits and hares, known as mappies and mawkins. A common curse was “a hares fit in yer creel!”
A fisherman meeting the minister on his way to the harbour would often abandon his trip and go home.

 

It was bad luck to whistle on board a boat, it was thought to whip up a gale. No fisherman would venture to sea on Black Friday, Friday the 13th.

High Days and Holidays

Picture Copyright of Angus Council

The bride and groom's house was decorated with flags the evening before the wedding. Pouches of money would be given to the bride on her wedding day, symbolising that she was now in charge of the couple's finances.

 

She would leave her house alone, then she would be joined by her bridesmaids, then the groom and his friends. Then the whole village would join them in a procession to the church.

 

One of the older woman would usually lead the way never ceasing her dancing. The party would stop at various places en route where ale and spirits would be taken.

 

After the ceremony at the door of her new home the bride would have cakes and bread broken over her head, then she would take off her wedding dress and change into her ordinary clothes.

 

Everyone in the village would contribute towards food and drink for the wedding dance.

 

On Sunday the newly married couple would be blessed in church.  On Monday it would be business as usual, the husband would head off fishing while the wife would take on her responsibilities for baiting lines and selling fish.

Auchmithie to Arbroath

The origins of Auchmithie are uncertain. Some say the fisher-folk came from Scandinavia, or were Flemish, Portuguese or Spanish.

 

The fishertoon of Auchmithie is mentioned in the Arbroath Abbey documents as belonging to the Abbey. The village was part of the Ethie Estate. The land had been gifted to the Abbey by King William. (1165-1214).

 

The fishermen were serfs to the Abbot of Aberbrothock, providing regular fish for the monks. After the reformation the lands of Ethie were passed onto a lay proprietor and the fishermen continued to be bound to the owner of the estate.

 

There was unrest in the village by the late 17th century when some fishermen burnt the houses down. In 1705 some decided to move to Arbroath with it’s better harbour facilities and market. Arbroath Town Council offered incentives to attract fishers to settle there.

 

But the Lord of North Esk, who then owned Auchmithie, did not take kindly to his fishers moving. He took his case to court and it was ruled that the fisher folk were still serfs and not free to move as they pleased. They were forced to return to Auchmithie.

 

In 1799 in an Act of George III brought by colliers and salters set them free from their bondage, and by inference the fisher folk too.

 

 

During the autumn and winter the fishermen went to sea in small boats to catch haddock and codling. Before 1890 Auchmithie had no harbour and boats had to be dragged onto the beach.

 

The fishermen’s wives and daughters shelled mussels to bait the lines and gut and smoke the fish. They would also sell them.

The women were made of stern stuff and would wade into the sea barefooted to carry their menfolk on their backs so the fishermen could start their journey to sea with dry feet.

 

Unusually for those days, the husband and wife relationship was a partnership of equals, with the women often in sole charge of the finances.

 

In the late spring and summer fishermen went after herring,  travelling as far as the Outer Hebrides and Northern Isles.

Small boats also fished for lobster and crabs using creels. You can still see them doing the same today close in to shore off Auchmithie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole village was involved in weddings.

The Beukin would take place two Fridays before the wedding when the prospective groom and his father would ask the girl’s parents permission to marry.

 

In addition to a best man and bridesmaid, the couple also chose a worst man and maid. This was usually another two friends and all six worked to clean and whitewash the new home.

 

Everyone in the village would receive a verbal invitation to the wedding.

On the Tuesday before the big day women relatives and friends would gather to make all the pillows and mattresses ready for a bed making ceremony on the marriage day.

 

On the Wednesday the groom’s house was busy receiving all the furniture, while at the bride’s home the woman would wash all the precious china and crockery the girl had collected. Then all the items were carried to the new house.

 

The night before the wedding was the feet washing.The women of the village would ensure the bride entered her new home with clean feet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since 1799 the fishers were free to move to Arbroath, but it took many years before the numbers leaving affected the village.In 1826 Arbroath had only 3 fishing boats in its huge harbour. So once more Arbroath Town Council set about attracting more fisher folk.

 

Throughout the 19th century the drift from Auchmithie to Arbroath continued. In 1880 there were seventy fishermen working forty boats in Auchmithie. But by 1929 the fisherfolk had largely relocated to Arbroath with just ten small boats left.

Picture Copyright of Angus Council

Smokies

Arbroath smokies should really be known as Auchmithie smokies, as this is where the technique of hot smoking whole haddock had originated. They were also known as The Lucken, Closed Fish or Pinwiddies.

 

Barrels sunk into the ground acted as a kiln with a fire fuelled with wood chips.

 

The haddock was gutted, but not split open, salted and hung by their tails to dry. They were then suspended over the hot barrels.

 

The fire was dampened down and wet canvas thrown over the fish to contain the smoke. After forty five minutes the succulent smokies were ready.

 

On their move to Arbroath the fisherfolk of Auchmithie took this method with them.

Picture Copyright of Angus Council

 

When Sir Walter Scott visited Auchmithie he stayed at the North Esk Inn. Lucky Walker was the landlady who was famed for her fish teas.

 

Later the hotel was known as the Waverley in the author’s honour. Auchmithie is thought to be the inspiration behind Musselcrag, the fishing village portrayed in Scott’s novel The Antiquary (a copy is in the bookcase).

 

Scott named his fisher folk characters the Mucklebackits. It became a popular nickname for Auchmithie residents for a time.

 

Another earlier visitor of note was Robert Burns who visited Auchmithie in 1787 to see the rock formations and caves.

 

Archive pictures on this website are used by kind permission of Angus Council.

 

There is more fascinating insights into the lives of the fisher folk of Arbroath and Auchmithie at the Signal Tower Museum in Arbroath.Within the museum, models, multi-media displays and historic objects explain the history of the lighthouse and allow visitors to explore the dangers of the sea. Click the button to find out more.