Fishwives: the company of women – 17 June 2019

This is a picture of fish-wives of the north-east of England. Here are three figures on a huge and empty stretch of sand. There is no sign of the boats that have returned with the fish they carry, or of the men that have brought the catch home. The three women walk together along the sands as the tide makes its way out, their reflections caught in the pools of water that remain on the beach. These are strong and capable women, who know both the demands and rewards of hard work. The leading woman easily carries a basket under one arm, with a huge fish in her other hand.

Along the north-east coast, running from north Yorkshire, through Tyneside, and all the way up to the coast of Aberdeenshire there are villages which once were homes to vibrant fishing communities. With men away at sea, the women managed family life and the business of selling fish. They were, and still are in some places, deeply religious, conservatively Christian. They lived to habits of prayer and devotion as regular as the tides that took the boats to sea.

The picture (Tynemouth Sands, 1882-83) is by Winslow Homer, who spent a period on the north-east coast of England painting the fishing communities of Cullercoats, with much attention given to the fish-lassies and wives. The men went to sea in the boats, the women waiting for their return. Some of the most arduous work for the women involved transferring a catch from the boat into large wickerwork baskets. They then carried them in teams to the village, where they could prepare the fish for market.


And you shall have a fishy
on a little dishy,
You shall have a fishy
when the boat comes in.
And dance to your daddy, sing to your mummy,
Dance to your daddy, to your mummy sing,
Dance to your daddy, sing to your mummy,
Dance to your daddy, to your mummy sing.



Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

John 21:10


Wide, wide as the ocean,
High as the heavens above;
Deep, deep as the deepest sea,
Is my Saviour’s love;
I, though so unworthy,
Still am a child of His care,
For His word teaches me
that His love reaches me everywhere.