Craster Harbour





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Craster Harbour

Fishermen have been drawing up their cobles onto the foreshore between Little and Muckle Carrs since time immemorial. The harbour was constructed by the Craster family during the decade before the beginning of WW1 and dedicated to the memory of Captain John Charles Pulleine Craster, who was killed in the Tibetan expedition of 1904.


More About Harbour

TW Craster
Harbour Pamphlet

McLaren & Prowde

The following account was drawn up in October 1897 as a projection for the income that might accrue if a harbour were to be constructed.








Craster Herring Boats





Craster Cobles/ winter fishing





Strange Herring Boats – per time, say





Barrels Fresh Herring landed





Barrels Cured Herring shipped





Other fish landed (90 tons @ 2/6)





Crabs + lobsters landed





Salt landed





Tonnage Duties on Ships (say)




Total Receipts per annum




Funding Arrangements

It is interesting to compare this speculation with the actual accounts of the harbour after its construction.

The harbour was funded by a consortium of members of the Craster family and public grant. Further details of the funding arrangement are covered here.

Comments on the Harbour from a Brochure published in 1911 by McLaren & Prowde (owners of Craster Quarry)

The harbour was designed by Mr. J. Watt Sandeman, M.Inst.C.E., and is situated at a cleft in the range of whinstone "heughs," this cleft forming a small cove,  which had long been used by the fishermen of Craster for landing their catches and drawing up their cobles. The village is built on each side of this cove and the harbour has been formed by throwing out two concrete piers from the north and south sides so as to enclose it. Having been designed only for the accommodation of herring boats and cobles, it is naturally smaller than would have been planned if the whinstone traffic had been foreseen, but nevertheless steamers drawing 10 feet to 11 feet of water trade regularly, and at spring tides boats of much deeper draught can be accommodated.

It had for some time been foreseen that directly the original harbour contract was complete a scheme of extension would have to be planned and undertaken. This extension scheme is at the present time (1911) being set on foot. It consists in two breakwaters in deep water (see plan on page 14) from the north and south sides forming an outer harbour into which the present harbour will open, the objects being to improve the shelter in the present harbour, to provide a deep-water sheltered swinging space for large steamers outside, and to enable the present south pier head to be used as a berth where ships can lie under the new rapid-loading bins in all weathers, and be loaded with stone and sent to sea in the shortest possible space of time. The present harbour entrance faces north-east, from which direction it is partly sheltered by an outlying reef of rocks running parallel with the shore. The entrance to the outer harbour will face east by south, and consequently when that is completed the inner or present harbour will be almost perfectly enclosed.

For further information from this document, follow this link...


The construction of a harbour in Craster was being discussed as long ago as the first half of the 19th century. There were plans published in 1898 by the Newcastle civil engineers, Sandeman and Moncrieff for a harbour project a short distance north of the village, which, of course, were never implemented.

The following chronolgy is based on a pamphlet in the possession of the County Collection at Woodhorn (NRO 3243/28). The text of the introduction to this pamplet, written by T.W. Craster, can be read infull on this site.

The following plan for the harbour was published in the local newspaper in 1905.

Plan of the Harbour from the Alnwick and County Gazette, September 2nd 1905
Source: Alnwick and County Gazette, September 2nd 1905

The harbour project was actually settled upon in 1904 and, in that year, Mr J Watt Sandeman, drew up the plans of the harbour shown on the above plan. Formal approval from the Board of Trade was sought in the autumn of 1904, this was given in 1905. Excavation of rock for the new harbour began in October of that year and in July 1906 the first concrete was poured for the north pier. This pier was finished in September, 1907 and in December the south pier was begun.

TW Craster 1905
Source: Alnwick Gazette Sept 9th 1905

Writing in 1908, Mr Craster expected the second pier to be finished in October of that year. However, the construction took longer than expected and writing in August 1909 he expressed the hope that it would be finished in the spring of 1909. This expectation was subsequently extended to the summer of 1909.

The limestone bins and the aerial ropeway intended to service them, were not part of the original plans, but were a later embellishment. A plan showing the route of the ropeway is part of the County Collection (NRO 5393/95).

The plan shows the location of the bins at the end of the south pier and the route of the aerial ropeway through the village, but not the sites of pylons. A note on the plans says the ropeway is to be at a height of 75 ft above High Water of Ordinary Spring Tides (HWOST) across the harbour to be clear of ships masts.

The Board of Trade received the plans on July 10th 1911 and permission for the construction to take place was given on February 29th 1912. This permission was granted for a period of three years during which the structures had to be built. Permission expired at the end of this time –February 29th 1915.

An article in The Times, March 20th, 1913, referred to the construction of the bins and ropeway in the future tense, suggesting that work was either at an early stage or yet to be started.

To find out more about how the harbour was constructed, follow this link.

The Harbour After Construction

The following three photographs give a fascinating insight into the working of the harbour C1910, after the completion of the south pier, but before the addition of the limestone storage bins at the end of the same pier.

The first photograph shows a boat leaving the harbour and one in the process of coming alongside another. The second shows them alongside and gives a view of the two stone boats on the north pier. The third shows how busy the day was, with another boat about to enter the harbour and three 'herring' girls in the bottom right enjoying the photography session.

Harbour scene C1910, No. 1
Harbour scene C1910 No. 1
Source: Bridget Kohler

Harbour scene C1910 No. 2
Harbour scene C1910 No. 2
Source: Bridget Kohler

Harbour scene C1910 No. 3
Harbour scene C1910 No. 3
Source: Bridget Kohler

The "Ports & Harbours of Northumberland", by Stafford Linsley gives a detailed and most interesting account of the early days of the harbour. Published in July 2005 (ISBN: 9780752428925)

Activity in the Harbour, 1908 to 1938

The harbour account book, with annual accounts from 1908 to 1938, which is part of the County Collection at Woodhorn, is an invaluable source of information about the activity in the harbour. Extracts from this book have been transcribed and can be downloaded from here. Woodhorn also has copies of the annual financial returns submitted to Northumberland County Council by the Harbour Company (Q/R/UA210-229), which offer a summary of the annual accounts.

The spreadsheet was written in Open Office, which can be downloaded free of charge from Open Office.

Data from the account book has been used to create the following bar charts that show the activity in Craster Harbour during this period. The accounting period used in the book began on April 1st and ended on March 31st; the dates in the charts refer to the end of the accounting period. Therefore, taking the figures for 1916 as an example, the activity recorded took place from April 1st 1915 and ended on March 31st 1916.

The account book has nothing to say of course about any product that was transported by road.

The first chart shows the quantity of stone shipped from the harbour during this time. The accounts suggest that export of stone by sea took place in three phases. During the period 1910 to 1917, exports rose to a peak in 1914 and tailed off during the war. Activity appears to have resumed briefly in 1921/22 and then the business took off again in the 1930's. Shipments throughout the whole period totalled 114,030 tons. (Note; the Total in 1933 is lower than it should be as precise figures were only given for the first half of the year.)

Stone shipped from Craster Harbour 1908 to 1938

The accounts for the landing of herring, white fish and shellfish are not kept in a consistent way during the period covered by the account book. This has implications for the transcribed records, but the qualifications to the data that are necessary, which do not significantly affect the general picture, are not covered here, but they are in the transcription that can be downloaded.

A more detailed look at the accounts reveals that herring was landed in Craster between, and including, the months of May and September. Given the accounting period explained above, the bar chart shows the herring landed in one year as being landed in the following year! Taking 1916 again as an example, the 163 barrels of herring were actually landed between May and September of 1915.

The chart for herring landed shows significant change over the period. A peak in 1910 is followed by a marked decline in the period before and during WW1. It is perhaps no coincidence that the low of 1916 took place after the German Navy's attacks along the east coast (e.g. on Scarborough in December 1914) and in the period of great tension in the North Sea, which came to a head in the battle of the Dogger Bank in January 1915 and continued until the battle of Jutland May 31st/June 1st 1916. The following twenty years shows landings to be variable, rising to their highest levels in the late 20's, but general activity significantly below the pre-war level, particularly during the last five years before the account book finishes.

Herring Landed in Craster Harbour, 1908 to 1938

The landing of white fish shows cyclical change during the period, rising from a low in 1913 during WW1, a peak in 1922, followed by a decline and then a revival at a lower level in 1926/27. Activity in the 30's was more consistent and sustained until the end of the account book in 1938.

White Fish landed in Craster Harbour, 1908 to 1938

In the run up to WW1 the landing of crab and lobster was typically at a sustained high level. From 1915 activity was generally lower, with isolated highs in 1923 and 1928. In the 30's the annual catch was typically at a new lower level.

Crab & lobster landed in Craster Harbour, 1908 to 1938

The harbour accounts show a surprising and perhaps unexpected pattern of activity in the export of salt herring. It is possible that this trade was rather bigger than shown in the harbour accounts, but was carried out by road. There is no other data currently available to improve our understanding of this aspect of Craster's trade.

Salt herring shipped from Craster Harbour, 1908 to 1938
A Craster Panorama

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