Photo: Peter Howard
Origins of Kipper Curing in Craster
'Robson's Smokehouse', the only working smokehouse in Craster, was built by the Craster family in 1856; it is now owned and and run by Alan Robson and his son Neil.
Alan's grandfather, James William Robson, moved to Craster some time during the last decade of the 19th century to work in the bottom smokehouse (on the harbour foreshore) for William Archbold. Prior to that, James worked in a kipper yard in Newton. After James' death, his son Luke took over the rental of this yard. In about 1920 Luke moved to the 'top' yard, the present 'Robson's Smokehouse'. Around this time, when Luke was married, he moved to Coquet View and it is there that he had his family, including Alan who runs the smokehouse now.
Sir Edmund Craster, in 'The History of the Craster Family' in the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, Overprint from Archaeolgia Aeliana 4th Series Volume XXX, March 1953, wrote of Shafto Craster, who died in 1837:
"...he gave close attention to the life of the village where it seems that he started the herring-curing industry."
Writing in 'Ports and Harbours of Northumberland, Stafford Linsley observed:
"Craster was described as being 'occupied chiefly by persons employed in fishing and the fish curing trade' by the 1880s, and Bulmer's directory of 1887 lists four fish curers, including William Archbold who was also a grocer and cod liver oil manufacturer, and Robert Grey who was also victualler at the Jolly Fisherman's Inn.
Tomlinson in 'Comprehensive Guide to the County of Northumberland', written in 1889, states that Messrs Cormack & Son were the main herring curers."
The Alnwick and County Gazette of September 9th 1909, in an article about the new harbour, has the following:
"An important branch of herring fishing is the 'kippering' and for its 'kippers' Craster has for long enjoyed more than local fame. It boasts of four curers..."
The four yards include the existing yard, the property now called Middle Rigg, the 'bottom' yard on the foreshore, still standing, but in private ownership and the Dunstanburgh Road yard, demolished in the 1960's. However, it is not possible at this time to match up with certainty the 'curers with the yard they occupied.
In the late 1970's Eva Archbold posed the question, 'Who made the first Craster kipper?' This was her answer:
"Some few years ago I asked the oldest native and was told that a certain John Mason from Tweedmouth holds that honour. He was born in 1804 and died 1867. The herring yards and smokehouses were built 1856 by George Steel, South Side, and Cormack, North Side, later William Archbold with a shop, also North Side, illegible before 1856 near Haven Dyke. Kippers may have been made before these sheds were built as the very old cotts in Craster were built mid 1700's."
Cormack gets two mentions in the Craster diary extract made available by William Archbold:
"1856 July 20th - Started Cormack's herring Curing on North Side.
1857 Feb - Started to build houses for George Dawson, George Gibbs, Jason Archbold and Cormack; all on the north side."
"1870 March 26th - Foundation stone laid for W. Archbold's fish house."
It is interesting that although others are referred to by their full name, on each occasion Cormack is only referred to by his surname. This lack of information has contributed to the lack of success in tracing him in the census and other records.
In the land valuation register of 1910, T.W.Craster is given as the owner of two properties involved in the kipper business. 'Herring Yards' rented to Robert Grey and 'herring sheds' rented to Charles Archbold.
The census of 1911 records four men working at curing fish.
James William Robson (54), 'fish curer' and employer, address 'Craster Square', born at North Sunderland, married to Margaret (46), born at Shilbottle. One son and five daughters, all described as born in Embleton and all single. Luke (23), a cooper. Isabella (17), a dressmaker and Margaret (15), Lily (13), Amy Sarah Annie (8) and Wilhelmina (7).
George Scott Eadington (55), 'fish curer & merchant' on 'own account', address 'Chapel Row', born at North Sunderland, married to Elizabeth (61), born in Ford. No others resident at the time of the census.
Robert Grey (49), 'fish curer' also worker, address 'North Craster', born in Craster, married to Eleanor (46), born at Gateshead. Robert Grey (son, single,19) a 'cycle apprentice', born in Craster and daughter Etheline (at school, aged 12), born at Dunstan.
Thomas Smailes Grey (31), 'fish curer' and employer, address '2 Craster', married to Margaret Gibb Grey (29) and daughter Jane Dorothy Archbold Grey (8months) all born in Craster.
In the 1901 census, James Walker Robson , 'cooper', lived at 24 South Craster with his wife and children; James (aged 16 and born in Low Newton), 'grocer's apprentice', Luke (13), William (11), Mary (9), Isabella (7), Margaret (5), Lily (3j) & G R (1). George Eddington (45), living at 23 Craster North Side, was a 'fish curer' employed on his 'own account'. Thomas G. Archbold (29), described as a 'fish curer' and 'employer' and his wife Helen (28) lived at 31 Craster South Side.
In the 1891 census, William Archbold (55), 'fish merchant' and 'employer', lived at 24 South Side with wife Margaret (53) and children Thomas (19), Mary (17), 'mother's help', Rhoda (15) and Rachel (27) and son in law Ralph Dawson (27)
In the 1881 census we find William Archbold (46) described as 'Fish Curer and Local P.(rimitive) Methodist Preacher and family of seven children, all born in Craster. Wife Margaret (42), children - Elizabeth (22), Charles (19), Rachel (17) a dressmaker - all single. William (12), Thomas (9), Mary (7) and Rhoda (5) - all at school.
In the 1871 census, as a child of 9, Robert Grey lived with his family (father Robert, mother Elizabeth at 4, Craster Seahouses, the 'Craster Arms' where his father was the 'Licensed Victualler'. William Archbold (36), 'Fish Curer' lived at 12 Craster Seahouses.
In the 1861 census, William Archbold (26) was described as a fisherman.
The 1851 census records John Mason (45) of Tweedmouth, cooper, living at 'Craster Houses'.
The 1841 census records George Steel (35), fish curer, living at Craster, with no other family members and two servants.