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Fittie Life

There is a natural tendency in all highly artificial states, such as that of our own Country for instance, to induce a general uniformity not only on manners, dress, language, etc., but even of modes of thought and principles of action; for each class being more or less dependent upon the others, a continual communication with all its consequences must be inevitable.  In Great Britain this effect, like the Civilisation of which it is but a type, is of course more rapidly developed than in other Countries, on account of the greater density of the population, and the extraordinary and daily increasing facilities that population possesses for bringing all its parts into contact with each other; and thus it is that all the more salient points of Character or Individuality are worn away, and that we cease to look within the boundaries of our own shores for anything strikingly distinctive.  But this, though true of the great bulk of our population, is open to many curious exceptions.  There still exist, even in Great Britain, whole classes of people who, for any advantage they derive from their proximity to their more enlightened countrymen, might as well be in the most distant parts of the world.

Post card  -  Three generations of Newhaven Fishwives  -  George Washington WilsonInset- 3 Generations of Fish-quines - The original Fishing settlement developed around the Church of St Clements, which was rebuilt in 1828 by Architect John Smith. It was an area of both heavy Industry and Fishing. There is now little evidence of the original settlement. Smith had laid out the “new town Fishtown of Footdee at the extreme east end of the Harbour at Sandness (and before the North Pier existed) as 3 squares. Although Footdee has always been a part of Aberdeen it nevertheless has a distinctly different scale and character, more akin to a small fishing haven.  A quite separate community enclave.

Aberdeen Map - John Smith Survey 1809

We may mention the markedly dissimilar characteristics of the Fishermen, Agriculturists and Miners in Cornwall; the Colliers of Staffordshire and the North of England etc; whilst there are others again, who, although not secluded from society, exhibit a marvellous tenacity in preserving intact their own independent and original habits: of this class the people engaged in the Fishing Trade are probably the best representatives.  In showing to what an extent differences may prevail in all the points we have before enumerated, even in a single Town, we can select no instance more favourable than that of the Fisher Fowk of Aberdeen in Scotland, of whom an excellent account has been given in the ‘London and Westminster Review,' which we therefore proceed to quote.  Some of the text has been borrowed from Ann Allardyce's Footdee in the 18th Century

This handsome and flourishing Town consists of about 60,000 inhabitants, who are distinguished even in Scotland for their shrewdness.  At the mouth of the River Dee, and in 2 squares, called Fishers’ Squares, separated from the rest of the Town by only a few Dockyards, is an enclave of people who differ more in dialect, customs, superstitions, and other peculiarities, from the Aberdonians, than the latter do from any of the other inhabitants of the lowlands of Scotland.  They are a completely separate community; and their dialect is so different from that of the working classes of Aberdeen, that though the 2 groups have a sufficient number of words in common for transacting business with each other, most of the words used by the ‘Foot Dee’, or Fittie Fowk,’ among themselves, are unintelligible to the ‘Aberdeen folk’.  If a native of Aberdeen were to wander into the square inhabited by the ‘Fittie Fowk,’ who are almost all Fishers and Pilots, he would run no little risk of being pelted out again with stones and haddock-heads.  The ‘Fittie Fowk’ scarcely ever intermarry with the other Citizens.  Their marriages are generally ‘penny weddings.’  (Scottish tradition of the guests buying the food for the reception at a wedding, or the penny in a shoe would ensure proximity to wealth)

They seldom send their children to school, and almost never to a promiscuous one.  Their sons are almost invariably brought up to follow the occupations of their forefathers, and never learn any regular trades, except that perhaps now and then a youth, more adventurous than usual, becomes a ship-carpenter.  They live together patriarchally, sometimes 3 or 4 generations in a single room.  The oars are laid above them on the couples (or rafters) of their cottages: the children may be seen sleeping on nets in corners; and on the walls are creels, baskets, and other fishing-tackle.  Their fishing boats descend by primogeniture. (Inheritance by the 1st born male child) 

Their women have not merely a costume different at all times from that of women in a similar rank of life in Aberdeen (distinguished by an all but exclusive preference for the colours white and blue, and consisting generally of a blue striped wrapper, blue baize petticoat, and close cap, called a Cockermonny Mutch, with moggins, or stockings without feet, and they wear no shoes; but they also adopt very generally the masculine Blue Jackets of their menfolk. The men do little more that go out fishing with the boats.  The women search for line bait, assist in carrying the nets, bait the hooks and do all the drudgery, while their masculine Lords are looking on with folded arms.   The women, both of Footdee and those of the same ilk in several other villages on the East coast of Scotland, carry great loads of fish to Market on Market Days in Creels (large wicker baskets on their shoulders and rest on their hips, sometimes as many as 11 miles before  breakfast; and so necessary does the load become to enable them to walk steady, that when they are returning home they prefer to carrying stones to carrying an empty creel.  They never walk but in single file, and they have a superstitious dread of being counted, a fear of which the mischievous boys of Aberdeen availled themselves to annoy them by calling as the pass:-
One, Two, Three - what a lot of Fisher Nannies I see.

A salutation equally dreaded by them is the cry 'Baud’s fit in yer creel,’  i.e. there's a hares foot is in your creel.  This saying derives its meaning from the circumstance that a hare was seen to run through their 'fish town’ on the evening preceding a day on which a great number of their people were lost at sea.  To point at their boats with the fore-finger is the surest way of offending them.  Among these people all the superstitions which useful knowledge is banishing from the homes of the poor still flourish.  The belief in lucky days and omens of stars and clouds is to the present hour a practical faith under the low thatched roofs of those squares of white cottages among the sand-hills of the sandy beach at the mouth of the Dee, occupied by this curious community, who still tremble with the fear that a neglect of these things would bring great evils down upon their heads.  They observe Old Christmas, and all their transactions and calculations are made by Old Style, to which they tenaciously hold, saying,  a new Style is man’s makin’, but Auld Style is Gawd’s.’  Now all these things are nearly as strange to the Citizens of Aberdeen as to the rest of any part of the empire.  Having mentioned the word haddock, it would be unpardonable to omit all notice of the delicacy so famous in London, the ‘Finnan Haddocks,’ which form one of the chief articles of the trade, of the people herein described.  Finnan (Findon) is a small village famous only for its fishery, situated about 6 miles to the South of Aberdeen.  Of the excellence of this fish perhaps the most decisive proof that can be given is that the Burghs on the Firth of Forth and other places have regular manufacturies of a spurious article, which they vend under its name, and doubtless to the detriment of its reputation among the deceived but unsuspicious purchasers.

Moggins in my time 1940's were long socks folded down over the feet to form a ready pair of improvised woollen double layer indoor House Shoes that would also collect all the lint off the floor, while keeping your feet warm from the 'cauld lino' on a freezin’ winters eve in an ever open fire induced draughty attic abode.  You know the phrase – och she’s got moggins o’ money - indicating that she stuffed her many socks with filthy lucre to hoard such for an unlikely uncertain future while we - jist had nethin at a’.  Far's mi moggins Ma? - Steckin' tae yer Gymmies!

- to weet the sma end o' yer moggins.....to be over the ankles in water

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Last modified: 01/09/2013