Museum of Now: Fish Hawkers
Fish Hawkers looks to reveal the hidden lives of the women working in the fishing industry over the past 150 years in Brixham and the marine life that supports the industry.
Although the project takes the Fish Hawkers story as it's inspiration, we hope to uncover and celebrate many more stories of women and their families through the decades, starting from around 1850. But the Fish Hawker story is one of the rare ones that was recorded a little by the newspapers of the time.
It was in 1864 that a group of women, helped by Lord and Lady Churston, won the right to continue selling fish in Brixham. It was decreed that
'the ancient custom to allow the wives and daughters of smack owners to sell their fish at auction without license be continued without let or hinderance'.
This win deserved a party, so on a Saturday afternoon in September, 26 Brixham female fish dealers accompanied by Mr Webber and Mr Lockyer and a few fishermen, proceeded to Lupton House, the seat of his Lordship, bearing with them a beautifully modelled vessel in full sail, fitted with a mechanical contrivance by which it acts as a musical box......'
The procession was headed by fishermen carrying bunting belonging to their fishing smacks, and they presented Lord and Lady Churston with their gift.
It was then reported in the local newspaper that:
'The Fisherwomen of Brixham have won a great victory. As a result, a grand tea was held in the Fish Market. Over 200 attended and toasts were drunk - in tea- to Lord Churston. After tea, dancing commenced which was kept up for some hours with great animation and spirit; Some of the elder fisherwomen going through the old country dances with marvellous grace and elasticity'
We have so far dyed the recycled cotton fabric with natural indigo dye to create the aprons, and over the coming months (March-May) we will be adorning them with embroidered fish. We are researching the catches from today and from over 100 years ago, and there’s a group decision to make about a third potential ‘future’ apron which might be decorated with so-called ‘invasive species’ that we now see in the seas off the coast of Devon such as the huge Sun Fish. Brixham Heritage Museum has re-thought the Fisherman’s cottage installation, and will be bringing the ‘wife’ to the forefront rather than having her at the back cooking over the stove! There will be two new information panels that are currently being worked on to weave the women of Brixham into the museum narrative more clearly for visitors. And local folk singer Maggie Duffy with be working with Project Lead Shelley Castle and local community members to create a new folk song celebrating and exploring the lives of women in Brixham past and present. The culmination of the project will take place with a performance at Fish Stock on 8th September which will mark the first of what Encounters hopes to be many annual celebrations of the lives of the womenfolk of Brixham and the fish in the sea.