John belongs to: Merchants and Traders
John was born in North Shields. His father was a fish merchant and his mother ran a second hand shop. When he left school John followed his father into working on North Shields Fish Quay. He has worked there as a fish merchant since 1957.
John was interviewed by Carl Greenwood on 6 March 2005. The interview took place at Discovery Museum and lasted 49 minutes and 43 seconds.
Working on the trawlers and moving to filleting
"Well, I did one trip and I would be working on the store, and some deck hand would get drunk out of his mind and then I would take his place"
Well, I did one trip and I would be working on the store, and some deck hand would get drunk out of his mind and then I would take his place while he did his seven days in prison. Because when you didn’t, if you, if you missed your ship in them days, they were keen to recite you your articles, you were supposed to do seven days, you were fined seven days’ pay or seven days in the clink.
I had been to Purdy’s for about 18 months, I was about 16 and a half and Purdy says, “we need another store boy,” because wages for store boys were cheap, right, and he didn’t want to give us a pay rise. So he arranged with somebody, Lilburn’s were looking for somebody and the boss of Lilburn’s came along, Mr. Stringer, we called him The Bull, he said, “oh right,” he said, “you start fourth on Monday morning.” So I went to Littleburn’s and there straight away they put a fillet knife in your hands and said, “you’re going to become a filleter,” that’s like, semi-skilled men who were…
And then, I remember the wages were, what, about four pounds 50 a week which was a pound a week more than what I was getting at Purdy’s. At the end, you see, at the beginning at Purdy’s, I was only getting two pounds 55 pence, then I went up to, like, three pounds fifty, and then he said, “you’re getting to dear to have, I can’t afford you,” and you’ve to remember, at Purdy’s, it wasn’t, like, like now we have 35 hours work a week, at Purdy’s if a trawler came in, it doesn’t matter if it came at seven o’clock or if they, just had to do the job you know, there wasn’t like over time and overtimes, you know.
And then I went to Lilburn’s- great experience at Lilburn’s- that’s where you saw real fish, handling real fish and the boss used to keep saying, “if we don’t get a thousand boxes of fish a day, this firm’s going to go down the swanny”, and there was only 20 men in the whole staff, you know. But in them days, you would, the way you would clear a thousand boxes was you would go on the market, once the market started the owner would send for you, and you would open the market and you would head all the cod because all the cod was large, do you know what I mean, like. Three fish to a box, and you would snap the heads, and you used to send away, you used to send the fish away whole. Because, really, filleting fish didn’t come into its own until the 1950s. Before that, everybody used to say, “I’ll have a cod steak,” or, “I’ll have a whole haddock,” in a fish and chip shop, but then filleting came in in the ‘50s and that’s when people wanted, like, they would just take fillets. Nowadays, fish and chips shops want their fish skinned and boned, and you know, like an old fish and chip shop man used to tell me, he said, “when these fish and chips are in there, I don’t want them to have in their mouths.”
John has 16 memories in the memorynet:
John's memories with a Environment theme:
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