The herring gutters were the backbone of the fishing industry.When the herring were unloaded from from the boats the quines were standing at the ready by the farlins, their fingers wrapped in clooties and kits at their feet.They worked in crews of three, two gutted and the third packed the graded herring.A good gutter could gut and grade herring at a rate of one a second. When the kits were full they were carried over to the packer. The quines must have been strong, as two kits were carried at once. The kits were emptied into the tubs for the packer to start her work.

The packer had a backbreaking job bending over the barrel layering the herring and salting them until the barrel was full.


The yards varied from open-air sites to covered areas, though the roofs often leaked and underfoot could be muddy and slippy. If there was a big shot the gutters had to work on after dusk by the light of oil or gas lamps. Working amongs herring could be cold and miserable so they had to wear warm clothing. On their feet they wore clogs or rubber boots. On top of their clothes they wore a quite.

Despite the harsh conditions the gutting quines always seemed happy, often singing as they worked. Every year they packed their kists and followed the herring from Shetland to East Anglia.Their lodgings could be huts to rooms let out by landladies.

The Scottish boats tied up after landing their catch on Saturday and did not sail again until Monday. Sunday best was donned by men and women for attendance at Church or meeting. The style of life in fishing led to the closeness of the community and the quines and fisher loons met and mixed and often married. The women were prepared to share the hard work with their men. A wife was a financial necessity not a luxury.