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The Newhaven Fisherwomen’s Choir


Over the years since its founding, Newhaven Heritage has acquired many photographs, documents and audio memories of the village as it once was. We look forward to the day when this important archive can be housed in its dedicated Newhaven Heritage Centre in 4 Pier Place should we be given the go-ahead to acquire the two ground-floor flats.

One of our more treasured possessions is an interesting book, the Diary of the Scottish Newhaven Fisherwomen’s Choir, dated 1927 – 1977, that was entrusted to the late George Hackland, one of our founders. It is full of interesting facts, photos and newspaper clippings of the time, which gives real insight into how popular the choir was in its heyday.

Founded, or rather re-established in 1927 by Mrs Marion Ritchie — she was always referred to as Mrs David Ritchie in attendant publicity such was the tradition of the time — the engagements pages start in 1928 with nine concerts, one of which is annotated that Sir Hugh Roberton, founder of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, visited the Newhaven concert given by the Fisherwomen.

Chris Garner reports in his book, Newhaven, A Scottish Fishing Community 1928 - 1978, that Sir Hugh called Newhaven “a nest of singing birds.” He further went on to declare “If ever I feel I am getting above the world I live in, I shall go to Newhaven to be inoculated…” for the ladies there “…sing straight from the heart.”

Within five years, the Newhaven Fisherwomen’s Choir was performing around 40 concerts per year, all for charity the foremost of which in those pre-NHS days was Leith Hospital, as well as singing at a number of church services.

All this was on top of the daily duties and responsibilities of working in professions connected with, or in, the fishing trade as well as keeping house and home together.

In 1935, the choir was invited to London to perform on BBC radio. This was the second time that they had performed in London having performed in a number of venues two years previously. On Saturday, 23 March the ladies were in front of the microphone to be “In Town Tonight”. Mrs David Ritchie was invited to introduce the choir:

“All the women in our choir belong to Newhaven — a fishing village on the Forth, near Edinburgh. The average age of the choir is fifty years, and quite a number of them are grandmothers. Many of the women still carry the creel. Although the choir was formed eight years ago, there are hardly any new faces — we are just a big happy family. The women are taught by ear only and yet have a repertoire of over two hundred songs and ballads — every note and word of which is memorised accurately.

I know that many of the husbands and sons of the women who are out at sea tonight are listening, so I won’t talk any more. Let us give them a verse of a real fisherwomen’s song, Caller Herrin...”

This was one of a number of appearances on BBC Radio, some of which were in London, that appear to figure in the diary every other year or so. On Wednesday 16 February, the choir made a recording in St Andrew’s Church for the BBC for a later broadcast listed in the diary two days later.

Two diary listings are interrupted by noteworthy events. On 20 February, 1936, King George V died and a boxed annotation states ‘SEVERAL DATES CANCELLED for KING GEORGE V’s DEATH R.I.P’ as the nation went into mourning.

The first outing the choir had after this solemn period was to Strathaven when they had the great surprise of seeing Sir Harry Lauder in the front row along with his niece.

Newly resident in the town, he asked permission to say a few words, complimenting the ladies on their fine singing. He finished with a rendition of I Love a Lassie before shaking every one of the 28-strong choir by the hand. A memorable evening indeed for the Newhaven Fisherwomen’s Choir.

The other break in their busy diary was between mid-July and late October 1939 due to the fact the ‘2nd Great-WORLD WAR INTERVENED’. This would have included a trip to Liverpool had it gone ahead.

During the war years, the choir spent much of its time entertaining the troops or raising funds for the war effort throughout the years of the conflict.

After the war, the fund raising concerts continued raising significant funds over the years for the RNLI. But that’s for another time.

Today, the tradition of choral singing continues with a non-audition Community Choir gathering on Wednesday evenings at 7pm for rehearsal in the annexe of the old Victoria School.

Anyone who enjoys singing would be made very welcome. Please contact Jed Milroy on for more details. ■

Info: Contact Gordon Young

Fisherwomen’s Choir at Billingsgate Fishmarket, London


One of our more treasured possessions is the Diary of the Scottish Newhaven Fisherwomen’s Choir, dated 1927– 1977


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