Villages by the Sea

Series 3 – Craster

Friday September 30th 2022, 19.00

BBC Two and on iPlayer after broadcast HERE

Craster herring keelboats c1900, before the harbour was built (photo: Bill Smailes’ collection)

Archaeologist Ben Robinson visits Craster, a small village on the Northumberland coast, to find out how the family and village who both share the name have had their lives and fortunes intertwined for over 800 years.

The village sits on basalt rock called the Whin Sill next to the North Sea. Ben learns how, through the generations, the Crasters have used local resources to make their fortunes and in turn have changed the face and the fortunes of the village and the villagers.

Ben meets Michael Craster, who still lives in the family’s 850-year-old tower and is an expert on his ancestors. Ben follows the family tree and hears of various heads of the family such as the Georgian period’s Daniel Craster who developed quarrying in the village.

He also meets members of the Robson family, whose 4th generation business still makes kippers in the village’s one remaining smokehouse. And he talks to local historian Katrina Porteous about how the herring industry changed the long tradition of fishing from the village in the 19th century, and the impact it had on local women’s lives.

Craster women at the herring c1900 (Photo: Bill Smailes’ collection)

If you would like to know more about the history of fishing from Craster, please see my book ‘The Bonny Fisher Lad’ (Seaham 2003). It’s out of print but copies are usually available second hand on Amazon or eBay for under £12.

My more recent book ‘Limekilns and Lobsterpots’ describes similar fishing history from the nearby village of Beadnell, where the Craster family were also landlords in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s available HERE.

Please also see the ‘Fishing Heritage’ post on this blog in Jan 2022, my talk on women’s work in the NE fishing tradition HERE and my 2021 talk for Leeds University CELCE HERE.

I’ve loved the two previous series of Villages by the Sea, and it will be fascinating to learn more about Craster from this episode. It was great fun to meet Ben Robinson and his team, and an honour to be asked to take part. Many thanks to the family of the late Bill Smailes, who allowed me to use photos from his collection in the episode, and to Bill himself, his sister Bessie Morris, and to other Craster fishermen and their families, for all the first-hand information they gave me over many years.

Do please listen, and I hope you enjoy the programme, either locally or, later this month, nationally. Thank you.

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