Footdee in the 18th Century....


The fishtown of Footdee, towards the conclusion of the American war, was certainly not one of those "green spots on which memory delights to dwell," and yet it has kept hold of mine with all the tenacity of a first impression.

The town consisted of several rows of low thatched cottages, running from east to west between the high road and the harbour, or, as it was called, the "tide," which at high water came up even to the ends of the houses. Nothing could be more apparently comfortless than the exterior of these dwellings, each fronting the back of the opposite neighbour, and the narrow space between forming a line of dunghills, crossed over with supported spars, from whence hung lines, bladders, and buoys, intermixed with dried skated and dogfish.

The prospect within was not more alluring to a stranger, and yet the inhabitants seemed quite contented. The earthen floor, dirty and uneven - the smoky roof, whose only ceiling was a few old oars and pieces of drift wood - with the bare rough walls, unconscious of any washing save what the sooty drops afforded, were objects far from pleasing.

The furniture in every way corresponding. Two clumsy black bedsteads were placed under the two small windows, of which there was one on each side of the door; and a small table, tow or three chairs, and some low seats or sunkies, with the requisites of the fishing occupation, viz., lines, creels, sculls, murlans, etc., formed all the rest of the visible moveables. There was no press or keeping-place whatever, except a chest or locker in which the Sunday clothes and any stores were kept, and the saut-backet suspended in the chimney.

The fishermen were in general hardy and industrious, but ignorant in an incredible degree on all subjects unconnected with their own business. Few of them could read, and none of the grown up people could write. The elderly men wore broad bonnets, blue jackets, and canvas kilts or short trousers. The younger men were rather good-looking, smarter in their dress, and more good-humoured; but going to sea in the night, and taking their repose by day, was not favourable for the development of the social faculties, and there was scarcely an instance of intellectual talent or a tendency to any art or science among them. They were indeed fond of music, in as far as having a fiddle at their merry meetings, and a few of the lads could sing but a little, but their collection of songs was not extensive...

The females of this small community laboured under great disadvantages, both moral and physical; their incessant toils left no time for mental improvement, and their constant exposure to the weather without any sort of bonnet, together with their frequent immersion in salt water, gave a hardness to their features and coarseness to the skin, with a far-from-pleasing expression of countenance. The figure also became early bent from the weight of the creel. The middle-aged women wore a stuff gown with a large flowered calico wrapper or short gown over it, the young girls a stuff wrapper and petticoat, with the hair in a most unbecoming fashion, either thrown back with a large comb which reached from ear to ear, or put up in a very slovenly manner, with a "head lace" of red worsted tape. The boys under fifteen were the worst clothed; they ran about in a very tattered condition in old garments of their fathers', "a very world too wide," and seemed to be kept waiting until their strength could enable them to gain a decent covering. The little children were the most comfortable, those of both sexes being clad in a simple dress of white plaiding, called a "wallicoat," which, with their white curly heads and rosy countenances made them look very pretty as they puddled with their mimic boats in the pools of water...

There was still another class, who, though fewer in number, formed rather an interesting part of the society. In several of the families there was, in addition to the husband, wife, and children, an old man or woman, known by the appellation of Lucky-daddy or Lucky-minnie - the grandfather or grandmother of the family. These, when unable to work for themselves, went to live in the houses of their sons or daughters, and seemed to be kindly treated by them. Some of the men were very old, born in a former century, and appeared to take little interest in what was passing, sitting in a chair in the sun outside the door, or led about by one of the children. The grandmother had her place by the fire, and assisted in many of the lighter domestic labours. Her dress was somewhat peculiar; she always wore a blue cloth hood or "trotcosie," and a man's coat over the rest of her attire, with a large pouch or pocket by her side. These old women were often skilled in the medical art, and their advice sought in preference to doctors; but some individuals of them were also dreaded as being an "unlucky foot," and possessing other powers which made it dangerous to offend them...

Footdee in the 18th Century
By A D Allardyce

An Aberdeen fishwife