‘Dreg songs’ of the Firth of Forth oyster fishery – an appeal for information

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Song collector James Madison Carpenter shanties, sea songs

Song collector Carpenter recorded songs from the Firth of Forth oyster fishery

Folklorist and shanty expert Bob Walser has put out an appeal for information about the old Firth of Forth oyster fishing – can anyone help him please?

Bob is engaged in what must be one of the most enviable jobs I can imagine – research the material collected by the USA collector James Madison Carpenter, who recorded a large amount of material in the UK.

‘I wonder if you could help me locate imagesor descriptions of the boats, dredges, methods etc of the Firth of Forth oyster fishery – woodcuts, paintings, photos of reproduction boats – etc. Anything at all!

‘I’m trying to get an idea of how the fishing was done in the 18th and 19th centuries: how many men per boat, dredging under sail or oars, single dredge or more, what shape were the dredges, how were the oysters etc?

‘The oyster dredgers in the Firth of Forth in years gone by sang what are called ‘dreg songs’, which seem to have been particular – perhaps unique – to that fishery. There are several recordings of these songs in the James Madison Carpenter Collection and I am trying to better understand how they functioned: how was the work done and how were the songs used?

‘I hope to use this information in the notes to the songs in the critical edition of the collection when it is published and perhaps in presentations or academic papers exploring this song tradition. I’d also like at some time to ‘bring the songs home’ to Fisherrow and Cockenzie where Carpenter recorded them – but for now that’s a dream… ‘

Thanks Bob – I’ve looked and found nothing on this particular fishery in any of the standard works I possess – the Chatham Directory, The Working Boats of Britain, Beach Boats of Britain or Traditional Fishing Boats of Britain and Ireland – but I wonder whether the boats used were like the small creel boats that used to be employed in the area?

Can anyone help please?

For an earlier post on Carpenter’s work, click here.

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