Finding Our Voices – Pittenweem

[For an introduction to the ‘Finding Our Voices’ project, including a discussion of our strategy and methodology in engaging primary schools, and an overview of the initial workshops in each school, see this article]

Finding Our Voices: Pittenweem

Having completed the initial workshops looking at Scotland’s commercial audio history, and going on to look at the work of folklorists from the Schools of Scottish Studies recording everyday traditions from people all across the country, the class at Pittenweem PS began looking in the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches website to see whether there were any recordings to do with their town.

We hit gold when we found a 1964 recording made by Hamish Henderson of John Watt (1933-2011) singing his song ‘Pittenweem Jo’, and telling Hamish how it had apparently immediately entered into oral tradition shortly after he composed it. The class learned the song and you can hear their version below:

Pittenweem Jo


I’m gaun wi a lass frae Pittenweem,
She’s every fisher laddie’s dream;
She guts the herrin doon by the quay,
And saves her kisses just for me.

Oh last July it came tae pass,
I met this bonnie fisher lass;
Wi her een sae blue and black her hair,
I met her doon at Ainster Fair.

Pittenweem, Pittenweem,
She’s every fisher laddie’s dream;
She guts the herrin doon by the quay,
And saves her kisses just for me.

I says tae her “Can I tak ye hame?”
She says “Oh fine I ken yer game;
But ne’er the less ye’re awfy kind,
In fact I widnae really mind.”

I took her hame that Saturday nicht,
The moon was shinin oh sae bricht;
And as we lay there on the grass,
I says “Hey Jo, wad ye be ma lass?”

She’s my lass noo, and weel I ken,
She disnae gang wi ither men;
For I was quick where they were slow,
And that’s how I won ma Pittenweem Jo.


Shores o the Forth

With such a rich history as a fishing town, it made sense for us to look for other songs about the local herring fishing industry. We found this in a recording, again of John Watt, but this time singing a song by local man Matt Armour (1935-2009) called ‘Shores o the Forth’, which talks about the dangers and decline of herring fishing of the East Neuk coast:

Come aa you East Neuk fishin lads that stand in the prime o yer youth,
Come sit awhile alang wi me, I’ll tell ye aa the truth;
For I’ve lived nearby for aa ma days alang East Ainster toon,
Noo I’m gey near deid, I’ve earned ma breid, on the cauld hard herrin grunds.

In the auld trawl boats and the lang seine nets,
I’ve yaised up all o my youth;
Noo the herrin grund’s nae mair are fund,
Alang the shores o the Forth.

I signed wi Jimmy Gaird’ner on the ‘Annie Dear’ for tae sail,
Pit on a suit o ileskins, the makin o Willie Miles;
And I gaed tae the herrin grund, and man, that life was hard,
But a man stood high when his catch was cried alang by the auld sail yaird.

Ma brither Tam gaed doon alow when the ‘Rose of Forth’ turned ower,
And I masel near done the same in the year o ’24;
These hands that used tae drag aa day are spleen and thrawn wi pain,
When an East wind’s blawn, I’m aa for gaun tae the herrin grunds again.

To get a sense of the kind of boats that the fishermen would have used, we watched a very interesting film hosted on the Scottish Fisheries Museum Youtube channel, called ‘The Golden Fringe’. The film was made by James Selbie, an art teacher at Waid Academy from 1955 – 68. Although the film has no sound, it shows a great deal of activity in Pittenweem Harbour, with boats coming and going, fish and shellfish being offloaded, weighed, sold, and gutted.

Armed with this visual information on what the herring trade looked like, we decided to turn ‘Shores o the Forth’ into a ‘crankie’ – a moving picture show painted onto paper and played back on a special frame while the song is being sung.



Here is a video of our performance of ‘Shores o the Forth’ with the crankie made by the class:

Something which was clearly missing from our look at the local fishing lifestyle was a woman’s perspective. To try to uncover a little about what life was like for fishwives, we borrowed materials from the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, including a mutch (cap) and shawl, and a special belt used by the women to carry their double-pointed knitting needles; we also found a pair of cloth flour bags, which were used as bandages to bind up wounds caused during fish gutting.


We couldn’t find a local song about a Pittenweem fishwife’s experience, so we decided to ‘import’ and learn a song from Aberdeenshire, called ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’ – something of a tongue-twister to sing, but lots of fun!

The Fisherman’s Wife

Wha wid be a fisherman’s wife
Tae run wi a creel, an a scrubber, an a knife?
A raivelled bed, an a deid-oot fire
An awa tae the mussels in the mornin?


Here we come scourin in
Three reefs tae the foresail in
Nae a dry stitch tae pit on wir backs
But still we’re aa teetotallers

It’s doon tae the watter in the middle o the nicht
Wi an auld syrup tin an a cannle for a licht
Tae gether in the pullers, every yin on them in sicht
Tae get the line baitit for the morning

It’s easy for the cobbler sittin in his neuk
Wi a big copper kettle hingin frae a crook
They’re standin in the boo, we canna get a hook
An it’s gey sair work in the morning

It’s nae the kinda work that a saft lass’d thole
Wi her fingers reid-raw wi scrubbin oot a yawl
A little-yin on her hip, an awa tae carry coal
She’ll be ca’d fair deen in the morning

Ma puir auld faither in the middle o the flair
He’s dein hooks wi “tippins” as he’s sittin in his chair
They’re made o horses hair, and that’s the best o gear
When ye gyang tae the fishin in the morning

But I widna change for the grandest kind o gear
Tho ye never ken the minute that yer heart’ll lowp wi fear
Awa tae the sea, he’s your bonnie dear
Ye’ll be a widow wi his bairnies in the mornin


Here are some of the pupils thoughts about our project:

“The crankie was fun because we got to work together on it.”

“It’s been a fun experience – my favourite song was ‘Pittenweem Jo’.”

“I hadn’t heard of shellac before – I thought it was really weird!”

“Thanks for coming and teaching us about all of this!”

“I enjoyed doing the performance and the crankie because they were fun and challenging!”

“I loved learning Shores o the Forth then bringing it to life with the crankie.”

“I loved showing our learning by performing to an audience.”

“I really enjoyed getting to actually touch the recordings and test them out.”

And the teacher:

“Very engaging. The kids were very interested in all aspects.”

“Lots of resources with hands-on experiences and artefacts.”

“The pupils were particularly engaged because it linked to their hometown.”

About the author

Our mission is to help communities across Scotland identify, engage with, collect and celebrate their local heritage, with special focuses on Scots language and traditional arts.