Newhaven Harbour


Tanning or Barking Nets

Tanning or Barking Nets at Harbour

Robert Hume, Newhaven Pilot and his steam pilot boat, c.1875

  Reproduced with acknowledgement to Glenda Gault, Australia


Tanning or Barking Nets at Harbour


What is known about this photograph?

It was sent to me by Glenda Gault, Australia, who has been carrying out family history research in connection with Newhaven.  Glenda tells me that the title of this picture is 'Tanning or Barking the Nets at the Harbour'.

Glenda tells me that this photo and some other photos of Newhaven Harbour and Newhaven streets were found amongst old papers when she was carrying out family history research into Newhaven.  She does not know whether this picture is of Newhaven or Leith or elsewhere.  Perhaps you can help.

Please e-mail me if you have any comments or opinions about this picture, so that I can pass them on to Glenda.    Thank you.

Answer 1

I don't yet know whether or not this picture was taken at Newhaven, but I have learnt a lot about 'barking nets' thanks to Hermann Ostermann who sent me the following comprehensive reply:

Hermann wrote:

Barking the Nets

Tanning, or barking, as it was said in Scotland and East-Anglia, has been performed regularly by fishermen in the days when nets, twine and sails were made only from
natural fibres.

The process resulted in a good preservative against rot
and mildew. Used were, initially crushed bark, and later then catechu, a vegetable tanning extract  imported from india, both boiled in a cauldron for some hours and then the nets were soaked with the solution.

On sail bark gave a greyish-brown, and catechu a reddish brown colour, typical to the fishermen's sails.

There was an article on the matter, published in Classic Boat magazine No. 107 (February 1997) and another special essay will be published in one of the forthcoming issues of Maritime Life and Traditions as well.

Following my research on this topic, there are more than hundred recipes and oral testimony of fishermen from nearly all European coastlines as well a number of historic photos in my hands.

Hermann Ostermann.    16 September 2005


Answer 2

Thank you to Walter Lyle Hume for identifying where this photograph was taken.

Walter wrote:

Newhaven Fish Market

     Tanning or Barking the Nets at the Harbour

Almost certainly, this picture is at the side of Newhaven Fish Market, note prominent headstones on each gable, and the centre line ventilation, most likely at the East side by the 'Haley' end.

    Newhaven Fishmarket with fishwives and carts

Strange why they should be "barkin' the nets"  there!

The Cutch House was specifically used for such an operation.  This domed building has been mistaken as the original lighthouse on many photographs but it was purpose built.

After the nets had been boiled in the cutch solution they were taken on wheel barrows (in my time) to the Fishermen's Park and hung to dry on the mast like poles therein.

As youngsters, we used to help with this filthy chore. We were rewarded with a bag of herring when they turned up towards the end of the year, and scolded when we got home for being so dirty and smelly.

A little bit more of the jig-saw for future generations to see.

Walter Lyle Hume.    19 September 2005





Index Page

Old Photos


Other Pages










Aerial View

Calotype Photos

Cartes de Visite



Recent Paintings

Recent Photos


Social History

Around Edinburgh