Fisherwomen's Choir

— #10 Victoria School

Overview Class Photographs Newhaven Gala Days Fisherwomen’s Choir The Braws
5_4011 The Fisherwomen's Choir in performance on stage - mending a net. The lady extreme right holding the net is Esther Liston who was the last lady in Newhaven to sell fish from a creel on her back.

A Renowned Choir for Almost 60 Years

For many years Victoria School hosted the nationally famous Newhaven Fisherwomen’s Choir for its rehearsals.  The choir was founded in 1927 and was active for almost 60 years, winding up eventually in 1985.  

However, Newhaven was blessed with not one choir of renown, but two.  The Newhaven Fisherlassies’ Choir was originally founded as the Newhaven Fishergirls’ Choir in 1896, although a breakaway group was formed in 1929 and lasted slightly longer than the Fisherwomen’s Choir coming to an end on 1995.

The First Fisherwomen's Choir?

One of the Newhaven Heritage committee was examining the accounts and letters of James IV and stumbled on a curious entry from May 1506.

Item, the xxij day of Maij, to the wemen that sang to the King, laid doun be Lord Avendale, . xiiij s.
Item, to the new maister schip wricht in drinksilvir, xxviij s.

In other words, on May 21 1506, this is rewarding the new master shipwright when in Newhaven.  This is also rewarding the women who were singing to James IV, being paid “xiiij s”.   (Andrew Stewart was the 1st Lord Avondale and, like James, he was killed seven years later at Flodden in 1513.)

Is this the first documented royal performance of a Newhaven choir?

A Family Business

Marion Ritchie, always listed as Mrs David Ritchie (a convention left over from the Edwardian era), founded the choir in 1927 and was subsequently awarded an MBE in 1952 for her services to music. She would hardly have believed that her choir would still be performing almost 60 years after it began.  All good things come to an end, not least the Newhaven Fisherwomen’s Choir.

Mrs Ritchie died in 1954 at the peak of the choir’s popularity and international reputation. Her daughter, Marion (Menie) Addison, assumed the role of conductor and for a further twenty or more years sustained the members’ diary at a laudable level despite the increasing average age of the choir. Her sister, Betty, was the choir’s accompanist from its establishment until her death the year before its 50th anniversary.  Even at the time of the choir’s Golden Jubilee in 1977, there were still 22 active members.

5_4002 Back L to R: 1, 2, Bessie Barnet, 4, 5, Mrs Kay, 7, 8, 9, 10 - Middle : Miss Ritchie, 2, 3, 4, May Morrison, 6, Jean Docherty, 8, Mrs Clement, Mrs Young (Annie Christe, 11, Mrs Addison - Front: Esther Liston, Kitty Banyard, 3, 4, Mrs Ritchie, 6, Grace Hackland, Nisbet,

International Fame

At first, the choir was composed of only fisherwomen but in latter years was made up of fishermen’s wives and relatives. In their time, they travelled all over Scotland, from the Orkneys to the Borders, and further, to London and Norway. Even in 1975, the last year in the diary that had a list of singing engagements, they had eleven public performances including an appearance on STV’s Watchnight Service live from the Gateway Studio on Leith Walk. Sadly, this was to be the last performance for Betty Ritchie who died on February 15th 1976.

Much praise was showered on the choir in their special anniversary year. Full acknowledgement was given in the press at the time for their tireless fund-raising efforts over their five decades’ existence whereby tens of thousands of pounds had been raised for good causes.

5_4009 Fisherwomen's Choir on a trip to Norway to the National Fisherfest Fair at Trondheim, Norway in 1965

Jubilee Presentation

Throughout the lifetime of the choir, the Newhaven Fisherwomen were instantly recognised as they always performed in their ‘braws’ traditional costumes of two coloured petticoats, each of which contained three yards of material, and their Paisley pattern shawls.

In the diary, a final act of charity is noted when, on August 17th, 1977 a bench was presented to the then City of Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, Ken Borthwick, by Mr Charles Addison, Menie’s husband, in celebration of the Fisherwomen’s Choir’s Golden Jubilee. This bench was sited at the corner of Craighall Road and the junction of Main Street and Pier Place. A cine film made at the time will shortly be available on our website,

It is one of the benches that are now on Pier Place opposite Alien Rock, which used to be St Andrew’s Chuch where the choir performed on occasion.

This, sadly, is the last entry in the diary. The choir went on for a few more years but eventually a combination of the ageing process — conductor Menie was already 80 at the time of the Jubilee — and attrition brought the choir to a close around 1985.

5_4020 Publicity picture of Fisherwomen's Choir taken at South Queensferry in the late 1920s.

SMT Thanks

In May 1947, the SMT bus company treated the ladies of the Choir to an all-expenses-paid bus trip to Loch Lomond coming home via Fintry and a ferry crossing at the Forth Bridge. This was as a thank you for the years of business the Newhaven Fisherwomen’s Choir had given the company transporting them to the various engagements.

5_4374 Choir at Blair Atholl Castle
5_4030 Choir members gather for a Golden Jubilee meal in 1977

Golden Jubilee Celebration 1977

The photograph above shows the choir members at their Golden Jubilee Celebration held at the Fox Covert Hotel in May 1977.

BACK ROW (L to R): Mrs R Barnet, Mrs I Grieve, Mrs M Linton, Mrs A Boyle, Mrs W Mackie, Mrs N Milne, Mrs E Packwood, Mrs M Hall, Mrs M Laing, Mrs B Lyle.

FRONT ROW (L to R): Mrs M Smith, Mrs J Grieve, Mrs J Smith, Mrs Menie Addison (conductor), Mrs N Walker, Mrs C Double, Mrs M Kay.