— #24 Newhaven Harbour

Overview Lighthouse and Beacon A Picture Postcard Skiffs, Fifies and Baldies Superstitions Black Friday

You can't be too careful!

In all fishing communities there’s a long list of taboos and superstitions, some local, but others common to most European seafarers. Living with constant danger engendered a special relationship with Fate!

Even today, fishing is one of the most perilous occupations. In the days of open, undecked boats, with fishermen having to travel ever further afield in pursuit of their prey, Newhaven folk were not only deeply religious but also very superstitious.

Many of these superstitions concerned either warding off bad luck, bringing good fortune, or keeping the Devil away. Specific words were thought extra-hazardous, with some to be avoided at all costs. For example, ‘salmon’ must never be said – ‘red fish’ should be used instead, and ‘rat’ was substituted by ‘long-tail’. It was bad luck to say the word ‘pig’ on a boat – one acceptable alternative was ‘curly tail’, or the word could be spelled out as ‘P-I-G’. Using one of these taboo words by mistake would provoke the response ‘cauld iron’ and the touching of the nearest item of ferrous metal. Rabbit was known locally as ‘mapmap’ and although a rabbit’s foot was usually thought lucky, don’t dare bring one onboard a boat!

Women, too, must never be brought aboard a fishing boat – they were not only considered bad luck, but thought likely to distract the fishermen, who should be concentrating solely on the task in hand and showing due respect to the sea. Ministers, too, (called ‘sky pilots’) were forbidden to step aboard. If you met one on your way to the harbour, that journey was ruined and you had to go home and start all over again! Similarly, if you met someone on the way to the harbour you had to speak first, even if it was just ‘Good morning’, otherwise that journey had to start all over again. On the plus side, if you met a black cat en route, you knew that your day at sea would be successful.

2_6004 A lucky black cat photo-bombs a picture of a Newhaven couple. Courtesy of The Liston Family