From the earliest recorded history of Anstruther, fishing was the mainstay of the town. At one time, more fish were caught, processed and traded here than at any other harbour in Scotland. The fishing industry also supported many associated trades, and was responsible for a large percentage of trade in its own right. Cured fish were exported to other parts of Scotland, to England, and abroad to Europe.
Anstruther Harbour 1910
However, by the latter 20th century, the fishing industry was changing and Anstruther was no longer as important as a fishing harbour. A group of people, concerned that a way of life would disappear without any trace or recognition, got together to form the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust, with the aim of establishing a museum to mark the fishing heritage of Scotland. Anstruther, with its past importance to the industry, was the obvious location to choose.
A Committee was set up in 1965 to begin the project and the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust established in 1967. The buildings were then acquired from the National Trust for Scotland. The Museum was formally opened on 4 July 1969 by the documentary film-maker Dr John Grierson. Despite the expansion of the site and major internal alterations to enable access for all, much of the original architectural character has been retained, and the Museum is still run as an independent charitable trust with the help of enthusiastic volunteers.
From the start, the ambition of the founders was not merely to tell a local story but to include the fishing heritage of the East Neuk within a national context. Resources have not always been available to match this ambition but it has been proved justified: the Scottish Fisheries Museum is now acknowledged as one of Scotland’s national industrial museums and its collections formally recognised as being of national significance.
Herring barrel stencil from Wick
The Museum displays cover virtually every aspect of the industry and community, both at sea and on shore. The variety and beauty of old fishing boats are shown in the models and original vessels, including the Reaper and White Wing that still go to sea. Social history is explored via personal possessions, textiles, domestic equipment and artworks. Reserve Collections are held in store where they are available for research and provide the focus for regular temporary exhibitions on a range of topics. The Museum is still actively collecting and new exhibits seek to reflect and inform contemporary issues affecting the industry as well as looking back into its history.