About the Dreg Song Project

In the nineteenth century, Scotsmen fished for oysters in the Firth of Forth by dragging dredges over the oyster 'scalps'. To maintain a steady speed they sang as they rowed. Overfishing brought the industry to a close near the turn of the twentieth century and with it, the use of the dreg songs. In the 1930s James Madison Carpenter gathered some of these songs on wax cylinders and typewritten pages. For years the songs were hidden away - lost. Now, with the work of the James Madison Carpenter Project these songs have come back to life first at Mystic Seaport Museum and, this summer, in their home waters of the Firth! Three Scottish Coast Rowing Clubs: RowportyNewhaven Coastal Rowing and Boatie Blest  brought the songs home to the Firth at 7:30 pm on 20 June, 2012 near the Dalriada Bar. It was a memorable and historic evening!

An Historic Scottish Dredge

Gareth Jones of the redoubtable Port Seton rowers made the trek over to Anstruther to visit the Scottish Fisheries Museum in search of an oyster dredge. Here is the photo he sent of a large dredge that matches the one drawn by a student at the School of Scottish Studies back in the 1960s – the only image of a Scottish dredge I’d seen until now. See how the dredge is leaning against the wall to keep its mouth open – lying flat on the bottom there would be no way to get oysters into the net. This illustrates the purpose of the rowing songs: to maintain a steady speed while towing the dredge to keep that the frame at the correct angle so the mouth stays open to gather oysters into the net.

The second photo includes an interesting detail: the dredge appears to be lying on its back and you can see the angle of the cutter bar which suggests that the frame was intended to lie at something like a 30 to 45 degree angle from the bottom in order for the edge of the cutter to work properly. There’s your challenge, rowers!

Thanks, Gareth, for making the trek and for sharing the photos.