Tom Howe’s working life in Salmon fishing by Margo Howe

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Tom Howe in front of his childhood home , a croft near Haddo Castle

Tom Howe in front of his childhood home , a croft near Haddo Castle

Tom Howe was a well-known figure in the life of Moray particularly his role in the politics including as a Scottish National Party candidate and his work as a councillor. Less is known about his working life in Salmon Fishing. Sadly Tom passed away on 18th May 2011, however, his widow, Margo Howe has kindly agreed to provide some details of his earlier working life for the project.

Tom was born on 14th April 1929. He was brought up in Turriff in a croft near Hatton Castle. He attended Birkenhill School, Turriff and also Torphins School.

Cobble boat with Tom Howe with his hat at a jaunty angleHe was living on Auchlunies House estate on finishing Primary education and had to attend Mackie Academy, Stonehaven however

Cobble boat with Tom Howe with his hat at a jaunty angle

Cobble boat with Tom Howe with his hat at a jaunty angle

due to poor health he got a medical exemption and left school in 1941 when he was 12 years old and went into fishing.He didn’t know why he chose fishing as there was no family connection with the sea.He joined a salmon crew under the skipper, Willie Main of Portlethen, who Tom said did a lot to finish his education with his pearls of wisdom. The boats fished along the coast of Aberdeenshire between Stonehaven and Aberdeen. The nets were postioned at sea and the crew emptied them two to three times a day. The boat they used was a cobble boat (see photo- Tom is the one with the cap at a jaunty angle on the left).

Letter of commendation for Tom Howe

Letter of commendation for Tom Howe

From 1947-1950 he did his National Service starting at Gordon Barracks in Aberdeen. While in Germany it was his job to requisition supplies,ranging around the countryside
on a motorbike. One Christmas he went out looking for rations and came back with a live piglet strapped to his back, having done a deal. with a friendly farmer.At the end of his service he returned to the Salmon fishing and by 1954 was skipper of the crew.In later years he received a letter of commendation when he was involved in a life-saving incident with his boat. He joined the Aberdeen North and South branch of the SNP in 1954. By the late 1950s Tom was involved in the campaign re: drift net fishing. He stood as the SNP council candidate for Ferryhill ward and was Sandy Milne’s election agent in the 1959 election. Sandy came third.

Tugnet buildings at the mouth of the Spey source:

Tugnet buildings at the mouth of the Spey

In September 1961 Tom moved up to Tugnet at the mouth of the River Spey as Fisheries manager of the Crown Estate. It was an operating fishery station and is where the Whale and Dolphin Centre (WDCS) is now. They used stake nets (= bag nets) and a cobble at Portgordon and Spey bay. Slowly over the years the number of days Tom and his crews could fish at the mouth was eroded due to the campaigning of the Riperian owners who owned the riverbank coming to an agreement with the Crown Estates to curtail the net fishing to allow more salmon to move up river to their fishing beats.By 1985 the fishing had stopped altogether. Tom retired on the grounds of ill health in 1983.

1970 election campaign information for Tom Howe

1970 election campaign information for Tom Howe

During this period he continued his political interests competing in the 1970  general election as SNP candidate for Moray and Nairn “achieving 27.8% of the popular vote (7,885 votes), against the Tories’ 49.4% and Labour on 22.8%.” . He ran as local councillor for the Lennox ward in 1967. This continued until he stood down in 2003 after over 36 years in the post. Tom met Margo, a primary school teacher, in 1979. They bought the Harbour Cafe in Cullen which Margo ran. They were both successful in running for office. Margo in 1990 stood in the Regional elections for the Rafford ward while Tom remained as a District councillor for the Lennox ward. She then joined him as a Moray councillor when the two councils were merged into one.

Memory contributed by Councillor Margo Howe

Additional information

Speyside Fishery Board – information on the salmon catch since 1952.


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Carrie Paterson’s farm life in Spey Bay

Spey Bay This view shows why sea defences were thought necessary. The houses are very close to the shingle banks, and a wild winter storm could threaten them        Spey Bay Looking along the curve of shingle towards the distant Bin of Cullen. 

Floods Farm Spey Bay by Colin MurphyDuring the war years Carrie was at school. She lived on a farm called Darnish Farm, Keith. She went to college in Keith for a year from 1944-1945 for shorthand and typing. At the age of 20 she got married to Alexander “Sandy” . They lived on the Crown estate of Spey Bay and the farm was called Floods farm. Carrie has a drawing of it on her wall drawn by Colin Murphy.


The farm grew turnips, carrots and potatoes. During the Tattie holidays local school children were paid “10 bob” a week. They picked “Tatties” and put them in a box. The potatoes were bagged and sold on to merchants who collected them from the farm. The carrots were for their own use.

Poultry provided eggs, which were then sold. Initially the hens were free range but then they moved to deep litter barns as it was more efficient.
Pigs were processed for pork on site to provide sausages and ham. The trotters were not used as there was considered to be no meat on them.
Cattle were sent to market in Elgin at the auction house. Some of the milk was used for butter. Using the farm’s churn the butter was made into butter pats collected and sold.

Life in Spey Bay

Spey Bay Hotel Picture taken in 2007 source WkiThe Spey Golf Course was very well known and was a busy place. The gravel pit was also going then. That was between the farm and the seashore. There was also a railway station in Spey Bay. Lots of visitors came to stay at the Spey bay Hotel to play golf and enjoy the seaside. At Christmas it was very busy.  Carrie and her husband would go for a meal at the hotel on a Saturday night. There was music, dancing with accordian playing and local fiddle music. Sometimes there was a four bit band (drum, fiddle, accordian, piano?).
Further down the road towards Fochabers was a shop and post office. It sold papers and local groceries but did not deliver papers.

Memory contributed by Carrie Paterson, Buckie

Additional Links
potato advert from Scottish Screen OnlineScottish Screen Online 1951 advert to children to encourage them to take part in the potato harvest.