Historic home of Craster kippers given listed status

The traditional techniques for smoking fish are still in use at the 167-year-old premises in the Northumberland town.

Tom Wilkinson
Wednesday 22 November 2023 00:01 GMT
The 167-year-old smokehouse in Craster, Northumberland, has been given Grade II listed status (Historic England/PA)
The 167-year-old smokehouse in Craster, Northumberland, has been given Grade II listed status (Historic England/PA)

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Louise Thomas

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A smokehouse which has produced kippers for almost 170 years has been given Grade II listed status.

The modest stone smokehouse in Craster, Northumberland, has been in the Robson family for more than a century.

Craster kippers are renowned as some of the best in the world but the Robson premises are the last remnant of the North East’s once thriving herring industry.

From the mid-1800s to around 1920, most coastal towns and villages would have a smokehouse to preserve locally-caught fish for a national and international market, providing consumers with a healthy and low-cost meal.

But the industry declined with the increasing availability of fresh fish, rather than pickled or smoked, with railway connections and better refrigeration.

Craster, a small fishing village north east of Alnwick, once boasted four smokehouses, but the Robson business is now the only remaining one in the North East.

James Robson set up the business and in 1906 he took over the smokehouse, which was built in 1856.

Now run by his great-grandson Neil and trading as L Robson and Sons, it still uses the traditional techniques of curing the fish.

Staff hang herring on tenter hooks and the oily fish are smoked for 16 hours by fires fuelled by whitewood shavings and oak sawdust.

The premises, with its smoke-charred roof tiles, has been granted grade II listed status on the recommendation of Historic England.

Mr Robson said: “As the fourth-generation custodian of this business, I am delighted that the smokehouse has been granted listed status.

“This historic building enables us to continue to produce Craster kippers in the same way as my great-grandfather and subsequent generations, guaranteeing their quality for many years to come.”

Sarah Charlesworth, listing team leader for Historic England in the North, said: “Kippers are an integral part of Craster’s cultural identity and the smokehouse is a physical embodiment of the village’s special character, as well as a living monument to the North East’s historic fishing industry.”

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