North Shields was originally restricted to a narrow strip of land along the riverside because of the steep bank which ran along behind and hemmed it in. Eventually the town became too overcrowded and in the 18th century, buildings began to be erected on the plateau, 60 feet above the old, tightly packed and insanitary dwellings beside the river.
At first, it was the prosperous businessmen and shipowners who occupied this area, with the working people remaining in the ‘Low Town’ One of the first developments here was Dockwray Square, a set of elegant town houses, which was built in 1763. However it had poor water and drainage facilities and the wealthy families soon moved to other parts of the new town and Dockwray Square eventually deteriorated into slums.
The tall, white building, is the ‘High Light’, built in 1808, which together with the ‘Low Light’, down by the Fish Quay, helped guide ships into a safe channel, through which to enter the Tyne. They replaced earlier beacons which performed the same function. These were built by Trinity House which has been dedicated to the welfare of seafarers on the North-East coast since the Charter of Incorporation granted by Henry VIII in 1536.
The steps down from Dockwray Square are said to have inspired the famous piano removal scene. Laurel and Hardy’s film ‘The Music Box’ release in 1932.