The curved female figure which stands outside ‘The Prince of Wales Tavern’ is the latest in a series which have stood on that spot, the entrance to Customs House Quay, for much of the last 200 years. The original ‘Wooden Dolly’ was the figurehead of a collier brig named the’Alexander and Margaret’ which was attacked and ransomed off the North East coast by a privateer in 1791. It became famous the world over amongst sailors who began cutting pieces off, to keep for good luck whilst voyaging at sea. The original became so defaced that it was replaced in the mid nineteenth century and there have been several others since.
The current version was sculpted in 1992 and there are photographs on display in the pub, showing the carving in progress. The fourth ‘Dolly’ was carved for the coronation of 1902 by Miss May Spence. It broke with tradition in taking the form of a fish wife with her basket. It remained here until 1957. A replica now stands in Northumberland Square in the centre of North Shields.
Moored just of the quay near here, the ‘Wellesley’ was a major feature of the river between 1873 and 1914. The vessel had begun life as ‘HMS Boscawen’, a 74 gun ship of the line, but was converted into a training establishment where neglected boys who might otherwise fall into bad company could be schooled and trained for life at sea.