Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tyne Tunnel

Built in 1951
Built in 1951

Closed in 2013

Another tale of municipal ineptitude?

The Tunnel makes for a superb film location

Described as a unique ceramic experience

It’s true value may be realised in the future, if .. and it’s a big if, the tunnel ever reopens

The Pedestrian Tunnel is even less well known than Newcastle’s Victoria Tunnel.

Pedestrian Tyne Tunnel

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A town where no town ought to be

The motto ‘Our Harvest is from the Deep’ is taken from the old borough crest. It refers to the main two pillars of North Shields’ traditional economy – fishing and coal mining. Both are extremely tough occupations and so, historically, the townsfolk have needed to be very hardy and there have been many times when they have needed to ‘dig deep’.

The story of North Shields began to take shape in the 13th century when the Prior of Tynemouth for a fish quay and some shiels (simple dwellings) to be built down on the banks of the Tyne. During the medieval period the town flourished but after the dissolution of the Priory in tudor times, North Shields suffered, along with the other riverside communities, as the powerful burgesses of Newcastle claimed to handle all trade on the river. They tried to stop any ships from docking in North Shields and so tight was their stranglehold that, but for the doggedness of its people, the town could easily have withered and died. In 1653 local brewer Ralph Gardener, was imprisoned for refusing to close his brewery which was used to provision ships. In 1655 he petitioned Parliament against the unfair demands of Newcastle from his prison cell, calling it ‘England’s Grievences Discovered’.

One of Tyneside’s great working class heroes was miners leader, Thomas Burt, who became the first working man elected to Parliament. He was born in North Shields in 1837. His childhood was poverty stricken and, by the age of ten, Burt was already working underground. In his 20s he organised the Northumberland miners into a force to be reckoned with and then, in 1874 he was elected as MP for Morpeth. His landslide victory shook the pillars of the establishment and helped re-shape the political map of Britain as he fought for justice for working people. During his 39 years in Parliament, he continued to champion the working class cause and earned the respect of some of his bitterest political rival.

Many will have heard of the operation which lead to the retrieval of the secret Enigma code books from a German U-Boat in World War 2 but not everyone will know that a local man played a key role in the action. Thomas Brown served on the Tyne-built destroyer HMS Petard as a NAFFI canteen assistant and, despite being only 16 years of age, was one of three men who swam to the stricken submarine when it surfaced. Unfortunately his two naval colleagues both died in the U-Boat when it eventually sank but Thomas survived and was later awarded the George Medal in recognition of his bravery.

Mary Ann Macham, born into slavery on a Virginia plantation, fled captivity in 1831 and after crossing the Atlantic on an English ship, was eventually set ashore in North Shields. Here she found refuge with a Quaker family, the Spences, for whom she worked as a domestic servant. In 1841, at the age of 39, she married James Blyth, a local rope maker, and the couple lived for many years on Howard Street. Mary Anne died at the age of 91, after enjoying more than 60 years of freedom and is buried in Preston Village.

In 1963 Hasting Banda became the first Prime Minister of Malawi. His connection with North Shields came between 1942 and 1945 when he worked as a Medical Practitioner in a small private practice and also at Preston Hospital as a medical and public health officer. During that time, he lived as a tenant of Mrs Amy Walton in Alma Place and he continued to send her a Christmas card every year, right up to her death in the late 1960s.

Famous Sons and Daughters

Several natives of North Shields have distinguished themselves in the arts, amongst them the illustrator and water-colorist Myles Birket Foster. He was born here in 1825, though he moved to London as a child. He became particularly well-known for his landscapes and produced work for many important periodicals of the Victorian age, such as ‘Punch’ and the ‘Illustrated London News’. His illustrations also appeared in many novels and poetry books of the period.

Playwright Tom Hadaway was born in North Shields in 1923. Besides his plays which have been widely performed, he was perhaps best known for his TV work such as ‘God Bless thee Jackie Maddison’ and the popular series ‘When the Boat Comes In’ in the 1970s. Tom died in 2005.

Born in North Shields in 1887, Victor Noble Rainbird was a prize winning student of art on Tyneside and in London and went on to build his reputation as a brilliant painter and stained glass designer. Between 1917 and 1933, his family home was at 71 West Percy Street, where there is now a commemorative plaque. He died in 1936.

Novelist Robert Westall (1929-1993) was born in Vicarage Street, North Shields. Though he spent much of his working life as an art teacher, his first published book, ‘The Machine Gunners’ (1975), won the prestigious Carnegie Medal. He went on to write many other stories, often on the theme of war or the supernatural, several with references to places in the town.

Neil Tennant, vocalist with the ‘Pet Shop Boys’, was born in North Shields in 1954. He worked for a number of years in publishing before establishing his music career alongside keyboards player, Chris Lowe. The duo’s first major hit came with ‘West End Girls’ in 1984, since when they have enjoyed a long and successful career selling more than 100 million records worldwide.

William Harbutt, the inventor of Plasticine was born in North Shields in 1844.

Northumberland Square

Northumberland Square was designed to be the centrepiece of North Shields ‘new town’ as it spreads its wings from the confines of the older riverside area in the first half of the 19th century.

This wide, open space, ringed by elegant Georgian town houses, was described by Nikolaus Pevsner in his 1957 book ‘The Building of England Northumberland’, as being ‘a square almost too spacious for the two-storied buildings that surround it’ but such a stark contrast to the overcrowded and ramshackled buildings which then made up the lower part of the time is exactly what attracted some of the towns more prosperous citizens to come and live here.

Located in the square and facing down Howard Street toward the river is a life size sculpture of a fisher woman carrying a basket and wearing a traditional shawl and full skirts. This dates from 1958 but represents a much older North Shields tradition, the ‘Wooden Dolly’

There have been Dollies at various locations around the town for at least 200 years. The first was down near the Quayside having started life as a figurehead of a collier brig which had been attacked off the coast by a privateer in 1781. It became a good luck charm to mariners who would cut pieces to keep whilst at sea. The one now standing in Northumberland Square in oak by Robert Thompson Ltd, the company known for its trademark carved mice which adorn all its products. It replaced an earlier version, erected in 1902, and stands as a tribute to the part that women have played in the economic life of North Tyneside.

There are a number of carved mice concealed in the sculpture.

Georgian Town

Although this area now represents the bustling centre of North Shields, it should not be forgotten that throughout most of its history, the town consisted only of a narrow strip of land running along the riverside, between the Fish Quay and the ‘Bullring’, near the current passenger ferry landing. It was only in the 18th century, when that part of the town became overcrowded, that buildings began to be constructed on the higher ground above.

One of the first developments was Dockwray Square, built in 1763, which provided elegant townhouses for the town’s more prosperous families. However it had poor water and drainage facilities and its wealthy occupants soon abandoned it in favour of new homes in other parts of the town. Howard Street and Northumberland Square, at its northern end, were undoubtedly the flagship developments of North Shields ‘new town’. They were laid out in the Georgian tradition, pre-dating Newcastle’s Grainger Town by over a quarter of a century. Even now, around 200 years after they were built, much of their original fabric remains intact, giving this part of the town centre its distinctive refinement and elegance.

During the 18th Century, this area of land was owned by the aristocratic Howard family of Carlisle, hence the name Howard Street.

Tyne Gorge

The best salmon river in england. There is much social and industrial history based around the River Tyne that it is often easy to forget that it is, first and foremost, a natural feature and home to a wide range of wildlife. As early as the eighth century, the river was described by the Venerable Bede as ‘abounding in fish, particularly salmon’ and despite centuries of industrial activity which reduced it to little more than an open sewer, this situation has ben totally reversed in recent years and the Tyne once again is one of the finest salmon rivers in England.

Between the rivers mouth and it’s source, high in the hills, the countryside is full of variety, including many sites which are of national and international importance for flora and fauna, and so there is a great deal to interest the naturalist. Here in North Shields, the steep bank sides between the upper and lower parts of the town, which were once packed with dwellings, have now been reclaimed for nature, to form a green backdrop to the river and create habitats for wildlife. The vegetation provides a landfall site for migrating birds such as the whitethroat, willow warbler and song thrush. To the east, the foreshore and river mouth abound with seabirds and waders.It was the 13th century when coal began to be shipped from the River Tyne, that it began to be seen less as a natural feature and more as a highway for trade.

Though the river became increasingly busy, it was of little benefit to most of the towns along its banks as all commerce was then controlled by the powerful burgesses of Newcastle. It was only after the River Tyne Improvement Act of 1850 effectively ended Newcastle’s monopoly that North Shields came into its own as a port.

The second half of the 19th century saw the rise of two great shipping lines in the town, both of which become known the world over. The Stag Line had its offices for many years in a building which now serves as a registry office for weddings. The ‘Stag’ emblem still adorns the gable walls. The companies roots on the Tyne can be traced back to 1817 and its fleet plied the world’s oceans, carrying a wide range of cargoes, right up until the 1980s.

The Prince Line was founded in 1881 by James Knott, the son of a grocer from Howdon. It became on of the world’s major shipping lines with over 40 steamers, distinguished by their slate gray hulls and black and red funnels and white Prince of Wales feathers emblem. The company was held in the highest regard by the many passengers who used the Round the World Service.’

High Town

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.

Black Middens

The ‘Black Middens’ are a set of notorious rocks which lie at the mouth of the Tyne, below the cliffs at Tynemouth. Many vessels have foundered there over the centuries forced onto the rocks, which are hidden at high tide, by strong southerly winds and currents.

Perhaps the most memorable shipwreck occurred in the late afternoon of 24th November 1864 when the steamship ’Stanley’ was forced onto the rocks in a storm. The local lifeboats were launched but none could get close enough to the stricken vessel due to the high seas. The schooner ‘Friendship’ was also wrecked on the Middens. Thirty two people from the two ships and two lifeboatmen from the ‘Constance’ lost their lives that night.

That the drama of the ‘Stanley’ disaster was played out so close to land and in full view of people gathered on shore, caused horror and outrage. A public meeting was called, following which the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade was formed, the oldest organisation of its kind in the world. The TVLB continues its work today, aiding HM Coastguard and other emergency services with coastal search and rescue and operating one of the last remaining trained teams for ship to shore breeches buoy rescue. It is based at the Watch House Museum in Tynemouth which displays artifacts, pictures and relics from old shipwrecks chronicling the history of lifesaving on out coastline since 1864.

Tyneside has given the world many distinguished mariners over the years but none more distinguished than Admiral Lord Collingwood. Originally from Newcastle, Collingwood had an outstanding naval career which included fighting alongside Nelson in several notable victories, including the Battle of Trafalgar, in which he assumed command following Nelson’s death.

He had a large mansion built in North Shields, though circumstances dictated that he never actually lived there and the building eventually became a public house called ‘The Collingwood Arms’ now demolished. However a large monument in his honour overlooks the River Tyne at Tynemouth.

River Life

The Tyne has been a busy river for many hundreds of years – right from the Middle Ages when coal began to be exported and taken to London and elsewhere by sea. However it has never been the easiest of rivers to navigate, with notorious shifting sand bars to catch out unwary mariners. Dredging only began in the second half of the 19th century and before that the coal had to be brought down the river in keel boats, to be loaded into colliers here at the river’s mouth. The keel boat were shallow drafted and capable of carrying 20 tons at a time.

With such numbers of ships mooring here, there were many who made a living on the river. These included the sculler-men and foy boatmen, who for a fee, assisted vessels entering the port by helping to tow and tie them to moorings. After the river was dredged, it was opened up for larger vessels to sail up as far as Newcastle and ship building really took off along the banks of the Tyne. The river pilots and tug boats were kept incredibly busy – millions of tons of shipping sailed from the river each year at at its peak, in the 1900s, there were around 150 tugs working the river.

Lowlights is the name given to area around the Low Light. The Fish Quay sands and jetty were a hive of activity during the herring season when Scottish girls who followed the fishing fleet would gut the fish on the quays, salt them and seal them in wooden casks. It was also the location of the Tynemouth Lifeboat slipway and Lloyds Hailing Station which recorded shipping movements into and out of the Tyne, the last of its kind in the country.

Clifford’s Fort

Concealed for many years by the infrastructure and vibrant activity of the bustling Fish Quay. It is perhaps surprising that many will have missed the significance of the walls and moot of this scheduled ancient monument. In fact Clifford’s Fort is one of the earliest surviving coastal batteries in Britain.

Originally this area was a sandy spit on which a lighthouse was built in the 16th century. The Tyne was already a busy river by that time, with regular supplies of coat being shipped to London, and when the 3rd Anglo-Dutch War broke out in 1672, it was felt that strategic defences were needed at the rivers mouth.

Clifford’s Fort was built very quickly in order to fill this gap. The perceived threat from the Dutch never materialised but the forts strategic significance did not diminish and by Napoleonic times, it was equipped with 22 gun emplacements. By the 1880s, the guns were finally deemed obsolete and their embrasures were blocked up. However, the fort was given a new lease of life as it became a base for the Tyne Division Royal Engineers (Volunteers) Submarine Miners. A new explosive mine gate was created, fed by a narrow gauge railway and with two 6 pounder guns to defend it.

The Fort remained in use until 1928 when it became redundant, but the site was again used in the Second World War as the location for a Coastal Battery with two 12 pounder gun emplacements.

Work is on going to reveal and restore aspects of Clifford’s Fort structure, each stage bringing fascinating new insights into more than 330 years of history.

The Gut

Fishing has been the lifeblood of North Shields since the 13th century when the monks of Tynemouth Priory gave permission for a quay to be built here. At that time, the fishermen were catching lampreys, smelt, sprat, conger eels, coal-fish and skate but by the year 1530, boats were sailing as far as Icelandic waters and bringing home ling and cod.

The town suffered from the dissolution of the Priory in 1539 and the severe restrictions on trade along the town imposed by the powerful burgesses of Newcastle. This was not fully resolved until the Port of Tyne was created in the 19th century but by that time, North Shields was once again thriving, with the newly completed Union Quay and its own busy fish market.

The fishing industry really came of age here with the advent of steam in the 1870s. By the early 1900s, twenty to thirty trawlers and well over a hundred smaller vessels were landing their catches daily. The busiest time of year was the herring season when the boat from all the east coast ports would follow the shoals down the length of the North Sea. Steam trawlers and liners were converted into drifters to capitalise on the harvest and as many as two hundred fishing boats might land their catch in a single day.On shore, the buskers, freshers, canners, kipperers and curers that brought and processed the fish were kept very busy, whilst others found employment in the ice factory, guano works, engine works, net and rope making shops, or in ship repair.In the boom years, thousands of people in the town relied on the industry for a living and there were also may who visited other ports.

The North Shields Fishermen’s Mission was established in 1897 to give support to fishermen and their families and it is still here on the Fish Quay today, depending solely on donations to continue its services.Tyne Brand. The ‘Shields Ice and Cold Storage Company’ was set up near the Fish Quay in 1901, later turning its attention to the canning of herrings and becoming the world famous ‘Tyne Brand’ with its distinctive oval cans. Over time, they expanded their range to include meat products, soup, jams and puddings.

In addition to the Fish Quay, the riverside here was kept busy in the 19th century with collier ships loading coal from Whitley Colliery and lime from Whitley Quarry. The wooden staiths, located by the ‘Gut’ at the mouth of the Pow Burn, were fed by a network of waggonways.

Peggys Hole

Peggy’s Hole is named after a naval vessel, The Peggy which moored near the entrance to the ‘Gut’, where the fishing boats land their catch. During the French Wars at the end of the 18th century, North and South Shields were regular victims of Press Gang raids, which were once a common occurrence on the North East coast.

Tyneside suffered badly from the Press Gangs because of its large community of seamen and its reputation for skilled boatmen, like the keelmen of Newcastle.North Shields was particularly prone to Press Gang raids and in 1796, 250 mechanics and seamen were pressed into service here during a single raid in which the town was cordoned off by troops.Fishing boats have been sailing from North Shields since 1225, when the Prior of Tynemouth granted local people the right to build seven shiels (simple dwellings) and a quay, between the Pow Burn and the Sikket, to improve the fish supplies and increase the wealth of the Priory. By 1528, boats from Noth Shields were fishing off the Shetlands, and the north coast of Scotland and participating in the Icelandic fleet. Ling and Cod were the principle catches, being salted and sold in Newcastle.

The biggest fleet singularly owned out of North Shields was created by Richard Irvin in the late 19th century. Recognising the potential of tug master William Purdy’s idea of converting paddle steam tugs for trawling, he quickly developed business interests in every east coast port from Peterhead to Great Yarmouth and created a dynasty with involvement in trawling, drifting, whaling and boat building. During the 1800s, North Shields was sending a whaling fleet to Greenland and the Davis Straits. Each vessel was provisioned for a three-year voyage. When the Whalers were going to sea, the whole town would turn out to cheer the sailors and listen to the shanty man singing to the crew.

The Cabbage Patch was the North Shields equivalent of a shabine, an unlawful drinking den and served an important purpose on the Fish Quay. It was located on William Wight’s grocers which was formerly a legal drinking establishment, the Highland Hotel.

Low Town

The riverside area of the oldest part of North Shields. The ‘Low Town’ refers to the settlement that grew up along the river, between the Low Lights in the east and the Bull Ring in the west. There were over 100 inns and taverns in ‘Low Town’, many notorious in their day and described as ‘dirty seedy drinking dens of vice and intemperance, where drunkenness and prostitution where commonplace and many immoral schemes were plotted’.

Maitland’s Quay is a section of quayside on the old North Shields waterfront behind Bell Street, running from Maitland’s Lane to Mullin’s quay. The bustling waterfront provided the inspiration for a number of local artists.

The many sketches of North Shields by William Henry Charlton provide an invaluable record of the town and the river over a century ago. Born in Newcastle in 1846, Charlton revisited North Shields many times over a period of more than a decade, serving as a testament to the vibrancy of this busy, working port and the inspiration he drew from it.

The Wooden Doll

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.