Who can estimate the amount of immoral conversation that passes, the unlawful schemes plotted, or the low, filthy literature read in common lodging houses and the intemperance that prevails in this nest of vice?’
So wrote the Shields Daily News in 1855, speaking about the warren of streets and alleyways which made up this part of North Shields, known at the ‘Low Town’.
Virtually all of these buildings have gone now.
This part of North Shields was once a very busy place. This area was the towns Market Place and nearby Low Street was known as the ‘Bull Ring’ from the practice of bull baiting which is said to have gone on there in the 17th century.
The Northumberland Arms. The large, imposing building at the end of this row was, for over a century, a first class hotel. Latterly, however, it became notorious the world over as a magnet for thousands of hard-living mariners who came ashore for entertainment. It’s nickname of ‘The Jungle’ came about because of all the stuffed animal heads and trophies which once bedecked its walls – a legacy of the time when the building was the town house of the Duke of Northumberland in 1806.
Smith’s Dock. A dry dock facility was built at nearby Limekiln Shore as early as 1752 which was later leased by the ship building company which had been founded by Thomas Smith in 1810. T and W Smith eventually bought the land and constructed a growing dock there in 1850. One of the first ships to be launched from the yard was ‘The Termagent’. T and W Smith amalgamated with H S Edwards and Sons and Edwards Brothers in the 1890s to create Smiths Dock Ltd, for a time proclaimed as the largest ship repairers and dry dock owners in the world. The company continued operations right up until the 1990s.
The crest and motto from the old Tynemouth Parish reflect how people from hereabouts have traditionally made their living. North Shields began as a fishing village, established by the Monks of Tynemouth Priory in the 13th century, and the wooden quays erected to unload the fish soon began to be used for shipping out coal from local collieries.
For much of the town’s history, the sea and coal have been its lifeblood and though the mines are now gone, the Fish Quay remains as a vibrant reminder of nearly 800 years of culture and tradition. Life on the river. If you had stood at this point at almost any time over the last few hundred years, the scene before you would have been quite different. The riverside would have been a hive of activity with all kinds of ships and boats moored along the shore and thousands of people making their living either directly or indirectly from the bustle of a busy port.
People have been crossing the River Tyne by boat for as long as there have been communities on either side of the water. The earliest mention of a ‘ferry boat’ dates from the 14th century and there is a reference to ‘ferry boates’ carrying horses as early as Tudor times. Steam ships known as ‘Penny Ferries’ began to operate the route in 1828 and, from 1847, the ‘Ha’penny Dodger’ would take foot passengers by the direct route, straight across the river. Also, between 1862 and 1909, paddle steamers ran a passenger service up river as far as Elswick, with 21 stops along the way.
From as early as 1825 when a suspension bridge was proposed, serious thought was given to alternative links between North and South Shields. A number of ambitious plans for bridges and tunnels were conceived and abandoned before the Tyne Tunnel eventually opened in 1967. Prior to that vehicular ferries carried about 400,000 cars across the river each year.
The Shields Ferry, operated by Nexus, is now the only surviving ferry service on the Tyne. It carries almost half a million passengers each year.