This 2016 article is a subjective view of how things are along the north bank of the river Tyne – as seen by someone who was born near the river more than eighty  years ago.

I lived away from Tyneside for more than fifty years, and it seemed to me that during that time the industrial and social foundations of the entire north-east area were seriously damaged by a toxic mixture of economic pressures and laissez-faire political policies.

But is that true?  Has the unique Geordie culture survived?  What does the area look like now? What kind of jobs are working people doing now?

I wanted to update my view of recent local history, so please follow me in spirit as I go looking for Tyneside.

Firstly, some history.  In the 1950s, I crossed the Tyne every working day for more than five years but my outside interests were focused on other things and I knew very little about the history or commercial development of my surroundings, assuming, with the innocence of youth, that the everyday vista of ships and cranes and noise and smell was the result of many centuries of industrialisation.

Even earlier, in 1924 W. Richardson celebrated the river in these words:

‘Everywhere from the dancing waters of the harbour to the ebb and flow of the throbbing city industry, resource and expansion, coal staiths, shipyards, engine shops, dry docks, chemical works, forges, electrical lighting laboratories, warehouses, merchants’ offices, steam ships, railway trains, without end, without number from Shields to Scotswood, there is not its like in 13 miles of river the world over.’

In fact, the polluted river and almost everything that Richardson saw along the banks was man-made and had appeared in the previous one hundred years or so because, prior to the 1850 Tyne River Improvement Act, the flow was natural and ‘unimproved’ with many acres of sand shoals and mudbanks, navigable only by small boats which took cargoes downstream to larger ships moored in the lower reaches.

Until circa 1895 there were no breakwaters to attenuate the dreadful effects of easterly gales, so that each winter storm would litter the beaches and rocks with the flotsam and jetsam of shipwrecks.   Even in good weather the low-tide depth of water over the sand bar at the entrance to the river was only six feet.

The Victorian era saw the final transformation of the Tyne from a fishing river into an important artery of commerce. With profits to be made from coal mining, railway development and armament manufacture, major realignments and continual dredging straightened and widened the river.  This moved the navigable tidal flow up as far as Lemington, allowing the construction of large warships upriver at Elswick and ocean steamers to berth at Newcastle Quayside.see footnote 1

Gradually, shipbuilding, repair yards and coal staithes crept along both banks.  Major engineering companies like Parsons, Reyrolles, Clarke Chapman, Vickers Armstrong and many others built substantial factories nearby, cheek-by-jowl with small businesses which opened up to service and supply the big companies.

The river grew and developed as a very significant shipbuilding and ship-repairing port, boasting forty-five shipbuilding berths, twenty-seven dry docks and six slipways available for the repair of all types of vessel.

The collective fortunes of these businesses were boosted by both World Wars but were damaged by a lack of investment in modernisation, labour inflexibility, and inability to match overseas price competition. Many were finally brought down by changes associated with disastrous Thatcherite ‘trickle down’ economic policies, so that over a comparatively short period in the latter part of the 20th century more than one hundred thousand skilled and well-paid jobs disappeared as once proud companies withered and died.

Wage loss due to the contemporaneous closure of the Northumberland and Durham coalfields has compounded the accumulated loss of local revenue to an undeclared but clearly astronomical number – hammer blows for a region already facing economic disaster.

Redundancy, social deprivation and impoverishment are key descriptors for much of the rest. Cash-strapped local authorities have tried hard to improve the basic riverside infrastructure and there are some examples of new industries replacing the old but the Nissan plant in Sunderland is the only major new employer on the scale of the lost behemoths.

Ongoing residential development has replaced some of the redundant shipyards and factories notably at the Fish Quay in North Shields and at St Peter’s further up the river, with a major construction project scheduled at Smith’s Docks.  However, beds aren’t equivalent to jobs and dormitories here obviously means that the jobs are somewhere else, so I wanted to try and understand how things have worked out for the river over the last 50 years or so.

I’m sure that various folk have already researched and produced learned papers on these matters, but for personal awareness nothing beats boots on the ground so this snapshot ramble is pitched at a lower and more conversational level, wandering about looking for the lost Tyneside of heavy engineering, shipbuilding, ship repair and coal transport.

Basically, the plan involved walking the riverside paths and cycleways from Tynemouth to Newburn along the north bank, chatting to local folk and taking lots of photos, sitting in local pubs drinking beer and complaining about how things have changed, then researching the facts and writing them up for this article.

Section 1 – Tynemouth to the Tyne Tunnel

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This map dates from the time of the Tyne Improvement Commission (1850 – 1968) and identifies the industries on both side of the river.  Other extracts will appear as we proceed upstream.  The map is courtesy of the current Port of Tyne Authority.

As you look at the map, ponder on the fact that many (most?) of the factories and/or industrial concerns shown have disappeared, often forcing the employees into premature and impecunious retirement. Historically, the neat yellow shapes represented employment – now they represent housing development or dereliction.

Tynemouth Front Street is the starting point for this first part of the walk, near where A short walk down the Northumbrian coast from Blyth to Tynemouth ended.

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Tynemouth Front Street

Once a historic village street with Butchers and Bakers and Candlestick makers, Front Street is now mainly comprised of pubs, bistros, restaurants and boutique clothes shops. The very fine buildings are still there but the last Baker is now another fish and chip shop and the street depends on pubs, cafes, fast food outlets and (apparently) chewing gum suppliers. Mammon is firmly in charge and, except for the Co-op, there are few shops that satisfy any type of food retailing or other domestic need.

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The Tynemouth lighthouse at low tide.  A beacon for imperilled mariners and the beginning or end for so many dramatic human stories.

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Tynemouth Castle and Priory on Pen Bal Crag.

Little is known of the early history of this exposed headland.  Roman stones have been discovered but there is no definite evidence that it was garrisoned by the Romans, although the proximity of the Arbeia fort on the the south bank of the river surely indicates a token Roman presence until the Romans departed in 410.

The Benedictine Priory was founded circa 200 years later, sometime early in the 7th century, perhaps by Edwin of Northumbria.


The Tynemouth coat-of-arms includes three crowns in memory of the three kings reputedly buried at the priory:

  1. AD 651 – King Oswin of Deira, murdered by soldiers loyal to King Oswiu of Bernicia.  In 664 the two kingdoms were merged to form Northumbria; then covering all of the territory from the Forth to the Humber  and west to the Mersey.
  2. AD 792 – King Osred II of Northumbria.  Osred was deposed and exiled to the Isle of Man and murdered when he attempted to return.
  3. AD 1093 – Malcolm III of Scotland.  Nicknamed ‘Canmore’ (Great Chief) in Gaelic, Malcolm was killed during the battle of Alnwick and was temporarily interred at Tynemouth before reburial at either Dunfermline or on the sacred Isle of Iona.  His name is immortalised in Shakespeare’s ‘MacBeth’.

‘Messis ab altis’ aptly means ‘Harvest of the deep’ and can equally refer to fishing or deep coal mining.

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 1845 Public subscription statue of Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood.  The real hero of Trafalgar, Collingwood was first into action in his ship HMS Royal Sovereign and actively exchanged fire for more than an hour before any other British ships joined the fray.  He also took command of the entire operation following Nelson’s death.

William Makepeace Thackeray had some kind words to say concerning Collingwood.

“Another true knight of those days was Cuthbert Collingwood; and I think, since heaven made gentlemen, there is no record of a better one than that. Of brighter deeds, I grant you, we may read performed by others; but where of a nobler, kinder, more beautiful life of duty, of a gentler, truer heart?  Beyond dazzle of success and blaze of genius, I fancy shining a hundred and a hundred times higher, the sublime purity of Collingwood’s gentle glory. His heroism stirs British hearts when we recall it. His love, and goodness, and piety make one thrill with happy emotion. As one reads of him and his great comrade going into the victory with which their names are immortally connected, how the old English word comes up, and that old English feeling of what I should like to call Christian honour!cc2 - 1

Looking south over the infamous ‘Black Middens’, the treacherous rocks where so many ships foundered and so many lives were lost.

In November 1864, during appalling winter weather, the passenger steamer Stanley and the schooner Friendship and three other ships were wrecked on these rocks with the loss of 35 lives.

Stanley Picture

In response to these tragic events,  a meeting  in North Shields Town Hall resolved that a volunteer lifesaving brigade be formed to assist the Coastguard in the saving of life from shipwreck. Over 140 men immediately volunteered and the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade was born.

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TVLB Watch Tower overlooking the Black Middens.
cc1 - 1A view up the river to the North Shields Fish Quay area, including the High Light and Low Light towers.

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Lloyds Hailing Station – photo courtesy of News Guardian.

The hailing station operated for 68 years, notifying shipowners of vessel arrival and departure details before the widespread adoption of automatic position reporting.

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The RLNI Lifeboat Station is adjacent to the remains of the Lloyds jetty. The current lifeboat is the ‘Spirit of Northumberland’.

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Cannon at the Cliffords Fort embrasures

Cliffords Fort was first suggested by Lord Clifford in 1625, and by the Civil War a fort was established on the site, complemented by a similar fort at South Shields. Construction of a more permanent fort was begun in 1672 as a consequence of a humiliating Dutch raid on the Thames.

By 1677 the fort mounted up to forty guns and was updated and kept in good repair for many years, although demolition was narrowly averted when Tynemouth Corporation proposed the construction of an ambitious new dock on the seaward side.  This would have effectively rendered Cliffords Fort useless and the proposal was blocked by the Board of Ordnance.  Active during both World Wars, the fort was used as the base for a system of explosive mines that were anchored across the river channel and could be selectively detonated from within the fort.

Piecemeal changes and years of neglect followed WWII, and in recent times the fort and environs were overbuilt and shabby, with little of the original buildings remaining. Work has commenced on a new area restoration plan.

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First recorded in 1834, the Grade II listed Low Lights tavern is almost certainly much older and is North Shields oldest pub. Although the surrounding area looks like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, don’t be put off and do take a look inside – you’ll find a traditional low ceilinged bar with lots of style and atmosphere.

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North Shields Fish Quay – with the ‘High Light’ tower above on the right. Note the rectangular slot for the guiding light.  In 2016 the quay hosts a small number of boats, a pale reflection of the ‘Caller Herrin’ days.

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A Fish Quay institution – Wm Wight Ltd

This building was previously ‘The Highland Hotel’ and, even after the premises became home to a thriving ship supply business, a link to the booze business remained through the ‘Cabbage Patch’ shebeen, which operated out of the vegetable store at the back of the shop and supplied out-of-hours (and unlicensed!) alcohol to trawler crewmen.

As of 2016, the Fish Quay area is undergoing a comprehensive redevelopment programme, including the removal of derelict industrial buildings and the conversion of brownfield sites into domestic housing units. A ‘wildlife corridor’ has been established along the grassy banks behind the restaurants and pubs that line the quay frontage.

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View from the Fish Quay upriver to Dolphin Quays.

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The ‘Prince of Wales Tavern’ – another very traditional pub – also known as ‘The Wooden Dolly’.

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Traditionally, sailors would carve a piece off the buttocks or bosom of the figure to ensure their safe return, so the ‘Dolly’ outside the pub is the sixth replacement.  The original was probably a figurehead from a sailing ship and may have resembled the  bronze figure which stands in Northumberland Square in North Shields.

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Just along from the ‘Wooden Dolly’ lies this graving dock, known locally as the ‘Haddock Shop’ since most of the trawlers using the dock were from the haddock fishing trade. The dock is now sandwiched between two apartment blocks but the LH side of the lower 1914 black and white photo shows it surrounded by workshops and slum dwellings.

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‘The Crane House’ pub next to Smith’s Dock now has a block of flats attached.

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North Shields Ferry Pontoon.

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Just across from the ferry pontoon is this interesting WWII armoured firing position.

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The former Smith’s Dock shipyard.

Upstream from the ferry landing lies the earthly remnants of Smith’s Dock, now cleared and ready for the erection of new housing – something that would have astounded the many thousands of skilled men who worked here during the various phases of the yard’s existence.

Originally established by Thomas Smith in 1810, the company opened this dock in 1851, launching the Termagent in 1852. The company changed its name to Smith’s Dock Co. in 1891.  After 1907, Smith’s Dock increasingly concentrated its shipbuilding business at South Bank on the Tees, the North Shields Yard being used mainly for repair work (in particular oil tankers) from 1909 onwards.  Company headquarters remained at North Shields.

Although Smith’s Dock built many ships that served during WWII, the yard is perhaps most famous for designing the ‘Flower’ class corvette, a very effective anti-submarine convoy escort celebrated as the ‘Compass Rose’ in the Nicholas Monsarrat novel ‘The Cruel Sea’.


HMCS Sackville – the last ‘Flower’ class corvette.  Photo courtesy of the Royal Canadian Navy.


Royal Quays Marina is just upstream from Smith’s Dock and is based on the 1884 Albert Edward Dock (aka ‘Coble Dene Dock’).  Photo courtesy of Royal Quays Marina.

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Inner lock gates opening at Royal Quays marina.
Bronze shoes, part of ‘Sea Dreamer’s Rest’ an evocative set of sculptures by Gilly Rogers.  Look around carefully and you may discover other pieces of the set.
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Designed by Lord Armstrong, this hydraulic pressure accumulator tower was built in 1882 to provide high pressure water to power the various cranes and other machinery around the dock.  Apart from hydraulic machinery at the Swing bridge in Newcastle, this tower is the last local example of the ingenuity and technical foresight of Lord Armstrong, but has no information board or anything to show the original purpose.
The Tyne is now a destination port for many cruise ships which normally berth at Northumbrian Quay, just in front of the Royal Quays Marina. Passengers are usually bussed away to see Hadrian’s Wall and other local historical sites.  Photo courtesy of Royal Quays marina.
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Next stop Ijmuiden – at the Ferry Terminal the ‘Princess Seaways’ is ready to load vehicles for the nightly voyage to Holland.

The cycle track from the ferry terminal westwards is a bleak and litter-strewn affair which is soon diverted onto the road system, bypassing the jungle and wasteland left by the clearance of old tank farms and derelict factories. Thankfully, scrubby bushes and stunted trees hide most of the desolation from the road.

Walking through the rather depressing second part of Section 1, I was taken back to the 1950s, to a time when the river was crammed with functioning coal staithes and shipyards and the area rang with the profitable application of traditional skills. Although my adolescent mind was very much on other things in those days, in retrospect it seems that clear portents of imminent economic disaster were there for more mature minds to understand – so what went wrong?

Time for some more history……

Over a 250 year period from circa 1620 the Tyne area experienced three overlapping phases of industrial development:

  1. The picking, mining and export of coal to London
  2. The growth of shipbuilding, firstly to support the coal trade, later as a major industry in its own right
  3. The growth of heavy engineering, firstly to support coal mining, railways, shipbuilding and armament manufacture, later including electricity generation and distribution

Each phase produced inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs, founders of the great companies that illuminate our history books with their famous names.   From circa 1840 the Second Industrial Revolution accelerated the rate of industrial development, producing a fast growing and international demand for Tyne-built ships and armaments.

Two world wars kept the order books full but the intervening 1930s depression really hammered the area, with thousands of skilled shipyard workers laid off and the loss of almost half of the Tyne shipbuilding facilities. Economic activity increased during WWII  although post-war austerity measures meant that the return to prosperity was slow, but the same industries and significant companies did return  – now carrying the seeds of their own demise.

Economic disaster feeds upon itself and for Tyneside immediate problems lay in the interdependence of many of the big concerns, for example between shipbuilders and the heavy engineers producing marine engines (N.E. Marine, Hawthorn Leslie & Co, Parsons Marine Turbines, etc) and auxiliary equipment such as winches, steering gear, etc. Other linkages existed between electricity generation (boilermakers Clarke Chapman and steam turbine manufacturers C.A Parsons) and high-voltage switchgear (Reyrolles), etc.

Expanding post-war markets meant that the demand for replacement capital goods was immediate, so that obsolescent pre-war  designs and equipment were adequate; but profit margins came under pressure as foreign shipbuilders and equipment manufacturers entered the fray with more modern designs and lower labour costs, resulting in bankruptcy or foreign takeover for most of the well-known companies.

As the dominos fell and the familiar spiral of decline returned, drastic ‘remedies’ such as nationalisation ensured that some of the death throes were both protracted and played out under the public gaze, but more often the businesses simply faded into dereliction 0r  were absorbed by wealthier and better managed concerns.

The loss of more than 100,oo0 jobs from Tyne and Wear, plus another 25,000 from the loss of coal-mining meant that by the mid 1990s the destruction of the ‘traditional’ industrial base was virtually complete and a new and different future lay ahead.

Stay with me as we move up the river into Section 2.

Section 2 – Tyne Tunnel to St Anthony’s

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Oliver Dixon’s photo is of the Tyne Vehicle Tunnel toll booths.  If the tunnel was under the Thames the passage would be free.

The modern A19 ‘Tyne Tunnel’ development actually has two tunnels.  The first was completed in 1968 using conventional tunnel boring techniques and the second was completed in 2011 using innovative prefabrication techniques.


A completed tunnel section being floated out of the shipyard.  Photo courtesy of the BBC.

This involved the onshore construction of four 90 metre long concrete sections which were floated into position and immersed into a dredged trench.  The 400,000 cubic metres of sediment from the massive trench was used to infill the redundant Tyne Dock on the south side of the river.

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Fish Sculptures at the Tyne Cyclist and Pedestrian Tunnel entrance near Willington Quay.  The tunnel is undergoing a major revamp; a process much delayed because of the ‘discovery’ of asbestos insulation. Completion is now scheduled for 2018.

The 1951 tunnel between Howdon and Jarrow was Britain’s first purpose-built cycling tunnel. It actually consists of two 900 foot tunnels running in parallel: one for pedestrians and a larger tunnel for cyclists. 

During the 1950’s, the tunnels were used by around 20,000 people per day, many of them workers in the nearby shipyards and factories.  I was amongst those scurrying hordes. For five years from 1956 I used the tunnel twice each working day, always in a hurry and running the whole length to save time.


This photo by Andrew Curtis shows the observation tower at the Segedunum museum in Wallsend.

Adjacent to the old Swan Hunter office buildings, the tower offers two distinctly different viewpoints; one over the remains of a Roman fort and bath-house (‘Wallsend’ is the clue), the other over the defunct Swan Hunters Shipyard, the last remnant of the once-mighty Tyne shipbuilding industry.

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The end of shipbuilding on the Tyne. The entire Swan Hunter complex under reconstruction.

The extended death pangs of shipbuilding and other heavy engineering activities brought significant collateral damage to local service and support providers, many of which followed the big corporations into bankruptcy.

The survivors have downsized and diversified and cling on in the hope of better times, often resulting in gap-toothed and isolated groups of buildings near their original customers.

Although the shipyards are long gone, the repair of specialised vessels remains an important part of life on the Tyne and river traffic is maintained at a high level by the import and export of cars in specialised car carrying vessels.

The ancient idiom “Carrying coals to Newcastle’ no longer describes a pointless activity, the volume of imported coal having increased dramatically from inception in 2003, making the river  the UK’s second largest coal importer.  The bulk and conventional cargo business also handles grain, scrap, steel, forest products and other cargoes.

Sometimes the outcome is surprising, as when riverside excavations following the demolition of the ‘Ship in the Hole’ pub adjacent to Swan Hunters revealed this intriguing and well preserved Roman bath house.

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Seen above during excavation, the bath house had underfloor heating.  Short pillars (called ‘pilae’stacks) supported a layer of earthenware tiles, then a layer of concrete, then finishing tiles on top.  Hot air from a wood-fired furnace circulated below the floor and heated the building.


After measurement and cataloguing, the site has been opened for public display – photo by Maurice Bulmer.

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The A & P yard on the south side of the river at Hebburn, a preferred site for the repair of highly technical oil and diving support vessels.  In the dry dock is a six-legged jack-up heavy lift platform.

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This landmark ‘hammerhead’ crane is still operational and was once part of the large and very successful Walker Naval Yard, the birthplace of so many warships for the Royal and foreign navies.

The future isn’t what it used to be…….

Closed during the 1930s depression, the Walker Naval Yard re-opened in Autumn 1934 in preparation for the anticipated war with Germany. WWII production was impressive, with one battleship, four aircraft carriers, three cruisers, 24 destroyers, 16 submarines and many other smaller vessels.  In 1946 production was switched to merchant shipping but naval warships and frigates were produced up to the mid-1980s. In 1968 the facility became the Walker yard of Swan Hunters, mainly used for bulk carriers and container ships.

The size and skills mix of the Walker workforce followed technological advances in ship construction and the mix of ship types under construction, reflecting the trend from ‘floating hotel’ passenger liners and complex warships to the much plainer ‘steel tank’ bulk carrier and container ships.

In the international market, the yard was unable to compete with the lower wage and materials cost of shipyards in developing countries and completion of the Ark Royal in 1985 marked the end of shipbuilding at Walker. By 1988 the offices were demolished and the site was gradually redeveloped into a successful technology estate.

The knock-on effects were dire. The following chart shows the catastrophic 1971-1991 increase in unemployment in the shipbuilding/engineering areas of Elswick and Walker, with data from the more diverse cities of Newcastle and London included for comparison.

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This chart is adapted from Margaret Curran’s essay ‘Not working in the inner city’ which was included in ‘Patterns of Social Inequality’ – published by Longmans 1999

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Upstream view from the site of St Anthony’s lead-works.

Locke, Blackett and Co built a large factory here in 1846 to smelt and de-silver lead ore and to produce lead sheeting and lead pipe used for domestic plumbing. The business employed 150 workers and the site was ideally placed for railway connections and river frontage. Production ceased in 1932 but the after effects of pollution associated with lead-working lingered for many years.

Section 3 – St Anthony’s to Newcastle

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St Peter’s Marina.  Marine engine makers Hawthorn Leslie and Co had a factory near here building and repairing steam and early diesel engines.  Circa 1860, Messrs T and W Smith had a shipyard building wooden sailing vessels on the site of the marina.

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Downriver view from the marina promenade.

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The Ouseburn Valley was the cradle of the industrial revolution in Newcastle, bringing many  heavy crafts and industries into the area. Coal was brought to the river via the Victoria Tunnel, an underground waggonway under the Town Moor, operational from 1842 to the 1860s, bringing coal from the Spital Tongues pit to the Ouseburn staith.

The tunnel was converted in 1939 into a WWII air raid shelter and is now maintained as a visitor attraction. Another air raid shelter was nearby in the Ouseburn Culvert, a drainage system carrying the Ouseburn underground from Jesmond Dene.  The Culvert shelter could seat up to 3000 people and had its own sick bay.

The Lower Ouseburn is tidal and small boats could transfer their cargoes directly to and from the riverside warehouses and factories, most of which used the tidal flow as a drain to carry away their waste products – no ‘Health and safety’ then!

Nowadays ‘The Ouseburn’ has lock gates and is a collective term for the lower valley: a cultural and social oasis close to the centre of Newcastle.

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Nearing Newcastle Quayside, river tour boats moored alongside.

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Five bridges – lots of history in this photo.
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The iconic symbol of Newcastle Quayside – the Tyne Bridge

This 1928 bridge is the most celebrated of the seven bridges crossing the River Tyne and briefly held the record for the world’s longest single span bridge. It was built by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough five years before they constructed the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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A view across under the bridge to the Gateshead side, showing ‘The Sage’ music centre and downstream the ‘Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art’


Also downstream from the Tyne Bridge is the ‘Millennium’ tilting pedestrian bridge, seen here in Andy Briggs’  evening pic – click here to see the bridge in operation.
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By the mid 1930s, Newcastle Quayside was a major commercial docks area with around 2,000 feet of river frontage. It may be hard to believe nowadays, but the area was a centre for overseas trade, with about 60 regular departures to foreign destinations as exotic as Istanbul and Corunna and a direct weekly service to Canada.

In the days of restricted Sunday trading, the quayside hosted a colourful Sunday market and on Saturdays the infamous and smelly ‘Paddy’s Market’ for rags and secondhand clothing.

Poor road and rail links and big changes in freight handling methods killed off the steamer services long ago and the 1950s introduction of standardised container sizes was perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the quayside as a place of trade.

Until relatively recently the quayside was run-down and shabby, but the area has seen significant investment and now provides updated cultural and housing environments.

quay3 - 1Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits knew the area well, as the lyrics for ‘Down to the Waterline’ show.

Near misses on the dogleap stairways
French kisses in the darkened doorways
A foghorn blowing out wild and cold
A policeman shines a light upon my shoulder.

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The 1876 ‘Swing Bridge’ was provided by Lord Armstrong to enable the construction of large warships at his upstream shipyards and armament factories at Elswick and Scotswood.

Pressurised water is still used to rotate the bridge, although electrically driven pumps are used to charge a hydraulic accumulator in a 60 foot shaft below the bridge. The water is then used to run Armstrong’s original oscillating hydraulic motors to turn the bridge.

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A downstream view of Robert Stephenson’s splendid and Grade 1 listed ‘High Level Bridge’. Opened in 1849 during the early Victorian period, the bridge still carries rail and road traffic.
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Neptune with fishwife acolytes over the facade of the 1880 Fish Market

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 The 1981 ‘Queen Elizabeth II Bridge’ carries the Tyne and Wear Metro service over the river.

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This is the 1906 King Edward VII Bridge, built to allow a straight through service for north-bound trains passing through Newcastle Central Station.

Section 4 – Newcastle to Lemington

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In his 1895 book ‘The Making of the Tyne’ R.W. Johnson wrote this of the very extensive armament factories at Elswick;

‘Their size, their completeness, their tremendous productive energy, their variety of blast furnaces, foundries, machine shops and chemical laboratories, teeming with human life, reverberating with the shriek of steam, the clang of hammers, and the whirr of machinery, overhung by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, presents a picture of concentrated economic activity which overwhelms and astonishes the average observer.’

The next photo shows the locale in 2016.  The factories are long gone and the entire area from Newcastle quayside to Elswick has been landscaped and is now the site of modern offices and distribution depots.

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The 1967 Scotswood Bridge replaced the 1831 Victorian Chain Bridge.

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Section 5 – Lemington to Newburn.

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The twin coal-fired Stella power stations were Tyne valley landmarks for more than 40 years.   Named after Stella Hall, a manor house close to Stella South, the stations were on both sides of a bend of the river and powered local homes and the industries of the Tyne and Wear until closure in 1991.  Coal trains on both sides of the river supplied them with fuel and flat iron barges dumped fly ash and bottom ash in the North Sea.

There were three barges involved (‘Bessie Surtees’, ‘Bobbie Shaftoe’ and ‘Hexhamshire Lass’) and each took around 500 tonnes of ash per trip, dumping it three miles offshore, with cumulative damage to the marine environment.


Footnote 1

The scope of the Tyne Development programme was huge, involving building of the Tyne breakwaters and removal of the following sandbanks:

  1. ‘The Stones’ adjacent to the ‘Black Middens’at Tynemouth
  2. Much of ‘The Herd Sands’ at South Shields
  3. The ‘In Sands’ and ‘Middle Ground’ at South Shields
  4. ‘Durtwick Sand’ at Coble Dene
  5. ‘Whitehall Point Sand’
  6. Excavation of the whole of ‘Jarrow Slake’
  7. ‘Howdon Sand’
  8. ‘Cock Raw Sand’ at Hebburn
  9. ‘Walker Sand’
  10. Removal of a large rocky hill at ‘Bill Point’
  11. Removal of ‘St Anthony’s Point’
  12. ‘St Peter’s Sand’
  13. ‘The Kings Meadows’ and ‘Clarence Island’ at Elswick

An old stone bridge at Newcastle was demolished and replaced by the hydraulically-powered ‘Swing Bridge’ that we see today



5 thoughts on “Looking for Tyneside

  1. Thank you – a wonderfully thorough and organised trip up the north bank of the Tyne. My Dad was born on East Holborn on the south bank in South Shields. Now chopped up by the several extensions of the shipyards but the Rose & Crown pub remains with it’s typical chamfered corners – my dad’s house was similar. His Dad ran a sailor’s boarding house and provisioned ships on the Tyne and had a half-share in the schooner Marion.

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