Bustle of workers at Market Place

SEA LIFE THERE ... the Mill Dam between the wars.
SEA LIFE THERE ... the Mill Dam between the wars.

IF you are over a certain age, then there are times when the Market Place end of Shields town centre can feel preternaturally quiet.

It’s not just to do with the number of shop closures there have been.

It’s also to do with the vanishing of workmen - those that used to be employed in the neighbouring shipyards and others who would gather in the Market Square in the hope of being taken on.

In that respect, there was little delineation between the Market and the Mill Dam, where the offices of the shipping pool etc meant daily gatherings under ‘the big lamp,’ as it was known.

This is a beautiful photograph of what I’m talking about - one of a number taken by the South Shields photographer James Cleet and dropped into me by a lady who I’m afraid didn’t leave her name.

It looks out over Mill Dam, to the yard of Moffett and Co, who were leather, rubber and engineering merchants, and the old glass works chimney, of which only a stump remains today.

On the left, the tobacconist’s shop and ‘International Seamen’s Boarding House’ was the gateway to East Holborn.

It has actually been a timely photograph because it follows closely on from an inquiry I’ve received from a reader concerning one of the many marine concerns that used to be in and around the Mill Dam.

In its day, let’s say just before the last war, they included the Mercantile Marine Office, the River Police, the Tyne Port Sanitary Authority, the National Union of Seamen, the Shipping Federation, the Missions to Seamen, of course, and a School of Nautical Cookery.

But what about a seamen’s instruction centre?

My reader is trying to find out more about this place, which he thinks was opened in about 1940 by RS Dalgliesh, chairman of the Tyne and Blyth Committee of the Shipping Federation.

He has a family interest in it. Could I help, he wondered?

I’ve not been able to, much. We’ve a note of a National Sea Training School opening at, or least under the auspices of, the Shipping Federation offices, in about 1950. Is this the same place? Or was there something earlier?

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