New book takes a look back at Tyne Dock

Demolishing the last staith at Tyne Dock 30 years ago.
Demolishing the last staith at Tyne Dock 30 years ago.

Over the years, the Workers’ Education Association has put Shields’ past well and truly in the spotlight by producing some terrific books based upon members’ memories of the town and its people.

Now, as tutor, Janet Wylie, proudly reveals, they have just produced volume five of The Streets of South Shields series.

In full sail:  the old Norwegian training ship Sorlandet.

In full sail: the old Norwegian training ship Sorlandet.

Entitled Tyne Dock, the book looks at many different aspects of the area, including Readheads, its churches and corner shops, as remembered by members of the group.

Today Theresa Hepplewhite gives her perspective on Tyne Dock.

“At the heart of every great town there is a strong backbone, a pillar, if you like, of determination and great resolution.

“It goes without saying that the people of South Shields come into this category, moreover, the men and women of Tyne Dock, who have kept the town functional since before the industrial revolution.

“Tyne Dock lies on the west side of South Shields, shouldering Jarrow Slake, just three miles from the mouth of the River Tyne.

“Its origins are a natural south-facing meander, which is low-lying. It is thought that this whole western fringe was once flooded, incorporating the River Don as far up as Boldon, creating a virtual island of South Shields.

“It is no secret that a Saxon boat was found as far up as Boldon Flats. I can just imagine King Egfrith turning to his shipmates as they sailed up the Tyne saying: ‘Okay lads, not long now. Just turn left at Tyne Dock.’

“It was always a fertile area of the town, with many farms and fields.

“Unfortunately these fields were low-lying and had a tendency to flood, both from high tides and the accumulation of heavy rain, caused by the downward gradient of the surrounding area.

“Heavy rain still causes problems even though drainage is better.

“As the centuries passed, small local industries sprang up along the river bank.

“Coal and salt for export, glass factories, boat and shipbuilding and chemical works.

“The area was known locally as Tyne Drops – so called because cargo was hoisted down on to the cargo ships from elevated wheel-ways.

“Poverty and squalor and slum housing became part of this area.

“Crime was quite wide spread. The main road from Westoe to Jarrow Slake was called ‘Cut Throat Lane’.

“By 1832, strikes by miners contributed to the poverty and desperation felt by the locals. It is recorded that: ‘The want of a drink’ led to the brutal murder of Nicholas Fairless by William Jopling, at the junction of Jarrow Road the bottom of Bold Lane (now Hudson Street).

“After many years of wrangling by local business men, Parliament agreed to the sale and development of Tyne Drops.”

Theresa says dredging began, and two million yards of silt were removed, exposing ancient anchorages – thus, confirming its position as an important site for ships in days gone by.

The first ‘pile’ was driven on March 3, 1856, and the docks were completed by 1859.

“The dredged river made access easier to accommodate the huge ships, off-loading timber from the Baltics, and the loading of coal.

“Massive timber ponds were created for the storage of wood needed for the 10,000 pit props which were consumed daily by the Northumberland and Durham pits.

“The main street, at the bottom of Boldon Lane, became known as Hudson Street.

“It had been owned by the Railway Company and used as a ‘Toll Road’. This was causing problems for the council with congestion etc.

“So in 1866, the council bought the toll rights to Hudson Street, releasing it from private ownership.

“Old slum housing was demolished and new houses, shops, hotels, churches and schools were built to accommodate the increasing population of Tyne Dock.

“If a person moved to Tyne Dock, they invariably worked there as well.

“Tyne Dock folk were truly ‘All in it together’.

“If trade and industry was good, then life was good. At times of strike, depression or war, then the people felt it equally badly. A true community.

“By 1967, after the decline in the coal industry, the Tyne Dock Staithes were demolished.

“The Tyne Dock Arches, which carried the many trains and wagons, filled with coal for export, were of no use.

“So by 1980 they had been subsequently demolished.

“The Port of Tyne still handles general cargoes, the import and export of scrap metal, wood, aggregates and coal, and, of course, trade to and from Nissan.

“Interestingly, earlier this year, 60 tonnes of barley were being placed on the bulk cargo vessel Rosco Poplar – the production of more than 100 farmers in Scotland and North East England – which would be used as animal feed in Saudi Arabia. A British record for exporting grain.”

The Streets of South Shields group meets on a Wednesday morning, between 10am and noon at Central Library.

Meanwhile, Janet is starting one of her Life Story courses in January.

For details, contact Janet on (0191) 4554830, 07954413542 or email her on