The tale of a South Shields businessman who owned a landmark building

King Street, in South Shields, around the time that the auction took place at the Golden Lion Hotel.
King Street, in South Shields, around the time that the auction took place at the Golden Lion Hotel.

Today local historian Dorothy Ramser tells us more about the businessman Richard Bell, who once upon a time called the iconic South Shields Bone’s Hall building his home.

In 1842, says Dorothy, Richard took the oath to be a Justice of the Peace in South Shields after being appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

The Pilot Office in 1980.

The Pilot Office in 1980.

At that time, he was also a director of the South Shields Marine Assurance Company, which traded from 17 Market Place, and was in the business of insuring ships, merchandise and ship’s freight, ‘foreign and coastwise from the perils, losses, misfortunes of the seas’.

Yet just a decade later, he was registered as a bankrupt, along with his cousin Errington, when their Monkton Paper Mills, in Jarrow, became insolvent.

The mill was auctioned off on April 22, 1852, at the George Inn, Pilgrim Street, Newcastle.

And there was even more bad news to come for Richard when tragedy struck.

“The Shields Gazette reported in December 1872 of the loss of a South Shields seaman.

“It stated that on Thursday, Richard had been informed that his 36-year-old son, Robert William Henry Bell, an engineer, had been drowned when the steamer Pietroad sank in the Gulf of Petchelli, (the Bohai Gulf) China.

“It must have been a terrible blow as he struggled to recover from his earlier financial setback.

And recover, he seemingly did, for Richard Bell JP, of Bone’s Hall, was listed in Kelly’s Handbook of The Upper Ten Thousand for 1877.

But three years later, Richard passed away.

“He died, on January 11, 1881, no doubt in his bed in Bone’s Hall, and was buried in the family plot in St Hilda’s churchyard, following a simple funeral attended, as was his wish, only by family members. He was 73.

“Not long after the executors of his estate began disposing of his many assets and began with an auction of his household belongings which included antique furniture in rosewood and mahogany, antique carved oak and a marquetry cabinet and chest, antique china and Delft, rare old cut crystal, cutlery, hangings, carpets, feather beds, blankets, quilts, old engravings, drawings and oil paintings and a cottage pianoforte by Kirkman.

“Then on May 2, the Golden Lion Hotel, on King Street, auctioned ‘a valuable freehold dwelling house and premises late in the occupation of RH Bell JP deceased and his tenants situated in Green’s Place, South Shields, with houses adjoining in the occupation of Mr Purvis and others.(Robert Young lived at number 10, Andrew Purvis at number 12 and Thomas Young at number 13, all were Sea Pilots).”

It was reported at the time that the Mansion House was “very commodious, substantially built and in close proximity to the shipbuilding yards of John Redhead & Co.

“The property has a frontage of 120ft to Green’s Place with an average depth of 121ft, containing 1,586 square yards, and the Mansion House is a very fine main residence with every accommodation, and close to the finest sea bathing sands. It is also well adapted for conversion into offices in connection with the shipbuilding yards or River Works, with manager’s residence attached. There is also attached to the property 1,600 square yards of land upon which another valuable house could be built”.

Richard’s son George, who was born in 1844, was a successful Ship’s Broker and Marine Insurer in North Shields, trading under the name George Bell & Co on Tyne Street.

“He too owned ships and was Mercantile Assessor for Northumberland and a Director of the Chamber of Commerce and on the River Tyne Commission.

“He was an Alderman of the town.

“In 1884 he resigned this post as his business had necessitated his being in London and he was forced to give up public office.

“Bone’s Hall certainly had some remarkable residents,” added Dorothy.

Bone’s Hall was later sold to the Tyne Pilotage Commission and became the town’s Pilot Office the buidling was converted into four flats. Today it is known as Wellesley Court, Green’s Place.

What are your memories of the place? What is your favourite old building in Shields?