When the arches dripped with coal-black water

Memory Lane  Demolishing the last staith at Tyne Dock
Memory Lane Demolishing the last staith at Tyne Dock

Most people would use an umbrella to ward off the rain, but those passing under the Arches, in Tyne Dock, in days gone by, had brollies for a different reason – to protect themselves from dirty coal-blackened water.

Writing in the fifth volume of The Streets of South Shields, compiled by Workers’ Educational Association learners, whose group disbanded just a few weeks ago, Paul Thompson takes a stroll “underneath the Arches”.

“My overriding memories of Tyne Dock Arches come from travelling through them to support my football team Newcastle United,” writes Paul.

“I would catch the Marsden bus to Chichester, and then catch the Northern General transport bus, the No. 6, to Worswick Street bus station.

“The bus was often referred to by the bus crew as the Dyke but I never found out why.

“As the bus travelled through Tyne Dock, it would pass under the five arches, which looked dark and miserable, and to a boy of 14, they seemed almost sinister and spooky.

“At that time, I didn’t know why they had been built or for what purpose.

“It was only when I began delving into the history of Tyne Dock Arches, that I became aware of the link between them and the Port of Tyne Authority, as it is now known.

“It all started off in the 1800s when South Shields shipped the output of the West Durham mines, from the Brandling and Stanhope staithes.

“The staithes had a huge impact on the shifting of enormous amounts of coal from train to ship. The four staithes contained 38 coal spouts which allowed them to shift five million tons of coal per year.

“Incredibly, before the four staithes were built, the ships were filled by horses pulling wagons. As I have limited memories of the Arches, I asked a member of the WEA group, Ron Monaghan, who worked at Tyne Dock Railway Shed, if he had any memories to share.

“He said that he could remember women walking through the Arches carrying umbrellas, and as they passed under each arch their brollies would be raised to defend themselves from the dripping water.

“The water would be black from the coal dust which had gathered as it ran down the embankment and settled on the brickwork.

“It would be a case of the brollies going up and down as they passed through each Arches. Children would usually shout and scream as they passed through the Arches in order to heat their voices echo back at them.”

Meanwhile, Liz Coffey writes about the schools in Tyne Dock. She explains that up until the 1900s, education was mostly the responsibility of the Church of England and benefactors.

“Indeed, South Shields Town Council did not become an education authority until 1902. The British Rail School, Tyne Dock, was a very early example of purpose-built premises for the sole purpose of educating children. The land for the school was donated by the Railway Company. It was built alongside Tyne Dock Railway Station in 1869, but later became the Crown Cinema.”

Another school in Tyne Dock was St Mary’s Church of England Primary School. “Olive Pinkney, a member of our class who lived in Frost Street, attended St Mary’s School. Olive remembers her class being marched down to St Mary’s Church, on the corner of Eldon Street, every Thursday to attend a service. St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Primary School was built on land at the rear of St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church. The original school was opened in July 1889, and the present school was built in the 1960s. It is a voluntary aided parish school, supported, pastorally and financially by the church-going people of the parish. In the past, the schoolchildren had to attend church services on a Sunday. They were given a slip of paper to say they had been, and woe betide anyone who didn’t have it on a Monday morning!”