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When workers filled Mill Dam

SHIPPING LIFE...looking further across Mill Dam to the river.
SHIPPING LIFE...looking further across Mill Dam to the river.

THAT lovely photograph of the Mill Dam in Shields that I featured the other day proved popular with readers.

But one or two were puzzled as to where it had been taken from.

Well, you were looking towards the river, and if you recall seeing the shop on the left in it, this was the scene that would have lain beyond it.

The picture had come to me coincidentally with an inquiry I’d received about a seamen’s instruction centre at the Mill Dam which is thought to have opened round about the beginning of the Second World War.

I couldn’t find out much about it, and wondered if readers had ever come across the place.

I’ve since been pleased to hear from an old friend of the column, retired merchant seaman Mr Baines, who wondered if, among the other Mill Dam institutions that I listed, he was right in thinking there had also been a mortuary in the lane behind the Shipping Office.

There was indeed – for bodies taken from the river, and which survived, I think, until as late as the 1980s.

But Mr Baines’s memory was stirred in other ways, as he can also clearly remember going to a lifeboat school, to fulfil the lifeboat qualification for a ticket.

He recalls coming up the Mill Dam bank from the back lane where the old Shipping Pool was, and Mrs Almiera’s cafe on the corner.

From there you had, among other places, Unity Hall, then it was past the lane where the Mission to Seafarers is now, then the Steamboat pub and what was the Post Office, then eventually shops.

Says Mr Baines: “Above these shops – this would be between 1940 and 1942 – you had a school where you were taught about the lifeboat.

You also spent a couple of days in the old Tyne Dock, learning how to sail and row the boat.

“I think the instructor was an old retired seaman. I hope I’m right.”

Nothing to say you’re not, Mr B, but whether this was the same instruction centre that was the subject of the inquiry, I don’t know.

Perhaps it rings bells with somebody.