Miss Amy Flagg, who was born in 1893 and died in 1965, was a well-known figure in South Shields, using her Brownie Box camera to record daily life and the changes in the town during the 1930s.
Her work is most notable for the haunting images she took on the outbreak of the Second World War, particularly the aftermath of enemy air raids.
The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay, unveiled the plaque on International Women’s Day at Amy’s former family home, Chapel House in Westoe Village. She was joined by the Mayoress Jean Copp, Leader of South Tyneside Council, Councillor Tracey Dixon, Deputy Leader Councillor Joan Atkinson.
The Mayor said: “It was a great honour to unveil the blue plaque to commemorate Amy Flagg. She was an incredible photographer and historian.
“Through her images she captured South Shields during times of significant social change, including the devastation caused by the air raids during the Second World War. She also dedicated much of her time volunteering in her community.
“This plaque is a tribute to Amy’s life, her remarkable contribution to the rich heritage of the area and the amazing legacy she left behind. She will be remembered for many more years to come.”
About Amy Flagg
Amy Flagg is described as a shy, quiet and gentle person. Fascinated by the town’s changing landscape, she joined the South Shields Photographic Society in 1930 and started photographing the house clearances along the riverside as a social record of its development.
She lost her father in 1936 and her mother died during the war. With her life and her beloved town crumbling around her, her work photographing and documenting the bomb damage to buildings during WWII gave her renewed strength and purpose. The photos, which she processed herself in her dark room in Chapel House, have come to be an important and unique record of the impact of the war on the town.
In addition to her love of photography, Amy had a passion for researching the town’s history. Amy took copious notes about its shipbuilding heritage which were later published in 1979 many years after her death.
Amy also volunteered at Ingham Infirmary and South Shields Public Library and enjoyed her garden at Chapel House. In 1962, she gave the grounds of Chapel House to the South Shields Corporation to enable the expansion of the Marine and Technical College.
On her death in 1965, she left a substantial sum of money to the infirmary and bequeathed her extensive collection of photographs and notes to South Shields Public Library. The collection is still available today at the Family and Local History section of The Word and continues to be an important resource for present-day historians.
Local filmmaker, Gary Wilkinson nominated Amy Flagg for a blue plaque. He said: “Amy was a very courageous woman. At nearly 50 years old she was climbing into demolished houses and on to bomb sites to get the picture. Where the bombs dropped, she captured the scars with her camera.
“She printed her photographs in her dark room at home and these incredible images are her most precious legacy. When I first came across them back in 2008 in the Local History Library I thought they were incredible, and to find that a lady from South Shields took them was an inspiration.”
To mark the occasion, South Shields Museum and Art Gallery is showcasing some of Amy’s photographs and her research alongside watercolour paintings of Amy and Chapel House, by Albert E Black, and a tribute to Amy Flagg by film maker Gary Wilkinson.
The display is available for viewing until June.
Councillor Joan Atkinson, deputy leader of South Tyneside Council with responsibility for Culture and Leisure, also paid tribute to Amy Flagg and to South Tyneside’s history, heritage and historical figures.
She said: “We have a rich and proud heritage in South Tyneside. Through the blue plaque scheme, we can honour the life and work of those wonderful individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Borough’s cultural, industrial and civic legacy.
“We are delighted to be able to celebrate Amy Flagg’s life and work with a blue plaque at her former family home. It is particularly fitting that this took place on International Women’s Day, an important day to recognise and celebrate the incredible achievements of women.
“As one of very few female photographers working in the UK and being a single woman, Amy Flagg was ahead of her time during a period when a women’s role was defined as being a wife and a mother. She will forever be remembered as one of the town’s most important photographers and local historians and for the incredible legacy she left behind.”
Other blue plaques in South Tyneside include:
:: Elinor Brent-Dyer, a successful novelist during the 1920's from Westoe Village.
:: John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 'the man with the donkey' who saved many lives through his selfless actions during World War One. There is a Commemorative Plaque at Littlehaven where he worked giving donkey rides to beach visitors.
:: South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade has a Blue Plaque on the Watch House demonstrating the organisation's important role in the last 150 years and the service given by its members.
For further information about the blue plaques in South Tyneside visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/blueplaques