South Tyneside’s seafaring history is set to take pride of place in a major new public art project.
Twenty fact-based tales about the crews and cargoes of ships which visited the borough over the last 2,000 years are to go on show at the new library and digital media centre currently being built as part of the South Shields 365 regeneration project.
The stories - known as Tyne Voyages - have been crafted by writer Michael Chaplin who penned the BBC hit Monarch of the Glen and also wrote a book called Tyne View which examined the heritage of the River Tyne and was the inspiration for the Tyne Voyages project.
Now the details of the ships’ cargoes and destinations are being engraved on to new stone benches which will be installed in the Market Place in South Shields.
The highly skilled task is being carried out by North Shields-based engraver Classic Masonry Ltd.
Coun John Anglin said: “Tyne Voyages is a truly innovative project that draws on South Tyneside’s international links through its maritime history.
“These stone benches will serve as an anchor to the past while allowing people to marvel at the changing face of South Shields as our 365 plan comes to life over the coming months.”
The extracts which will go on display at The Word, the North East Centre for the Written Word, have been created following painstaking research into the ships which came into the port with cargoes of coal, tea and even guano – otherwise known as bird droppings.
Among the people featured in these is solider, sailor and freedom fighter Giuseppe Garibaldi who was enthusiastically welcomed to South Tyneside in 1854.
Known now as “the father of the fatherland,” Garibaldi embraced republican and democratic ideals as well as the popular movement for the unification of Italy. His visit to South Tyneside was to load coal but he stayed for a month in the North East where he spoke at open-air meetings, attracting crowds of up to 100,000 people.
Another extract tells of crew members who sailed as part of the Arctic convoys in 1942 to take war supplies to the Soviet Union.
Albert Edwards of South Shields was one of 25 men whose ship came under attack from a Nazi U-boat. Father-of two Albert jumped overboard and felt sure he would be saved when a British anti-submarine trawler emerged out of the mist. However the commanding officer had a terrible decision to make – to save the sailors or attack the submarine.
He opted for his primary duty and fired depth charges against the U-boat and, in so doing, killed all the men in the water.
Michael Chaplin said: “I’ve been working on the Tyne Voyages project for around 18 months and it’s very exciting to see it finally coming, quite literally, into shape outside this beautiful library building where the stories will be told.”
As part of the Tyne Voyage initiative, 12 artists from 12 countries featured in the stories have been asked to come up with an artistic creation based on their country’s links with South Tyneside. Some of these may be commissioned in the future in the later stages of the South Shields 365 project.
The 20 stories will be featured as a trail in The Word when it opens in Autumn 2016.