Dolly Peel and floating hospital among chapters in South Tyneside's history wowing the world on Instagram

From the legendary Dolly Peel to the floating hospital which once moored on mudflats, history lovers from around the globe have been able to get a window into South Tyneside’s past thanks to experts’ Instagram efforts during the pandemic.

By Ross Robertson
Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 12:02 pm
South Tyneside's history has been wowing the world on Instagram
South Tyneside's history has been wowing the world on Instagram

South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, like other attractions, was forced to close its doors in March 2020 on the onset of the covid pandemic.

But the team moved swiftly to shift its telling of the past online, and since then the museum says it has produced the equivalent of three major exhibitions-worth of content on its Instagram account.

The account has featured more than 500 artefacts in its posts, including photographs and paintings from its collection.

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Dolly Peel (1782 - 1857)

Almost 70,000 words have been written by contributors, including Adam Bell, the museum's assistant keeper of social history, to interpret the collections shared and the stories connected with them.

He said: “I may not be a Geordie by birth, but having worked at South Shields Museum for 14 years, and also being a resident of the borough, I like to think of myself by now as an honorary Sanddancer.

"Working and living in South Tyneside I have grown to love the people and the place, and I try my best to do our fascinating local history proud by recording, presenting and preserving it to the highest standards.

“I’ve had some wonderful mentors over the years, from Anne Sharp at the library to Janis Blower at the Shields Gazette, and every day in the job I still love learning something new about South Tyneside’s fascinating history and its historical characters. History isn’t a dead, dusty thing, but rather part of who we are in our evolving story, shaping our present and future.”

Photograph, showing South Shields Public Library and Museum floodlit during the jubilee celebrations of King George V in 1935

Adam said the Instagram account provides a platform for the museum to present topics that otherwise may not have been explored in the usual course of exhibitions and the content produced for the account is a lasting and readily accessible public resource.

Posts have included a broad range of topics, including hawker, poet and smuggler Dolly Peel.

The story goes that she helped to protect local sailors from press gangs that would force them into fighting during the Napoleonic Wars.

Adam said popular posts have also included imagery from past and present, including paintings, postcards and photographs of notable destinations and bygone buildings across South Tyneside, such as the floating hospital, once moored at Jarrow Slake from 1886 to 1930.

The floating hospital, once moored at Jarrow Slake

He said there is also a fascinating series of posts covering public art across the borough.

Dr Gordon McGlasham, contacted the museum to say: “Thank you for your informative and utterly captivating Instagram posts. I am certain like many, I genuinely look forward each day to be rewarded with a pearl of our rich local heritage. Whoever is responsible for the posts is clearly a veritable font of knowledge. Thank you once again for all your hard work.”

And it seems the museum is keen to keep using the digital platform to help tell South Tyneside’s story now the centre is reopen.

"Knowing our local history gives us a sense of place and pride, and I am proud to be able to be part of bringing South Tyneside’s history not only to local audiences, but also to our followers right across the globe, on Instagram and our other social media outlets,” said Adam.

The collections held at the museum include natural, social, industrial and maritime history of South Tyneside and chart the area’s history from the Bronze Age to the Twentieth Century.

The museum also holds extensive collections of local art portraying the area by local artists and personal memorabilia once belonging to popular author, Catherine Cookson.

:: If you would like to learn more about the collections at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery you can follow their Instagram account at, or visit their website

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