THE NORTH SHIELDS DISCOVERY WALK

 

With a history dating back to 1225, North Shields grew from a tiny settlement, nestling on the bank of the River Tyne to the east of the present Fish Quay. The advent of the Tyne Improvement Commission in the mid-19th century acted as a catalyst for the development of the fishing and allied industries. Prosperity followed and the town began to spread out away from the river. On this walk you will discover some of the history of North Shields. You will encounter a handful of the people who passed through the town on their own personal journeys. You will come face to face with an intriguing past as you wander through an ever-changing present.

 

 

The painted façade of the `new` Low Light

 

Distance – 2.5 miles

Start & Finish – Car Park adjacent to Fish Quay Sands, North Shields.

 

1. The walk starts from the car park adjoining the gentle sweep of the Fish Quay sands looking out towards the piers on both sides of the River Tyne. Make sure to pick out the monumental statue of Newcastle-born Admiral Lord Collingwood, Nelson`s second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar, standing high on the north bank of the river. Now with your back to the piers, head towards the end of the promenade, following the signs directing cyclists along Cycle Routes 1, 10 & 72 past the renovated smoke houses on your left. Once outside the New Dolphin public house you will see the intriguing artwork, the `Dolphin Mooring Post`, created in 1993 by Freeform Artists. Based on mooring staithes, traditionally used on the River Tyne, the work includes a cormorant sitting on top drying its wings. The cormorant, known affectionately as `Colin`, was sculpted by artist Richard Broderick and was added some time after the main structure was installed.

 

2. Head left into Union Quay and, within less than 100 metres, turn left alongside the recently renovated Vita House towards the gable end of the prominent three-storey building. Erected between 1727 and 1733, this building was the original Low Light and acted as a navigational aid to shipping entering the River Tyne. It was converted to Almshouses in 1808. By the late 1980`s this important landmark had fallen into a precarious state of disrepair but was saved from terminal decay by the joint efforts of the Tyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust and North Tyneside Council. On your right, on a wall in front of the building, a blue plaque notes the existence, in this part of the Fish Quay, of Clifford`s Fort. Completed in 1672 to defend the River Tyne during the 3rd Dutch War, the Fort was commanded by the Governor of Tynemouth Castle until 1839. It acted as the headquarters of the Tyne Division of the Royal Engineers (Volunteers) from 1889 until 1928.

 

3. Retrace your steps back to Union Quay and, turning left, continue towards the harbour and the covered fish market. Peep inside. The small harbour is no longer squeezed to bursting with a colourful array of fishing boats but the essence of the `old` Fish Quay remains. Look up to your left and see the impressive white painted façade of the `new` Low Light building. When aligned with the `new` High Light, to your right high on the top of the adjacent bank, this marked an entirely new channel for shipping to take when navigating the mouth of the river. As you continue along Union Quay keep a sharp eye out for the various decorative public artworks along this part of the river frontage. These include seating, bollards and street lights, all designed by Richard Broderick, together with metal grilles in sections of the market area retaining wall depicting herring girls at work, created by artist Maureen Black.

 

 

Wooden Dolly Northumberland Square

 

4. This is the heart of the Fish Quay, now a Conservation Area, where in 1937 North Shields born playwright Tom Hadaway came to work as a 14 year old. He continued working in the fishing industry and used his experiences to write an excellent portfolio of plays including, The Filleting Machine, God Bless Thee Jackie Maddison, The Long Line and The Pigeon Man. He was also a contributor to the hugely popular TV series, When The Boat Comes In. With the river still close by, Bell Street leads into Liddell Street and in little more than 200 metres you will come face to face with a large buxom female figure `loitering` outside the Prince of Wales Tavern. Brightly painted in a red dress with a pink face and black hair, this armless `Wooden Dolly` was carved out of oak by Martyn and Jane Grubb and stands on the spot  where a `Wooden Dolly` has traditionally stood since the early 1800`s when a figurehead from the collier brig `Alexander and Margaret` was placed here. This latest, and fourth, version was installed in 1992 when the public house, which had been closed for 25 years, reopened.

 

Famous people. Famous town!

Did you know that the inventor of plasticine, William Harbutt, was born in the town in February 1844. He was an Associate of the Royal College of Art and obtained a trade mark for his invention in 1899. The artist and illustrator Myles Birket Foster was born here in February 1825, moving to London as a child. He became one of the most successful English watercolorists of his generation and a large commemorative plaque is attached to his birthplace, 2 Rosella Place. In 1942, Hastings Banda moved to North Shields where he worked as a Medical Practitioner in a small private practice and at Preston Hospital as a medical and public health officer. He left the town for London in 1945 and in 1963 he became the first Prime Minister of Malawi, formerly Nyasaland.

 

 

5. As you continue along Liddell Street, it is difficult to believe that the embankments to your right were once heavily built up and housed, until the early 1930`s, the majority of the population of North Shields. The new and somewhat grand Union Square development has now repopulated part of the area, breathing new life into this old section of the town. Where Liddell Street merges into Clive Street, the steep incline of Bedford Street rises to your right, following the course of an old stream. The bottom section of the street was once known as Wooden Bridge Bank. To your left is the old graving dock, known locally as the `Haddock Shop Dock`, used for many years to carry out repairs to lightships and other small vessels.  Continue along Clive Street until you reach the Grade II Listed red brick Porthole public house, formerly known as the Golden Fleece. Built in 1897, and replacing an earlier public house on the site, the building was designed by Sunderland architects W & T.R. Milburn who designed a number of ornate theatres, including the Sunderland Empire Theatre.

 

 

The old Free Library

 

6. Now cut straight across the bottom of Borough Road into the area of the riverside known as the New Quay and Market Place. The foundation stone for the development of this area was laid on the 4th October 1806 by the Duke of Northumberland. Facing the river is the 1808 building, which for many years housed the notorious Northumberland Arms Inn, otherwise known to sailors worldwide as `the Jungle`. The corner portion of the building, adjacent to Borough Road, was once a sailors home, and more recently a Customs House.  A number of the buildings included in the scheme were never completed. To your left is the landing stage for the North Shields to South Shields ferry, a service which has been provided in some form since at least 1377. On reaching the former Chain Locker public house, originally called the Crane Hotel whose historic glazed façade now forms the centrepiece of a luxury apartment development, it is time to part company with the immediate riverside. Turn right, behind the development, to climb the bankside via the stairs or the long ramp. Pause at the viewing balcony to look down to the river and on reaching the top continue right into Tennyson Terrace as far as the path between numbers 16 and 18.  Head across the footbridge which spans the deep cutting of Borough Road as it tumbles towards the river. On the left towards the bottom of the hill are the remnants of St. Peter`s Church, also known as the Sailor`s Church.

 

7. Over the bridge and again on terra firma continue along Yeoman Street, passing on the corner of Lower Rudyerd Street, the old Town Mission, and then on into Little Bedford Street. Ignore both flights of stairs to your right, the second of which are named after the Tiger Inn which once stood at the bottom, and continue as far as Saville Street. Head right to the junction with Howard Street and then turn left in the direction of Northumberland Square. Keeping to the left hand side of Howard Street, first the John Dobson designed 1811 built Scotch Church, now home to the Salvation Army, is passed and then, a little further up, the Baptist Church of 1846, also by John Dobson. The top of the street slips effortlessly into the Georgian Northumberland Square, described by Nikolaus Pevsner in his 1957 book `The Buildings of England: Northumberland`, as being “ a square almost too spacious for the two-storeyed houses that surround it”. Facing down the street, towards the river, is the 1958 life size sculpting of a fisherwoman carrying a basket and wearing traditional shawl and full skirts; the town`s best known `Wooden Dolly`. To your left is the 1960`s library. Walk clockwise around the square and admire the many fine buildings and, immediately before arriving back at the top of Howard Street, take a look at another of John Dobson`s buildings, St. Columba`s Presbyterian Church. The church`s foundation stone was laid on the 20th October 1856 by the then Independent Member of Parliament, William Shaw Lindsay and is designed in the Italian-style.

 

Another Three Famous Sons 

Born in Chirton, North Shields in 1787, John Dobson became the most noted architect in the North East of England. His partnership with the entrepreneur Richard Grainger helped change the face of Newcastle upon Tyne and gave the city some of the finest streets in England. His influence on his town of birth can be clearly seen along the route of this walk and many of his other churches, country houses and neo-classical villas still grace the region. Born in North Shields in 1929, Robert Westall found fame as the author of books such as The Machine Gunners, Fathom Five, The Promise, Kingdom by the Sea and Falling into Glory. References to many of the places visited in this walk can be found in his books. In 1874 Thomas Burt became the first `working man` to be elected a Member of Parliament. Born in North Shields in 1837 he started working in the coal mines at the age of 10, eventually rising to the position of  Secretary of the Northumberland Miners Association. He became Father of the House of Commons in 1910.

 

 

 

The Baptist Church by John Dobson

 

8. Turn back into Howard Street and head down the left hand side. Just before you reach the junction be sure to examine the buildings which now make up the Saville Exchange. This is the old Town Hall and adjoining it is the former Methodist Church of 1856, with arched windows and a large gable. Pop into the courtyard of the converted buildings and see the lovely stained glass window and plaque dedicated to North Shields war hero Thomas Brown. Cross over Saville Street and on the opposite corner you will see the former Public (`Free`) Library constructed in 1857-58. Now continue towards the small square in front of the beautiful Maritime Chambers.  Now home to the local Registry Office, Maritime Chambers was completed in 1807 and originally housed the Tynemouth Literary and Philosophical Society`s library before becoming the headquarters of the family run Stag Line shipping company. The company`s stag emblem adorns the river facing gable wall of the building and, when erected, replaced the town`s official clock. Within the square itself there is a fine memorial to all those lost at sea, made from an old ship`s anchor,  which was unveiled in 1999.

 

 

Inside the Saville Exchange - The Thomas Brown window

 

9. With Maritime Chambers behind you keep to the pavement which hugs the bank top along Tyne Street. Soon you will reach the modern buildings of Dockwray Square built around a formal park area in the centre of which sits Robert Olley`s wonderful life size sculpture of Stan Laurel. Born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston in 1890, Stan moved to North Shields in 1897 when his father came to manage the Theatre Royal in Prudhoe Street. He continued to live in the now demolished 8 Dockwray Square until 1901 when he moved to Bishop Auckland. The original Dockwray Square dates back to 1763 when it was laid out by Thomas Dockwray, vicar of Stamfordham. Whilst none of the original buildings remain, the rebuilt square reflects some of the style of the original houses.

 

10. In front of the square, clinging to the top of the bankside, is the 1807-built `new` High Light. Make a short diversion down the first short flight of steps to see up close the Nater`s Bank Seascape. Set into a steep slope this large environmental work is dominated by two huge cod frolicking among highly coloured fish and other creatures. Designed by Maggie Howarth and sculpted by Richard Broderick and Graham Robinson, the work also contains smaller mosaic fish made by local school children. Back in Tyne Street and 50 metres further along, at the beginning of the elegant Trinity Buildings, is the `old` High Light. Constructed in 1727 by Trinity House of Newcastle, this light succeeded several other similar lights which had been maintained in North Shields since as long ago as 1536. Both lights are now used as houses. Continue alongside Trinity Buildings until you reach the Wooden Doll public house where you will see the head and shoulders `Wooden Dolly` which has sat outside the pub since the 1980`s. It is the younger `sister` of the one passed earlier in the walk in Northumberland Square.

 

11. Before descending the stairs adjacent to the public house take note of the detail on the hand railings alongside the stairs. As with the seating, bollards and street lights seen earlier in the walk, this detail reflects the town`s inseparable links with the fishing industry.  Once at the bottom of Union Quay Stairs, turn left and you will see, once again, the New Dolphin public house and your route back to the car park via the fish processing units passed at the beginning of the walk. As you start your journey home perhaps these lines from the 1970 poem `Fish Quay` will help to capture a little of the spirit of your own personal North Shields Walk of Discovery; `The tackle of boys baiting/halibut whiting catfish/lines limp from quay/caught between town and river./The cry and call of sea birds/herring boats breaking water/haul and catch/squeezed into wet holds/the swish and slap of water/load and unload`.

 

 

Northumberland Square

 

Devised & Written: Geoff Holland 2006 (minor amendments 2010)

Photographs: Geoff Holland 2006

Previously published in leaflet form. In this respect the assistance of Town Centres Management and North Tyneside Council is gratefully acknowledged

 

A shortened version of this walk is set out in the article HISTORY, CULTURE & A PLATE OF FISH & CHIPS. If you do not have the time or energy for THE NORTH SHIELDS DISCOVERY WALK, then why not try that one. You can even finish your walk with a plate of genuine North Shields fish & chips.

 

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