South Shields is a coastal town in Tyne and Wear, England, located at the mouth of the River Tyne. The town has a population of about 90,000 and is part of the metropolitan borough of South Tyneside, which includes the riverside towns of Jarrow and Hebburn and the villages of Boldon, Cleadon and Whitburn. South Shields is represented in parliament by Labour MP David Milliband.
A large Roman fort, Arbeia, has been excavated in South Shields on the Lawe Top overlooking the River Tyne. In 2005, it was the setting for an investigation by the Channel 4 Time Team programme. Founded c. AD 120 the fort is mentioned in The Notitia Dignitatum (a list of forts and bases compiled in the 4th century) where it is referred to as Vide Infra. This is from the Aramaic for "place of the Arabs" (the local garrison came from the areas near the River Tigris in modern day Iran and Iraq). A Latinised version of this name is Arbeia, by which the fort is well known. It is recorded that over 70 men were brought from this Middle-Eastern Region to work as bargemen. Their expertise was needed to navigate the river with supplies. Arbeia was intended as the maritime supply fort for Hadrian's Wall and contains the only permanent stone-built granaries yet found in Britain. It was occupied until the Romans left Britain in the 5th century. A Roman gatehouse and barracks have been reconstructed on their original foundations, while a museum holds artefacts such as an altarpiece to a previously unknown god, and a Roman-era gravestone set up by a native Palmyrene to his freedwoman and wife, a Briton of the Catuvellauni tribe. There is also a tablet bearing the name of the emperor Alexander Severus.
The fort was at the end of a road named Wrekendike connected to a larger road which led between Newcastle upon Tyne (Pons Aelivs) and Chester-Le-Street (Congangis). Parts of this road are still visible in Wrekenton near Gateshead. The Romans also built a small wharf in nearby Marsden Bay for the purposes of loading sandstone from a quarry. The wharf's remnants remain today although time and tide have left little to see. Arbeia was abandoned by the Romans c. AD 400, when Emperor Honorius informed the people of Britain that they must look to their own country's defences.
Circa AD 865 the monastery at St. Hilda's was raided by the Vikings. However, the Vikings (or Danes) weren't just raiders; they created settlements, brought new customs, laws and gods, effectively controlling all of northern England. This form of government was known as the Danelaw. Anglo-Saxon and Danish influence can be seen to this day; the Geordie dialect and accent spoken throughout the north east contains more words and pronunciations of Anglo-Saxon and Danish origin than standard English.
The first reference to 'Scheles' (fishermens' huts) occurs in 1235, and the town proper was founded by the Prior and Convent of Durham in 1245. On account of the complaints of the burgesses of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, an order was made in 1258, stipulating that no ships should be laden or unladen at 'Scheles,' and that no shoars or quays should be built there. South Shields then developed as a fishing port.
Salt panning along the Tyne began in 1499 and achieved major importance; Daniel Defoe speaks of the clouds of smoke being visible for miles, while a witness in 1743 mentions two hundred boiling-pans. Glass manufacturing was begun by Isaac Cookson in 1650 and there were eight glassworks by 1827. Coalmining and chemical manufacture also became important. South Shields had the largest alkali works in the world.
In 1644, during the English Civil War, Parliament's Scottish allies under Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven laid siege to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and captured the watchtower on the Lawe Top at South Shields (Sunderland declared for Parliament and invited the Scottish army in). The Royalist forces retreated to the south but turned to fight at the small town of Boldon (halfway between South Shields and Sunderland). The ensuing battle is known as the Battle of Boldon Hill and was a victory for the Scots who later destroyed the rest of the Royalist army at the Battle of Marston Moor.
South Shields was under the ownership of the Bishops of Durham for centuries. The bishops had a long running dispute with the mayors of Newcastle-upon-Tyne who claimed the monopoly on exporting coal from the Tyne. Ports were banned from shipping coal apart from at populated Newcastle with its labour force. The king (King Edward I) supported the mayor's case because Newcastle already had the infrastructure and he could profit from the taxes and duties where as any profit the bishops made went to the Church. Despite the fact that it was more attractive for the king, country, Newcastle and the whole Tyne working population, to have the Tyne spread and increase its population with the highly valued empty land on the Tyne’s shipping lines developed for an economic nexus of various linked industries; with the benefits being a sustained economy, jobs, housing, and more taxes for the king and the British Empire.
Coal seams around the Tyne are comparatively shallow and coal had been fairly easy to obtain in the area for many years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, demand for coal was growing exponentially. The king needed more taxes and he needed reform. It was logic and strategic that the Tyne with its useful shipping ways needed to spread its population with migration and to encourage further migration from other places like rural County Durham, rural Northumberland, Scotland and Ireland. It needed to develop its land for future industry.
Reform: Though with nothing like the democracy we see today, the Great Reform Act of 1832, championed by Lord Grey and the Whigs, County Durham was forced to return two members for two divisions, and the boroughs of Gateshead and South Shields acquired representation. South Shields got its own MP and would eventually go on to be more representative of the spreading and growing population on the Tyne. The king's Tyne shipping lines were freer politically from County Durham and its balancing act with three rivers. It could now develop its industry and use its land to good effect for its own interests and destiny. The king and the future Queen Victoria were to soon use quality land with industry to tax. The Tyne was to become one of the most productive rivers in the world.
It was a slow start, however, as large scale shipping and skilled shipbuilding was at first not possible; there was not the local population available to raise and train a skilled labour force.
With easily accessible resources like coal and a need to develop more Tyne shipyards along the shipping lines on the valued land, the needed migration eventually became a reality and began to bring about the industrial and economic boom. This involved mining, shipbuilding and shipping the produce; bringing more taxes for the king.
As the demand continued to grow the coal industry reached new heights with pits opening all over the north east but especially around the River Tyne. In South Shields the population soared from approximately 12,000 in 1801 to 75,000 by the late 1860s. Collieries in South Shields included:
Coal mining was very hazardous. Shafts could collapse at any time and before the safety lamp was invented in 1815 naked flames carried by miners to light their way could ignite gas underground causing explosions and many deaths. Some mines even had shafts that stretched several miles out under the sea. However, the mines created jobs and migrants flocked to the North East from all over Britain and Ireland. South Shields was over-crowded and sanitation was a problem, partly solved by Cleadon Water Pumping Station (a large tower erected in 1858 above the town following an outbreak of cholera).
The mayors of Newcastle-upon-Tyne not only controlled the flow of coal but most of the other shipping as well. Until the tiny population along the valued land could be organised by planners, grown, housed and maintained for industry, to sustain the needed industrial growth, it was feasible that ports along the Tyne were strategically temporarily prevented from being built to build ships, until the population reached its sustainability tipping point. Nevertheless, fishing boats from sparsely populated North and South Shields travelled as far as Iceland in search of fish.
South Shields' place at the mouth of the Tyne with shifting and unpredictable sand bars and channels into the river meant ships running aground was a frequent event on the town's beaches and as a result the world's first self-righting lifeboat was designed by William Wouldhave in 1790. Wouldhave's design, however, lost to a rival design of lifeboat.
In the 1850s, with the Tyne’s growing shipbuilding industry and the mouth of the Tyne becoming populated to sustain it, South and North Shields needed to stop the flow of sand that threatened to topple and ground ships. In 1854 the first foundations were laid of the North and South Piers. They were both completed in 1885.
An engineering problem was encountered with managing the new piers. The sand on Littlehaven Beach was now flowing up the Tyne through the incoming tide. As a solution the Herd Groyne Pier was erected in 1882.
Industries like shipping and shipbuilding, that was now sustained by the growing population of the Tyne, was increasing exponentially on the Tyne and in 1859 Tyne Dock was opened. Tyne Dock had a much needed capacity to hold 500 vessels coming in and out of the bustling coaly River Tyne.
South Shields-born Charles Palmer opened his shipyard in 1851 at Jarrow, at first building wooden ships and then moving onto iron. His shipyard patented rolled armour for warships. In 1865 Alderman John Readhead founded his shipyard in South Shields and the various slipways and dry docks can still be seen today stretching from Tyne Dock towards the mouth of the Tyne. Readhead & Sons built small cargo ships and colliers for clients the world over until the yard was closed in 1968.
Turner made an engraving of Shields on the River Tyne in 1823. This is now in Tate Britain in London. He also painted Keelmen Hauling Coals by Night in 1835, having himself rowed out into the Tyne at Jarrow Slake in order to do so.
The town became famous for its maritime industries and the Marine School was founded by Dr. Thomas Winterbottom in 1837. Originally in Ocean Road, it is now part of South Tyneside College in Westoe Village and has an international reputation. And 151 year on, from the late 1980s to 2008 it proudly possessed the nationally unique combined public observatory and planetarium, which has provided education and entertainment for twenty thousand children a year. The old Marine College building is impressive and is now a public house. And like this public house during the industrial boom years of the 19th and early 20th centuries, many notable public buildings were built across the town, reflecting its wealth. These included the then-new town hall, the Customs House and in the town centre, Mill Dam, Lawe Top, Harton and Westoe.
South Shields was able to elect an MP after the Great Reform Act of 1832 and was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1850 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. It became a county borough in 1889 with the passing of the Local Government Act 1888, and remained as such until 1974 when it became part of the Metropolitan Borough of South Tyneside in the (now former) county of Tyne and Wear.
Zeppelin airships raided the Tyne in World War I and the town's seafront amusement park was attacked in 1915. In World War II, South Shields suffered well over 200 air raid alerts and 156 people were killed. Many houses were damaged, particularly by incendiary bombs and parachute mines. One direct hit on the market place killed more than 40 people who had taken shelter in tunnels below the square. There was a memorial to them in the form of a cobbled Union Flag on the ground of the market square, however, this was removed as part of an overhaul of the town centre in the late 1990s.
South Shields lost more seafarers than any other port in Britain during World War II.
In 1977 the town was visited by boxer Mohammed Ali, whose wedding was blessed in the local mosque at Laygate. The visit has since been the subject of a BBC documentary. Ali visited the town after receiving an invitation from a local boys' boxing club.
South Shields has undergone significant economic change in the light of de-industrialisation. Service industries, including tourism and retail, play an increasing role in the economic make-up of the town and indeed across the wider area.
South Shields is situated in a peninsula setting, where the River Tyne meets the North Sea. It has six miles of coastline and three miles of river frontage, dominated by the massive, functional, if not beautiful, piers at the mouth of the Tyne. These are best viewed from the Lawe Top, which also houses two replicas of cannon captured from the Russians during the Crimean War, the originals having been melted during World War Two.
The town slopes gently from the Cleadon Hills down to the river. The Cleadon Hills are made conspicuous by the Victorian water pumping station (opened in 1860 to improve sanitation) and a now derelict windmill which can be seen from many miles away and also out at sea.
The town has extensive beaches including sand dunes as well as dramatic sandstone cliffs with grassy areas above known as The Leas, which cover three miles of this coastline and are a National Trust protected area. Marsden Bay, with its famous Marsden Rock, is one of the largest seabird colonies in Britain.
One of the most historic parts of the town is Westoe village, which consists of a quiet street of Georgian and Victorian houses, many being built by Victorian business leaders in the town, including those who owned mines and shipyards. This street was the setting for a number of books by the novelist Catherine Cookson. Westoe village was once a separate village about a mile from South Shields but urban sprawl has now consumed it along with the village of Harton slightly further along the same South Shields to Sunderland road.
Disputes over jobs led to riots - also called the Arab Riots - in 1919. Often incorrectly reported as 'race riots', these were in fact trades union disputes involving equal pay protests championed by Communist union activists. In fact, the Yemeni had already become a successfully integrated into the wider community. In 1930 a further dispute broke out over working practices, which the Yemeni seamen felt to be discriminatory, and led to more rioting. However, over time, attitudes to Yemenis in the town were softened and there was no significant recurrence of this violence.
After World War II, the Yemeni population declined, partly due to migrations to other industrial areas such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Sheffield.. However, the main reason for the reduction in numbers was the end of the shipping industry and the need for sailors as coal burning ships decreased in numbers. Today, the Yemeni population of South Shields numbers around 1,000. Many Yemeni sailors married local women and became integrated with the wider community, resulting with a migrant population less distinct than in other mixed communities across the UK. The Yemeni are the first, settled Muslim community in Britain and a successful example of multi-culturalism.
There is a mosque at Laygate, including the Yemeni School, which was visited by American boxer Mohammed Ali in 1977. He had his marriage blessed at the Al-Ahzar Mosque, the first purpose-built in the UK. This story is covered in a documentary film, The King of South Shields film website Throughout April and early May 2008, the BALTIC Arts Centre in Gateshead chronicled the Yemeni community of South Shields, including interviews with the last remaining survivors of the first Yemeni generation. The exhibition depicted the Yemeni story as an example of early successful multi-cultural integration in Britain, as well as showcasing the high-profile 1977 visit by Mohammed Ali.
In 2008 South Shields born Tina Gharavi of Bridge + Tunnel Productions unveiled plans for a tribute plaque of Mohammad Ali's famous visit in 1977.
Despite a skilled local workforce, for many years South Tyneside had the highest job seekers unemployment rate in mainland Britain, and between December 2002 and 2008 South Shields unemployment fell by 17.8%, South Tyneside17.7% the best performance in the North East region over that time period.
As of April 2008, JSA Claimant unemployment in South Tyneside stands at 4,157 people.
The Port of Tyne is one of the UK's most important and is further developing its freight and passenger activities and in 2007 it imported 2million tones of coal, which is said to increase in 2008. Manufacturing and ship repair/engineering are other significant sectors.
There is continuing extensive work to the town centre of South Shields to bring it back to its former glory, part-financed by grants from central government and the European Regional Development Fund. There is increasing private sector interest in the town and wider area.
As well as being the oldest and largest town in South Tyneside, South Shields is also one of the region's most popular seaside resorts, a status it has built up by marketing itself as Catherine Cookson Country. Thousands of people come to see where the famous author was born and brought up before visiting the town centre and coastal attractions. The local council and its partners intend to make further improvements and develop new additions to the seafront.
The town has much to offer both locals and visitors alike:
There is a good choice of restaurants, cafes, public houses and nightlife as well as hotels, guest houses and caravan parks. South Shields plays host to an annual free summer festival and each autumn the town is the seaside finish to the world-famous Great North Run.
South Shields is home to South Tyneside College, one of the two leading maritime training centres in the UK, with facilities including a marine safety training centre and a simulated ship's bridge for the training of deck officers. The college was also home to the only planetarium in the region, as well as an observatory; and in its time was a popular visitor attraction for local schools and visitors in general. The observatory was used for 20 years and in 2008 it was deemed redundant to the 2008 and future curriculum needs of the college. The college provides a wide range of other flexible vocational and training courses.
Local schooling is generally regarded as being very good, which is reflected in continuing improvements to school results and independent inspections.
In 2007, Brinkburn Comprehensive and King George V Comprehensive merged forming South Shields Community School; the school will be built at a cost of £19million; the school will be built on the King George V School site. The new school buildings could be open in 2009.
Residents of South Shields identify as "Geordie" (with a historical example found inDickens, Jnr, Charles (1872). All the Year Round. Charles Dickens. ), a term commonly associated with all residents of Tyneside.
It is thought that the term Geordie has its origins in the coal mining industry of the North East of England. It was latterly applied to the connected ship building industry, which came to employ descendants of earlier coalminers. The coalmining industry was once the major employer of working men in the North East of England, with the River Tyne once being the largest coal trading shipping hub in the country in the world attracting migrant workers from near and far; and then with the Tyne along with the River Clyde being a major hub for shipbuilding.
Walesobserves that "Geordy" and "Geordie" was a common name given to pitmen in ballads and songs of the region, noting that one such turns up as early as 1793. It occurs in the titles of two songs by songwriter Joe Wilson (1841–1875): Geordy, Haud the Bairn and Keep your Feet Still, Geordie. Citing such examples as the song Geordy Black written by Rowland Harrison of Gateshead, she contends that, as a consequence of popular culture, the miner and the keelman had become icons of the region in the 19th century, and "Geordie" was a label that "affectionately and proudly reflected this", replacing the earlier ballad emblem, the figure of Bob Crankie.
A less commonly used colloquial term, specifically for people from South Shields, is Sandancer (sometimes written as Sand-Dancer or Sanddancer). The term is widely presumed to originate from the town's beach and its large Yemeni population. The Sand-dance was a popular music-hall act that parodied Egyptian and Arab culture as it was understood in Britain at the time.
A number of notable people have been associated with South Shields. They include Ridley Scott, William Wouldhave (creator of the lifeboat), Eric Idle, Sir Frank Williams, Phil Brown (manager of Hull City AFC), Elinor Brent-Dyer, Catherine Cookson and Jack Brymer.
South Tyneside College RUFC have been playing at Grosvenor Road since they were formed. Westoe RFC has been playing on the same ground at Wood Terrace since 1875.
The local authority (South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council) is also controlled by Labour.
The town also has a local independent political party, the Progressive Party. This broadly centre-right party was formed in the 1950s to address hostility towards the Conservative Party. The Progressives have no representation beyond South Shields. Having controlled the old County Borough of South Shields council until 1974, they still hold several seats on the borough council and have experienced a resurgence in recent years, sitting in alliance with independent members of the council.
South Shields is bounded by the A19 trunk road to the West and situated close to the Tyne Tunnel at Jarrow. The town is well connected to other areas of Tyne & Wear and to the strategic road network - the A194(M) motorway provides a direct link between the Borough and the A1/A1(M).
The Tyne and Wear Metro light rail system was introduced in the 1980s and replaced British Rail services. The Metro network serves South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Newcastle Airport. The platform at South Shields Metro Station is situated on a bridge directly above King Street - the town's main shopping area. When Metro services were introduced, the railway line at the former High Shields LNER station at Laygate was re-routed eastwards to the then-new Chichester Metro and bus interchange. The former South Shields LNER station was also closed and the Victorian buildings survived as an entrance to the Metro station until they were demolished in 1998. There are other Metro stations at Tyne Dock and Brockley Whins, while a new station at Simonside opened in early 2008. Plans by Nexus to re-open the former West Harton and Westoe mineral lines between Tyne Dock, Brockley Whins and East Boldon would create a direct rail service between South Shields and Sunderland, without the need for passengers to change trains at Pelaw in Gateshead.
There is a frequent pedestrian ferry service to North Shields on the opposite bank of the Tyne. The Shields Ferry carries tens of thousands of commuters and pleasure trippers each year. There has been a cross-river ferry service between the two towns since 1377.
The Port of Tyne headquarters and international freight terminal are located at Tyne Dock in South Shields. The Port has a freight rail connection.
The town's extensive network of strategic footpaths and cycle routes includes the Coast to Coast cycleway and National Cycle Route 1.