North Shields

North Shields is a town on the north bank of the River Tyne in North East England, eight miles (13 km) north-east of Newcastle upon Tyne. Historically part of Northumberland, its name derives from Middle English schele meaning "temporary sheds or huts used by fishermen".[1]

North Shields

North Shields Fish Quay
North Shields
Location within Tyne and Wear
Population34,423 (2011 census North Tyneside wards of Chirton, Collingwood and Riverside)
OS grid referenceNZ3568
Metropolitan borough
Metropolitan county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtNE29, NE30
Dialling code0191
FireTyne and Wear
AmbulanceNorth East
EU ParliamentNorth East England
UK Parliament


North Shields is first recorded in 1225, when the Prior of Tynemouth, Germanus, decided to create a fishing port to provide fish for the Priory which was situated on the headland at the mouth of the River Tyne.[2] He also supplied ships anchored near the priory. A number of rudimentary houses or 'shiels' were erected at the mouth of the Pow Burn where the stream enters the Tyne, as well as wooden quays which were used to unload the fishing boats. The quays were also used to ship coal from local collieries owned by the Priory. Soon the population of the new township numbered 1000. The burgesses of Newcastle upon Tyne were determined to preserve the custom rights that they had enjoyed up till then, which covered the whole length of the river. They successfully petitioned the king in 1290 and managed to suspend trade from the new settlement. It was forbidden to victual ships or to load and unload cargoes at North Shields. The opposition of the Newcastle burgesses remained for a considerable time but despite this, North Shields continued to develop as a centre for fishing and exporting salt, produced at local saltpans. For a considerable period the Newcastle burgesses, known as the Hostmen, who controlled the export of coal from the Tyne, resisted the export of this commodity from North Shields.[3][4]

The town was originally restricted to a narrow strip of land alongside the river (around the present-day Clive Street) because of the steep bank which hemmed it in. Eventually the town became too overcrowded and in the 18th century buildings began to be erected on the plateau 60 feet (20 m) above the old, overcrowded, insanitary dwellings alongside the river. The prosperous businessmen and shipowners occupied the New Town whereas the working people remained in the lower part of town. The low, riverside part of the town was linked to the newer, higher part of the town by a series of stairs. These stairs were initially populated by slum dwellings. Although these dwellings have long since been cleared away, the sets of stairs still exist. One of the first developments of the new town was Dockwray Square, built in 1763: a set of elegant town houses that became populated by wealthy families. However, due to the poor provision of water and drainage facilities, the wealthy families soon moved to the more central part of the new town, especially the new Northumberland Square.[5] Dockwray Square eventually deteriorated into slums. In the early twentieth century Stan Laurel lived at a house in Dockwray Square for a few years, before he became famous. The square has since been re-developed and a statue of Laurel stands in the middle to commemorate his stay there.[3]


Lights of North Shields

Because of the difficulty of navigating ships into the mouth of the river past the dangerous Black Midden rocks, buildings were erected in the 16th century with permanent lights burning to be used as a guide by the mariners. High and Low lights are pictured on a 1655 map of the river Tyne: a pair of square castellated towers. Both lights were rebuilt in 1727, and these buildings still stand today (albeit the Old Low Light was remodelled in 1830 to serve as an almshouse).[6] In 1810, the Old Lights were replaced by new High and Low Lights, placed respectively at the top and bottom of the steep bank alongside the river.[7] All these lights were owned and operated by Trinity House of Newcastle-upon-Tyne until they ceased operation. Today, the Old High Beacon, as well as the High and Low Lights, are private residences; they remain prominent landmarks. In 2014 the black-painted Old Low Light was opened to the public following a substantial refurbishment; it contains a café, shop, museum, viewing platform and event space.[8]

Fish Quay

In 1806, a market place was opened on New Quay. In 1870, work began on constructing a fish quay to provide shelter for the docked fishing boats. This quay is still in use today.[3]

Clifford's Fort

Clifford's Fort, located on the Fish Quay, was built in the 17th century as a coastal defence against the Dutch.[2] The Fort also played a role during the Napoleonic Wars. The site of the fort was used to build new fish processing facilities and very little now remains of the original fort.[3][9][10] The area is currently undergoing restoration. Part of the foundations of the 18th century Master Gunner’s House (demolished in 1973) were found below the concrete floor of a fish processing unit. Elsewhere on the site, part of the stone edging of Cable Tanks belonging to the Submarine Mining Depot (established at the fort in 1888) were uncovered.[11]

Wooden Dolly

One of North Shields' oldest landmarks is the "Wooden Dolly" statue. In 1814, the female figurehead of a collier brig was placed at the entrance to Custom House Quay, on Liddell Street, and stood there until 1850, when it was vandalised. A second figurehead was placed on the same spot. The "Wooden Dolly", as the figurehead was known, was used by seafarers as a source of good-luck charms, by cutting pieces of wood from her to be taken with them on voyages.[2] Eventually the figurehead was defaced beyond repair and after 14 years was replaced by Wooden Dolly No. 3. This remained until 1901 when it was replaced with Wooden Dolly No. 4 in the shape of a fishwife. A fifth Wooden Dolly, also a fishwife, was placed in Northumberland Square in 1958 and still remains there. In 1992, a sixth Wooden Dolly, was placed where the first four had been, at the entrance to Custom House Quay, and can still be seen there, next to the Prince of Wales public house.[12]


In 1887, the town's businesses were listed as a marine engine, chain cable and anchor manufacturer, shipbuilding yards, roperies, salt-works, and an earthenware and stained glass manufacturer. Fishing was also a major employer.[13] The Smith's Dock Company was another major employer for many years, eventually closing in 1987.


Shipyards have been in existence in North Shields since near its founding. The smaller yards built the Northumbrian coble, a small inshore fishing vessel with a lug sail, well known in the North East. Larger yards built wooden sailing collier brigs, used to transport local coal to London. Eventually these small yards were replaced by larger yards such as the Tyne Dock and Engineering Company and the Smith's Dock Company. These yards produced iron vessels for various uses, including fishing and the coal trade. In later years the North Shields yards were used for ship repair work, with Smith's dock surviving until the 1990s.[14] None of these yards remain.[3]

Oil terminal

Esso formerly had an oil terminal on the banks of the Tyne, off Howdon Road. In April 1994, a bomb planted by the IRA exploded tearing a 3-foot square hole in one of the tanks. A second device, which did not detonate, was later found nearby. Six hundred gallons of crude oil leaked from the tank, but was caught in a channel designed to prevent leakages.[15] A second explosion occurred in June 1994, perpetrated by the same bombers.[16]


In 2009, seating inspired by Plasticine, the inventor of which was born in North Shields, was installed on Bedford Street in the town centre. The seats proved unpopular as their shape prevented rainwater draining off, so they were replaced by more traditional metal benches and moved to the Royal Quays Marina in 2011.[17]


YMCA North Tyneside was founded in 1870 and was originally known as The Borough of Tynemouth YMCA. After an inaugural meeting on 7 June 1879 weekly meetings followed in the Sons of Temperance Hall, Norfolk Street, North Shields.[18] The YMCA grew in popularity. Within a year larger premises were needed. Meetings moved to 53 Tyne Street, North Shields and in 1879 to Camden Street, North Shields. In 1920 the YMCA moved to a building in Bedford Street (which is still owned by the YMCA and now occupied by the Citizens Advice Bureau) where it remained until 1938 when it moved to the present building and the current registered office at Church Way, North Shields.

Fish Quay Festival

Between 1987 and 2001, a community festival was organised on the fish quay, during which the fleet of fishing boats would be blessed and various local talents would entertain the crowds. At its peak, the festival attracted 600,000 visitors. A smaller-scale family festival, in order to save costs, was held annually between 2002 and 2006, before it too was scrapped as a money-saving measure.[19]


Meadow Well and Royal Quays

Following the Meadow Well riots, in July 1992 the Government granted £37.5 million over five years to regenerate that area of the town, as part of the City Challenge scheme.[20]

An extensive regeneration programme costing £16 million saw the revitalisation of the redundant Albert Edward docks.[21] The Wet N Wild indoor water park, an outlet shopping centre, a bowling alley, a soccer dome and a marina form the centrepiece to the Royal Quays development to the west of the town. Mark di Suvero's Tyne Anew (1999), his only large-scale public artwork in the UK, can be seen at Albert Edward Dock.[22]

Fish Quay

Similarly, major regeneration of the Fish Quay, on the riverside to the south-east of the town centre, has included the construction of luxury apartments and the conversion of existing buildings into restaurants and bars alongside the working quay. In November 2018, North Tyneside Council announced plans for further development to enhance the area as a food and drink destination.[23]

Smith's Docks

The site of the former Smith's Docks was acquired by the developer Places For People in 2007. In January 2015 they sought planning permission for the construction of homes on the site.[24] The first of those homes, including some designed by George Clarke, was sold in 2017 and as of April 2018, work continues on the site.[25] The second phase, the Smokehouses, was completed in autumn 2018.[26]


The town is bounded to the north by Whitley Bay and to the south by the River Tyne. The village of Tynemouth is to its east and the A19 road marks the boundary between North Shields and Wallsend to the west of the town. It is part of the North Tyneside conurbation.

Over the years, North Shields has grown from a small fishing village to incorporate the nearby villages of Chirton, Preston, Billy Mill and East Howdon. Cullercoats and the Marden Estate are considered suburbs of North Shields.

The 2011 definition of the town of Tynemouth includes North Shields which means a population figure can only be given as a combination of wards rather than as a USD.

Meadow Well

A large council estate, Meadow Well (alternatively spelt Meadowell or Meadowwell on local signs) to the west of the town, was constructed in the 1930s to house residents displaced by the clearance of the Dockwray Square and Low Town slum areas.[27] These flats were replaced with better quality homes in the 1960s and 70s.[28] Meadow Well was formerly known as the Ridges Estate – a name occasionally used today – since it was built on the site of the Ridges farm. Its present name is derived from a well situated in a meadow upon which the estate was built.

On Monday, 9 September 1991, Meadow Well was featured heavily in the news across the UK as riots broke out,[28] which continued for three days. Many properties were damaged,[29] cars burned out and the local community centre burned down. As a result of the riots, the local housing was gradually improved by the council over the next three years through demolition and rebuilding, as well as renovation.[28] A number of community development organisations, including the Cedarwood Trust, Meadow Well Connected and the Phoenix Detached Youth Project, have worked in the area for many years.[30]

The film Dream On (1991) is set on the estate.[31]



With its fishing industry and shipbuilding history, a number of maritime related companies remain in the town. John Lilley and Gillie Ltd, a marine equipment manufacturer is headquartered there.[32]


Collieries in the town were located at three of the outlying villages since incorporated into the town, at Preston, at the location of the present cemetery gates, Percy Main and New York.[33]

Office and business parks

Following the demise of coal mining and shipbuilding in the area, several business parks, industrial estates and trading estates were established providing alternative employment. The biggest of these are The Silverlink and Cobalt Park, the UK's largest office park. Atmel had a plant located at Silverlink, previously occupied by Siemens but the plant is now demolished apart from the office building, now home to Cobalt Business Exchange. Cobalt is home to an Orange call centre. The town's association with the early days of the railways is recognised at the Stephenson Railway Museum on Middle Engine Lane near The Silverlink.[34]

Other industries

Potts Print, based in Cramlington since 2006, was originally founded in North Shields in 1875.[35] They occupied various sites in the town over the years.

Spicers has a large factory in the town producing tea. It bought the site from Twinings in 2012.[36]

Donald Campbell's Bluebird K7, which crashed during a water speed record attempt on Coniston Water, was restored in a workshop in the town by local engineer Bill Smith.[37]


Rail (Tyne and Wear Metro)

The Newcastle and North Shields Railway opened in 1839. In 1847, the railway was extended to Tynemouth when a railway station was built in Oxford Street, off Tynemouth Road. Eventually, it was replaced by a new station further away from the river after new rail lines were developed.[38] The riverside tracks were removed for the creation of Hadrian's Way, part of the national cycle network, but the remained tracks were absorbed in the Tyne and Wear Metro system in 1982. The town centre station, originally constructed for the Newcastle and North Shields Railway, was redeveloped between 1980 and 1982 for the Metro. It was subsequently refurbished in 2012.[39] The Tyne and Wear Metro links North Shields to Newcastle city centre, and to other destinations in Tyne and Wear including Whitley Bay, Newcastle Airport and Sunderland. The town is also served by stations in Percy Main and Meadow Well.

The Tyneside Tramways and Tramroads Company also operated an electric tramway service in the town.


Local ferry

A half-hourly ferry service connects North Shields to the town of South Shields on the opposite bank of the Tyne.[40] The present Shields Ferry was established in 1972. Its first female skipper was appointed in 2016.[41] Shieldsman, a former ferry retired in 2007, has since been moved to Shoreham, West Sussex, and transformed into a houseboat.[42]

From June to October river trips by ferry operate.

In November 2018, the local council announced plans to consider the feasibility of moving the ferry landing.[23]

International ferry

From the International Ferry Terminal, based at Royal Quays, the Danish company DFDS Seaways operates a daily service to IJmuiden.[43]

The ferry service to Gothenburg, Sweden (run by DFDS Seaways), ceased operation at the end of October 2006.[44] DFDS Seaways' sister company, DFDS Tor Line, continues to run scheduled freight ships between Gothenburg and several English ports, including Newcastle, but these have limited capacity for passengers and do not carry private vehicles.

Port of Tyne International Passenger Terminal

The passenger terminal regularly welcomes tourists travelling on cruises that call at North Shields as an access point for Newcastle upon Tyne and the wider North East of England. In 2017, 52 ships docked bringing 120,000 visitors to the region.[45]


The town's schools are part of a three-tier system.

Nursery schools[46]

  • Sir James Knott Nursery School

Primary schools[46]

  • Collingwood Primary School
  • Cullercoats Primary School
  • King Edward Primary School
  • Kings Priory School
  • Monkhouse Primary School
  • Percy Main Primary School
  • Preston Grange Primary School
  • Riverside Primary School
  • Spring Gardens Primary School
  • St Cuthberts Primary School
  • St Josephs Primary School
  • Waterville Primary School
  • Whitehouse Primary School

Secondary schools[47]


North Shields has a number of churches and religious groups.

Christian churches

Denomination Name Location Notes
Church of England Christ Church Preston Road Now the parish church of North Shields but originally consecrated as Tynemouth Parish Church on Sunday 5 July 1668 (enlarged 1792).[48] Part of the North Shields Team Ministry, with St Augustin's.
St Augustin's[49] Jackson Street Part of the North Shields Team Ministry with Christ Church.
St Peter's[50] Central Avenue, Balkwell Shares a vicar with St John's.
Holy Saviour's[51] Crossway, Tynemouth
St John's[52] St John's Terrace, Percy Main Shares a vicar with St Peter's. Built in 1862, the building was reordered in 2000 to provide adaptable space for use as a community centre as well as for worship.[53]
Roman Catholic Church St Cuthbert's[54] Albion Road West
St Joseph's[55] Wallsend Road, Chirton
United Reformed Church St Columba's[56] Northumberland Square The building was designed by architect John Dobson.[57]
Methodist Church North Shields Methodist Church Hawkey's Lane
Baptist Union of Great Britain North Shields Baptist Church[58] Howard Street The building was designed under the direction of Dobson.[59]
Preston Grange Community Church[60] Preston Grange The church meets in the Preston Grange Community Centre. It was originally an outreach congregation of Whitley Bay Baptist Church before being established in its own right in 2011.
Salvation Army North Shields Salvation Army Corps[61] Howard Street The building was constructed in 1811 as the Scotch Church and was also designed by John Dobson.[62]
Non-denominational North Shields Evangelical Church George Street

Other organisations

  • North Shields Fishermen’s Mission, 42-47 Fish Quay
  • The Cedarwood Trust, Avon Avenue[63] - A Christian ethos community development organisation based in Meadowell.

Other religious groups

  • Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, Lower Norfolk Street[64]
  • North Shields Spiritualist Church, 42 Stanley Street West.[65]



Part of the town centre is pedestrianised. The Beacon, a shopping mall, is also located in the centre of the town.[66] A number of large chains have closed their branches in the town in recent years, including Littlewoods and Woolworths. As of 2016, Wilko, B & M, Home Bargains and Greggs have branches in the town centre.

Asda acquired a former Netto store in the town centre in 2011.[67] The Co-op has a number of branches in the town, including a supermarket in the centre, and convenience stores in Tynemouth and Preston. Morrisons also has a large store in Preston.

There are three further shopping centres in the town. The Royal Quays Shopping Centre is home to a number of discount stores.

The Coast Road Retail Park is adjacent to a large Tesco supermarket and, as of 2016, home to Dunelm, B & M, Pets at Home and Carpetright stores.

The Silverlink Shopping Park, as of 2016, includes branches of Boots, Next, H&M, Halfords, Marks and Spencer and River Island. In September 2016, a large expansion of the retail park opened.[68] Odeon also has a multi-screen cinema at the park.


Over 100 businesses in the town are members of The North Shields Chamber of Trade and Commerce.[69]



The town is home to the non-League football club, North Shields F.C.. Founded in 1896, the team competes in Northern Football League and plays home games at Daren Persson Stadium (formerly Ralph Gardner Park). The team has twice played at Wembley Stadium and winning 2-1 on both occasions - against Sutton United on 12 April 1969 at the old Wembley to win the FA Amateur Cup[70] and against Glossop North End at the new stadium on 9 May 2015 to win the FA Vase, the Amateur Cup's successor.[71]


The Wet'n'Wild indoor water park was constructed in 1992 and opened in summer 1993 as part of the Royal Quays development. It was originally designed with rides: six speed slides, five conventional flumes and one "lazy river" ride. The "Twister", a speed slide, was 85 metres long, and started from a height of 12.5 metres.[72]

The town's main library is in Northumberland Square. It originally included a lecture hall, which was expected to be used for musical performances too. Construction began in 1973, and the building is mounted on rubber springs to minimize noise and vibration from the Metro tunnel underneath. It was the first building to use PTFE to reduce weight drag on horizontal restraints.[73] The library was refurbished in 2013, with the lecture hall redeveloped for additional book storage and computer workstation capacity.[74]


Since April 1974, North Shields has been part of the Metropolitan Borough of North Tyneside, formerly having been part of the County Borough of Tynemouth. Parts of the town are within the Tynemouth and North Tyneside parliamentary constituencies.

North Shields County Court and North Tyneside Magistrates' Court are also in the town.[75][76] The county court houses the Employment Tribunals Office.



Fiddler's Green, a steel sculpture that serves as a memorial to fishermen lost at sea, was unveiled in 2017.[77]

In film

Dream On (1991) was produced by Amber Films and filmed on location in Meadow Well. Its original release was around the time of the Meadow Well riots.[78]

On television

The BBC series When the Boat Comes In, though set in the fictional Gallowshield, was essentially set in North Shields and filmed on location around the town.[79] Various episodes of the series Spender, which starred Jimmy Nail, and Vera, with Brenda Blethyn,[80] were also filmed there.

In songs

Sweden's foremost troubadour of the 20th century,[81] Evert Taube, wrote the song Mary Strand which is set in North Shields in 1909. Mary Strand is the proprietress of the cigar shop Tiger Brand on Dock Street and hides a young sailor from the police. The song is based on Taube's own experience, when he ran away from the steamship Australic in Newcastle upon Tyne.[82]

Twin town

In 2017, the town was twinned with Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales, as part of the Carnegie Twin Towns Project.[83][84] The project aimed to pair towns that had similar characteristics, and socio-economic challenges, in order to consider how they might make positive changes to their communities.

Notable people

Prominent locals include Ralph Gardner, who opposed Newcastle when it attempted to prevent the docking of coal ships in North Shields. Gardner was imprisoned in 1653 for refusing to close his brewery which supplied provisions to the ships. In 1655, he petitioned Parliament against what he claimed were the unfair demands of Newcastle. Gardner, regarded as a local hero, had a High School named in his honour near the former site of his cottage. The school, nicknamed 'Ralphies' /ˈræfz/ by its students closed in 1994 and was redeveloped into the Gardner Park housing estate. A monument to Gardner was erected near the school.[85]

The family of Cuthbert Collingwood, 1st Baron Collingwood (1748–1810), a notable naval commander, and Edward Collingwood (1734–1806), a barrister who ordered the construction of Dissington Hall, had their seat at Chirton Hall in Chirton, now a western suburb of North Shields.[86][87] The Collingwood Arms, a public house, was later built on part of that land before being demolished in early 2005 to make way for a retirement home.[88]














Television, theatre and cinema

See also


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