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Tyne and Wear HER(4586): North Shields, Fish Quay - Details

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N Tyneside

North Shields, Fish Quay

North Shields



Landing Point


Early Modern



Fish Quay near the Low Light. From 1225 the Prior of Tynemouth had attempted to create a fishing port to provide fish for his religious house. To this end 27 rudimentary houses were erected beside the river at the mouth of the Pow Burn (see HER 1952). Wooden quays were attached to these shiels to provide moorings for fishing boats and a place where fish could be sold. The quays were also used by the Prior to ship coal from the priory pits at Tynemouth. The catch included lampreys, smelt, sprats, conger eels, coalfish and skate. By 1528 boats from North Shields were fishing off the Shetlands Islands and the north coast of Scotland and participating in the Icelandic fleet. Ling and cod were salted and sold at Newcastle. The port suffered from the dissolution of the Priory in 1539 and from trade restrictions imposed by the burgers of Newcastle, which was not resolved until the Port of Tyne was created in the 1800s. The present Union Quay and fish market started life in the nineteenth century. The Gut is the outermost part of the quay where the fishing fleet moored and landed its catch. From about 1870 with the advent of steam an extensive herring fishery had developed using North Shields as a base. The quay provided work for buskers, freshers, canners, kipperers and curers who bought and processed the fish. There was also work in the ice factory, guano works and net and rope making shops. A photo of c.1890 shows the quay moored with herring sailing boats. Up to 30 trawlers and over 100 small boats would land in North Shields every day. The herrings were kippered at the fish quay - split open, gutted and salted, then smoked over oak chips or sawdust to produce kippers. A Newcastle man, John Woodger, claimed to have invented the process. Fish processing units and smokehouses took over this part of the town including Clifford's Fort (see Ballard's Smokehouses HER 5151). It was a fisherwife's job to untangle, clean, re-bait and roll up their husband's fishing lines. The lines were about 400 yards long with cords fitted with barbed hooks attached. The wives opened ('skairned') the mussels and removed the meat and gutted the herring. The biggest fishing fleet in North Shields was that of Richard Irvin. He employed the idea of tug master William Purdy of converting paddle steam tugs to trawlers. Irvin developed businesses in every east coast port from Peterhead to Great Yarmouth and was involved in trawling, drifting, whaling and boat building (see HER 7309). 'Stag' was one of the first paddle steam trawlers. During the 1800s, North Shields sent a whaling fleet to Greenland and the Davis Straits. Each vessel was equipped for a three year voyage. The North Shields Fishermen's Mission (HER 9316) was established in 1897. The 'Shields Ice & Cold Storage Company' was set up near the Fish Quay in 1901. It later became the famous 'Tyne Brand' which produced oval cans of herrings.




<< HER 4586 >> Ordnance Survey maps, 1899, 2nd edn, 6, Northumberland, 89, SE; Richard Simpson, 1988, North Shields and Tynemouth - A Pictorial History; Maureen Brook, 2006, Unsung Heroes - the fisherwives in Tyneside's Finest, pp 94-95; North Tyneside Council and Nexus, 2010, North Shields Heritage Trail, board 3 'A nest of vice' and board 7 'Peggy's Hole' and board 8 'The Gut'

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