Maritime heritage

*South Tyneside has a long and proud tradition of seafaring, shipbuilding and lifesaving and a world renowned reputation for excellence in marine engineering and seamanship.


The first purpose built lifeboat was built in the Borough in 1789. South Shields is home to Britain's second oldest preserved lifeboat, the Tyne which is located at the Wouldhave Memorial on Ocean Road. Her crews saved 1028 stricken mariners in six decades of service in the 19th century.

A short distance away is the headquarters of the Volunteer Life Brigade whose members have saved countless lives since 1866. One of the very first voluntary life brigades they were the first to save life from a shipwreck using the breeches buoy. Their Grade 2 listed Watch House, situated on the South Pier, is a building of immense architectural and historical interest and contains a unique collection of shipwreck material, lifesaving equipment and local history.

The Lawe Top Beacon was erected as a navigational aid in 1932 by John Turnbull and cost around £60. The beacon and its twin companion opposite replaced the 18th century structures and compliment the High and Low Lights at North Shields.

Souter Lighthouse opened in 1871 and was at the time, the most advanced in the World. It was the first lighthouse to be specifically constructed for electric illumination by carbon arc lamps. Today the property is operated by the National Trust and visitors can explore the Engine Room and find out how the lighthouse operates through video, displays and navigational equipment. The family living quarters in the Victorian Keepers Cottage is open to explore and visitors can climb the 76 steps to the top of the tower. There are extensive views of the coastline, on a clear day you can see past Blyth and up the Northumberland Coast and to the south, the Yorkshire Hills. A specially adapted camera at the top of the tower relays images to the ground floor so the same views can be seen without the effort of climbing to the top.

TyneNorth East Maritime Trust

The North East Maritime Trust is open to visitors 09.30 to 15.30 Tues, Wed & Sat with free guided tours available.

As well as restoring old boats it is the Trust's aim to keep the wooden boat building skills alive on the Tyne before they disappear. The Trust is very proud that the boats they restore are not "museum pieces" but fully functioning boats which will be used on the river, where they belong.

The North East Maritime Trust is located at:

Fisherman's Workshops
2-3 Wapping St
South Shields
NE33 1LQ

Smugglers and legends

The ghost of John the Jibber is said to haunt the area around Marsden Rock and Bay and if you are quiet you may just hear his moans and groans. He betrayed his fellow smugglers to the Customs Men and for this suffered a slow death suspended from a bucket half way down the cliff face.

A statue to commemorate the memory of Dolly Peel (1783 - 1857) overlooks the River Tyne. She was a fish wife, poet, story teller and smuggler and even served in the Napoleonic wars. She lived in Shadwell Street in South Shields and is famed for hiding her husband from the notorious press gangs.

Mill Dam

Built in the 1860s The Customs House is a listed building overlooking the Tyne and has been transformed into a thriving arts venue. Beside The Customs House is the Merchant Seaman monument which was unveiled by Countess Mountbatten of Burma on 19th September 1990 in memory of the merchant seamen who sailed from South Shields and lost their lives in World War II.

Maritime Art

The town's rich seafaring past is reflected in the evocative Spirit of South Tyneside at Market Dock, overlooking the River Tyne. Nearby is Fleet, a collection of seven stainless steel collier ships in full sail. The brightly polished ships reflect patterns of both moving sky and water and give the impression of a fleet heading out to sea. Both works are by the same artist, Irene Brown.