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By: David Fisher
North Shields is a town in the borough of North Tyneside in the north east of England. It is known locally as just Shields which comes from the word 'schele' which means temporary huts or sheds of fishermen in Middle English. The region still has strong links with fishing and other seafaring and coastal based trades.

North Shields was originally created as a fishing port by the Prior of Tynemouth to provide fish for the Priory and supplies for ships anchored nearby. The Priory was situated at the head of the River Tyne, so a number of basic houses (shiels) were built by the Pow Burn Stream where it joined the Tyne. Wooden docks and quays were also built to allow the loading of coal and the unloading of fish and the settlement grew to around 1000 inhabitants.

The Newcastle upon Tyne burgesses had enjoyed exclusive rights to trade along the entire length of the river until the creation of what would become North Shields and in 1290 they petitioned the King to preserve these rights. They were successful and the loading and unloading of cargo at the settlement became forbidden, but the trade of salt from local salt pans and the use of the docks for fishing continued and North Shields continued to grow.

The original town was squashed in between the riverbank and a steep slope behind it, limiting the growth. Eventually it became too full and the 18th century saw new buildings built on a plateau at the top of the slope, 60 feet above the old, slum like houses of the original settlement. Stairs were constructed to link the two levels, but perhaps inevitably the rich businessmen occupied the higher level whilst the workers remained in the unsanitary conditions below. These stairs can still be seen in the modern day town.

The mouth of the river could be treacherous to navigate due to the Black Midden Rocks, so to help guide ships into the port buildings housing permanent lights were constructed. The first was built in 1727 and is known as the Old High Beacon, it was replaced in 1802 by the High and Low Lights. All three buildings still exist today as private residences.

Many notable people have lived in North Shields, both historical figures and more recent celebrities. Ralph Gardner ran a brewery and was imprisoned in 1653 when he refused to close it for supplying ships and he was held up as a local hero after he petitioned Parliament in 1655 in protest at the monopoly of Newcastle over the Tyne. Admiral Lord Collingwood played an integral part in the Battle of Trafalgar and a monument in his honour overlooks the Tyne. Stan Laurel lived in North Shields before he became famous and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys is also from the region.

North Shields is now flourishing after extensive redevelopment of the Albert Edward Docks and a new waterpark outlet shopping centre and marina included in the Royal Quays development in the town's west. The Fish Quay which hosts an annual festival in celebration of the town's fishing industry has also undergone a recent regeneration including the building of luxury apartments and bars.

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