Between (the now filled in) Jarrow Slake and the western edge of South Shields sits a very distinct corner of Tyneside known as Tyne Dock. Named after the large dock which eats into the river’s southern bank, it is as easily identifiable on maps as almost any other geographical feature in the region. Which makes it a bit of shame that it has now almost gone, and is unlikely to feature in blue on the next edition of the OS map.
Incredibly, the Tyne Dock basin was dug out by hand in the 1850s – much of it by veterans returning from the Crimean War. As part of the general industrial surge of the day, it was deemed necessary to create births for the growing river traffic – and the new ‘marina’ could take, it was said, some 500 vessels. Opened in 1859, Robert Stephenson made the dock gates and William Armstrong made the engines to power them – and they were still in use until about 20 years ago. But it was the drive of Jarrow shipbuilder Charles Palmer which saw the dock’s construction brought to a conclusion. Keen to compete with the railways in the transportation of coal, the great yard was Palmer’s response – built to take mighty new colliers such as the John Bowes.
A proud community grew up around the dock, of course – much of it made famous by the novels of Catherine Cookson, who was born at 5 Leam Lane, Tyne Dock in 1906, just as the yard was approaching is peak. With the decline of the industry and the growth in the sheer size of visiting ships, the dock’s usefulness began to fall off.
Inevitably, the developers’ eyes began to turn to the possibility of reclaiming the watery 50 acre site. In the 1980s, much of the southern area of the dock was in-filled, reducing its size by a good two-thirds. Then, in November 2009, a decision was made to complete the process by using material dredged and dug from the river during the excavation of the second Tyne Tunnel. This process has now been completed, and only a small sliver of the old Tyne Dock remains – to be filled with spoil as and when it becomes available.
Then the area will be ready for new commercial development. That’s progress for you.
There’s a neat little piece here about Tyne Dock and its community.