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North Shields and Whitley Bay

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PRESS GANGS

North Shields is situated on the north side of the Tyne close to the river mouth and is linked to South Shields across the river by means of a ferry. The town is the site of a famous fish quay and the terminus of sea ferries to Amsterdam. During the French Wars at the end of the eighteenth century the towns of North Shields and South Shields regularly fell prey to Press Gang raids which were once a common occurrence on the North Eastern coast.

North Shields

North Shields viewed from across the river : David Simpson

Tyneside suffered particularly badly from the Press Gangs, because of its large community of seamen and its reputation for skilled boatmen, like the keelmen of Newcastle upon Tyne; North Shields, was particularly prone to Press Gang raids and in 1796, 250 mechanics and seamen were pressed into service here during a raid in which the town was cordoned off by troops.

One of the naval vessels involved in such Press Gang raids, `The Peggy' is remembered in the name of Peggy's Hole, by the River Tyne near North Shields Fish Quay.

Here's the Tender comin',

Pressing all the men;

Oh dear hinny, what shall we dee then:

Here's the tender comin',

Off at Shields Bar

Here's the tender comin',

Full of men o' war.

They will ship yer foreign,

that is what it means

Here's the tender comin',

full of Red Marines.

So hide me canny Geordie,

hide yorsel' away,

Wait until the frigate makes for Druridge Bay,

If they tyek yer Geordie,

whes te' win wor breed ?

Me and little Jacky would better off be deed.

Press Gangs were greatly feared on Tyneside, as once a man had been unwillingly pressed into naval service, his wife and family would have to rely on the local parish for support. Indeed the Poor rate in those districts of Tyneside with large communities of seamen and boatmen rapidly increased following Press Gang raids.

Because of their importance to the national coal industry the keelmen of Newcastle were supposed to be exempt from the Press Gangs but even they did not escape the naval raids. The residents of Sandgate, Newcastle, home of the keelmen community, lived in constant fear of the Press Gangs of a certain Captain Bover whose men operated on the Newcastle quayside;

Where has't the been me canny hinny ?,

Where has't the been me winsome man ?,

Aa've been te' the norrard,

Cruising back and forrard

Aa've been te' the norrard,

cruising sair and lang;

Aa've been te' the norrard,

cruIsing back and forrard,

But daren't come ashore for fear of Bover and his gang

The Tyneside region has a rich heritage of songs with a nautical flavour, one of the most famous being 'Dance Ti thy Daddy':

Come here me little Jacky

Now I've smok'd me backy

Let's hev a bit o' cracky

Till the boat comes in.

Dance ti' thy daddy,

My bonny laddie

Dance ti' thy daddy,

Ti' thy mammy sing;

Thou shell hev a fishy

On a little dishy

Thou shell hev a mackerel

When the boat comes in.

WHITLEY BAY, CULLERCOATS FISHWIVES AND ST MARY'S ISLAND.

Up the coast from Tynemouth, is Cullercoats once famous as the home of Tyneside's famous fishwife fraternity. The fishwives could still be seen at the time of William Tomlinson's Guide to Northumberland of 1888 which records;

"Very familiar indeed is the figure of the Cullercoats fish-wife, as, clad in blue serge jacket, short petticoats with ample skirts, large apron and black straw bonnet she trudges along with a heavy creel of fish on her shoulders calling in, shrill and not unmusical tones of voice, `Buy fee-s-ch' "

Further to the north of Cullercoats is the town of Whitley Bay, the main seaside resort for Tyneside and the site of the `Spanish City' amusement area. The main coastal feature at Whitley Bay, is St Mary's Island which like a miniature version of Lindisfarne further north, is linked to the mainland by a short causeway at low tide. St Mary's Isle is also known as Bait Island after an inhabitant of Tudor times called Thomas Bates. The island with its lighthouse is a popular `picture postcard view'.

 

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