The town centre of Jarrow is not of any great antiquity despite its proximity to the Venerable Bede’s ancient monastery and the church of St Paul nearby.
For much of its history, following the days of Bede, Jarrow remained rural riverside land. Today, Jarrow’s main historic feature, away from the monastery and Jarrow Hall is perhaps the red brick Jarrow Town Hall of 1902, designed by a South Shields architect named Fred Rennoldson.
Two statues stand close by. One is of Charles Mark Palmer, the famed Jarrow shipbuilder and the other a sculpture of two Viking Warriors, complete with horned helmets, before it became accepted that Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets.
Designed by Colin M Davidson and dating from 1961 these odd looking Vikings perhaps commemorate the Viking raids on Jarrow in the post-Bede era though they are more likely connected with the naming of the neighbouring Viking Centre shopping facility in 1959.
There are two notable Victorian churches in Jarrow’s town centre, one Protestant, one Catholic. The Catholic church dedicated to St Bede is of 1860 with additions of 1883. Situated in St John’s Terrace it of course has no connection with Bede other than through its name and the town in which it is located. It is a more subtle structure than the Protestant Christ Church of 1868 in Clayton Street which has a spire-tower that is extraordinarily tall in relation to the size of the church itself.
Jarrow Mining and Shipbuilding
The town of Jarrow developed rather late and for most of its history since the days of Bede had remained a hamlet or small village. It was potentially a good site for a port but like other places along the Tyne there were disagreements with Newcastle when it came to establishing trade along the river banks. In 1622 men from Newcastle pulled down the walls of a ballast shore erected by Henry Vane at Jarrow and in 1694 a case was brought against the Dean and Chapter of Durham for establishing wharves at Jarrow Slake and at Westoe in South Shields. The case was won by Newcastle.
A Jarrow Colliery was mentioned in 1618, but this was not the same as the later colliery of that name established by Simon Temple in 1803. This mine, also known as Temple Main, closed at Jarrow in the 1850s.
By the time of a map, surveyed in 1856, Jarrow consisted of little more than a few scattered houses and streets, although there were riverside staiths, an engine works, a pottery and a small chemical works as well as a colliery. The scattered nature of Jarrow was in contrast to the more compact colliery village of Hebburn along the river to the west or compared to East Jarrow at the foot of Jarrow Slake to the south, which was the home to an alkali works and chemical works.
Palmer was born at South Shields in 1822 and was the the son of a South Shields shipowner. He had formerly worked as the captain of a whaling ship and like his father was later a ship owner as well as a shipbroker in Newcastle and a colliery manager working for the powerful coal owner partnership of Lord Ravensworth and the Bowes family.
Founded as Palmer Brothers in 1852 Palmer’s company became Palmer’s Shipbuilding and Iron Company in 1865. The works and their associated industries stimulated the rapid growth of Jarrow and this growth merged with that of neighbouring Hebburn. One aspect of the increasing population in both towns was a large influx of a significant number of Irish immigrants of both Catholic and Protestant faiths. It has been estimated that one out of every four people in Jarrow and Hebburn in 1872 was Irish. By comparison it was about one in five in Gateshead and one in ten in South Shields.
Shipbuilding completely dominated Jarrow. Palmer’s company built almost 1,000 ships over the decades including battleships, cruisers, destroyers, oil tankers and cargo ships. Palmer was naturally the most powerful man in Jarrow, being the MP for North Durham from 1874-1885. Following the creation of new constituencies he became the MP for Jarrow from 1885 up until his death in 1907. In 1910 Palmer’s yard was acquired by the West Hartlepool born Lord Furness (Christopher Furness) along with a graving dock at Hebburn that was purchased from Robert Stephenson & Co.
The Jarrow march
Trade continued to prosper in the Palmer’s shipyard following Palmer’s death in 1907 and particularly during the First World War. Sadly, by the end of 1930, ship orders had dried up due to increasing competition from shipyards abroad. It was a disaster for the town of Jarrow where at least 80 per cent of the workforce relied on the shipyard. In 1933, the company collapsed as the Great Depression hit hard. Palmer’s yard was sold to National Shipbuilders Securities Ltd who closed it down in 1934 causing massive unemployment in the town.
In 1935 a general election was held in which the Jarrow MP and former Conservative mayor William Pearson was ousted by Ellen Wilkinson (1891-1947), a Manchester- born Labour politician who had previously been an MP for Middlesbrough East.
In the meantime there was possible good news when an American businessman named T. Vosper Salt proposed a new steel works for Jarrow on the site of the yard. Unfortunately a number of steel companies, who were also vulnerable from the effects of the Great Depression, objected and lobbied the government against the plan. The Consett Iron Company did, however, give its support.
In 1936 David Riley, the Chairman of Jarrow Borough Council had made a remark about marching the nation’s unemployed on London. Ellen Wilkinson and the Jarrow Mayor, Billy Thompson liked the idea of a Jarrow march for jobs and so a march was planned. It was decided 200 men would be involved and the marchers were hand-picked from 1,200 Jarrow volunteers. There would be no women on the march, except for Wilkinson who joined the marchers for parts of the journey.
The march set out from Jarrow on October 5, 1936 and the first day was completed on arrival at Chester-le-Street. At the end of each day, the men would find a place to sleep usually with the help of local communities. After Chester-le-Street the next overnight stops were at Ferryhill, Darlington and Northallerton in North Yorkshire.
At Leeds a donation was made for the marchers’ journey home from London, at Barnsley they were given the use of the municipal baths and at Leicester boot workers worked throughout the night to repair the marchers’ shoes.
There were five rest days to give the marchers a break but on occasions they walked in torrential rain with some of the group forming a harmonica band, playing songs to lift the spirits. In total there were 21 stops on the route of the Jarrow march at Chester-le-Street, Ferryhill, Darlington, Northallerton, Ripon, Harrogate, Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley, Sheffield, Chesterfield, Mansfield, Nottingham, Loughborough, Leicester, Market Harborough, Northampton, Bedford, Luton, St Albans and Edgware.
The marchers carried with them an oak box with gold lettering inscribed ‘Jarrow Petition’. There were 11,000 signatures inside simply requesting that employment be brought to Jarrow. The march ended on October 31 at London’s marble arch and after an overnight stay in London’s East End, the group gathered in Hyde Park for a meeting.
Wilkinson presented the Jarrow petition to parliament on November 2 and it received little more than a brief discussion. The marchers returned home by train, many disillusioned and tired, though back home they received a joyous welcome. Some small industries were introduced to Jarrow on the site of the shipyards as a result of the national attention but nothing on the scale of the earlier shipyards.
In 1939 Wilkinson portrayed the story of Jarrow in her book The Town That was Murdered and of course the outbreak of war that year brought new demand for Jarrow’s industrial skills. The real legacy of the march came with time, however, and the march has come to symbolise the industrial struggles of the 30s and the dangers of one town relying so heavily on a single industry. The black and white photographs of the marchers holding aloft their banner with the words ‘Jarrow Crusade’ have since become one of the most iconic images of British history in the first half of the twentieth century.
To the east of Jarrow and built for the North Eastern Railway Company, the dock at Tyne Dock is only a tiny fraction of the size it once was having been filled in, like neighbouring Jarrow Slake to its west. Originally covering 50 acres, the dock was started around 1856 and was built by veterans returning from the Crimean War before finally opening in 1859. It had come about as a result of the Tyne Improvement Act and created more space for the loading of coal onto ships utilising four staithes and 42 coal drops. It was claimed that the dock could accommodate 500 vessels.
Ships entered a tidal basin before entering the dock via a lock gate designed by Robert Stephenson that was operated by engines designed by William Armstrong. Adding further weight to these illustrious names was Charles Mark Palmer, a driving force behind the opening of the dock. Steam locomotives attended the staithes in the dock accessed by four railways that crossed a neighbouring road by a row of railway bridges called the Tyne Dock Arches.
Most of the railway locomotives at the dock were involved in delivering coal to the ships berthed alongside the staithes. At the height of its activity, in 1913, Tyne Dock was involved in loading 7million tons of coal. The dock was also the terminus for the Stanhope and Tyne Railway that was linked to the Consett Iron and Steel works in north west Durham. The import of timber for colliery pit props was another important activity at Tyne Dock which incorporated an adjoining timber pond. Jarrow Slake was likewise used for timber ponds where logs of timber were stored.
In the 1990s the Port of Tyne developed riverside quays for the berthing of larger ships. By this time the coal trade had long since petered out before coming to a complete end. Most of the dock has now been filled in with around 400,000 cubic metres of dredged sediment and the land that occupies the site is used for the establishment of new industrial concerns. The landmark row of railway arches were demolished around 1977.
Serving the industries of Tyne Dock was a local town and community that was also known as Tyne Dock that grew up on the dock’s eastern side. Today, Tyne Dock is best-known as the birthplace of the novelist Catherine Cookson who was born Catherine McMullen at Number 5 Leam Lane, Tyne Dock on June 20, 1906. She was born to an unmarried mother, Kate Fawcett, which made Catherine’s tough dockside upbringing all the more difficult.
When she was six years old Catherine and her family moved to East Jarrow (between Tyne Dock and Jarrow) and from the age of 18 she worked in the local workhouse at nearby West Harton as a laundry checker. In 1929 she left the North East for Sussex to manage a laundry there and at the age of 27 saved up to buy a large house which she operated as a boarding house to supplement her income. It was in Sussex that she met local head teacher Tom Cookson and they married in 1940. Catherine suffered a series of miscarriages which resulted in depression and in her battle against this she took to writing at the age of 42 after joining a writers’ group in Hastings.
Cookson’s first novel Kate Hannigan was published in 1950 and it proved a success. She would go on to write 103 historical novels and became Britain’s top selling novelist selling over 100 million copies. Her books, set in and around Tyneside in a historical context drew on the experiences and memories of people and places in her younger life. In recognition of her achievements Catherine Cookson was awarded the OBE in 1985 and became a Dame in 1993. She died at her home in Newcastle in 1998.
Jarrow Slake to the west of Tyne Dock is now filled in and the land now occupied by a distribution centre for Nissan. It was historically a tidal mud flat and was closely associated with Bede’s monastery of St Paul.
The slake was in a much later period of history, a place of quite sinister notoriety for being the location of the last case of gibbeting in Britain. The incident that led to the gibbeting occurred on June 1st, 1832 at a location near a toll gate close to the slake and took place during a miners’ strike. Two striking miners, a William Jobling and a Ralph Armstrong had been drinking at South Shields before returning home. During their journey back they encountered a local magistrate, the 71 year old Nicholas Fairles.
Jobling approached Fairles and begged for money but Fairles refused. This enraged Jobling’s companion, Ralph Armstrong who beat Fairles with a stick and stones. The two men then fled but two hours later, Jobling was discovered at South Shields beach where he was arrested but Armstrong who had disappeared without trace was never seen again. Fairles agreed that Armstrong and not Jobling had been the perpetrator but Fairles died before the case went to trial.
A trial was held at Durham at which Jobling was found guilty and he was publically hanged in that city. Fearing trouble, there were over 100 soldiers at Jobling’s execution but there were no incidents other than a man who shouted “farewell Jobling” just as the final bolt was being removed to release the rope. This distracted Jobling causing him to turn his head which displaced the cord and protracted his suffering.
Jobling was of course dead but it did not end there as it had been ordered that the gibbet should be brought into force. Jobling’s body was tarred with pitch from head to foot and transported to Jarrow Slake by the soldiers. Here it was hung in chains and bolted into a cage hung from a 21 feet high wooden gibbet within the slake which was partly submerged by the tide every day.
Jobling’s gibbet was in full view of his unfortunate widow, Isabella who lived nearby. Here his body remained for several weeks until removed during the middle of the night of August 31st 1832 by persons unknown. The body was never recovered.
Fortunately the gruesome practice of the gibbet was outlawed in 1834. Part of Jobling’s gibbet was preserved and is now on display at South Shields Museum with a replica of Jobling’s body attached.