BRANCH South Tyneside
St. Hilda’s Visitor Centre,
Market Place,
South Tyneside, NE33 1AN
Contact: Ann Franklin



Meetings on 3rd Wednesday in the month at 1.30 p.m.
(No meeting in July & August)
Visitors are always welcome


DateSubject of TalkSpeaker
17th August 2022No Meeting
21st September 2022North East Life in the 60s, 70s and 80sAndrew Clark
19th October 2022Holborn through the eyes of its peopleJohn Stobbs
16th November 2022‘Westoe Cemetery’ and the work being undertaken by the Friends of Westoe Cemetery
14th December 2022*** (Note change of date)Members Forum

Branch Reports

June 2022

Our meeting on the 15th June was a visit to St Stephens church, South Shields. 10 members attended plus 2 apologies.

The parish of St Stephen was created in 1848 and due to its location and long association with the River Tyne, the church became known as the “Pilots” church. Inside the church are brass plaques commemorating past Pilot Masters and those pilots who lost their lives on the pilot cutter Providence in 1849 and Protector in 1916. There is also a plaque in remembrance of those parishioners who gave their lives during WW1.

The last burial to take place at St Stephens was in 1947 with only a small section given over to retaining the headstones. The remainder of the grounds of the church are now lawn. Having looked around the church the group had a brief general discussion on future branch meetings.

May 2022

The May meeting was attended by 9 members + 2 apologies.

Prof. John Heckels was the speaker who talked on the complex issue of DNA and how testing can be a helpful tool in family research. Having first given a breakdown of how our DNA is made up, John went on to say that whilst technology continues to improve, DNA testing through sites such as Ancestry can be more limited in that they tend to go back no more than 5 generations. Well known cases when DNA was used were the identification of Richard III (using the female line) and the supposed children of Tsar Nicholas II who shared DNA with Prince Phillip. The various testing sites may well give differing results and they do not share information but data can be downloaded on to the free site Gedmatch. There was much food for thought for those who have done a DNA test but the results should always be treat with caution and like much of our family history we need to be aware of those ‘skeletons in the cupboard’.

April 2022

Our meeting held on 20th April was attended by 12 members + 2 apologies.

The speaker was Margaret Hedley whose talk gave a somewhat different aspect to Family and Local History presentations. Margaret explained how her initial family history research was undertaken in the days prior to the internet and had found much of it was centred in the Durham coalfields. However, when Margaret later tried to expand her “family tree” she was unable to find anything in the way of documentation which related to life for the women whose husbands, fathers, sons were employed in the coal mines in the 19th century.

Having taken early retirement from the teaching profession, Margaret studied for a degree and for her dissertation she chose ‘life for women in the Durham coalfields’, basing her research on her great great grandmother Hannah Hall. This lead to Margaret giving talks and receiving several approaches for her to write a book on her research, but it was not until 2017 the story was in such a way it would appeal to a broad spectrum of people. In 2019 “Hannah’s Story” was published in book form and following its success, “Hannah’s Daughter” was published in 2021. (can be found in the Library at MEA House). This talk was well received and certainly gives ‘food for thought’ on what can be done with our family history research.

March 2022

The meeting on the 16th March was attended by 14 members/visitors and 2 apologies.

The speaker was David Hastings who’s presentation “Wooden Boats & Iron Men” covered a comprehensive history of the RNLI, much of which is centred in the North East of England. The first purpose built lifeboat came into being in 1785 and in 1786 Dr John Sharp, Archdeacon of Northumberland commissioned a coble to be converted into a lifeboat in Bamburgh thus Bamburgh Castle became the first lifeboat station.

Following the loss of all of the crew on board the collier ‘Adventure’ which ran aground at the mouth of the Tyne in 1790, the Gentlemen of the Law commissioned a new lifeboat which was designed and built by South Shields residents William Woodhave (designer) and Henry Greathead (ship builder). The design of the lifeboat continued to be upgraded, often after a disaster had occurred such as the loss of the South Shields lifeboat “Providence” in 1849.

The R.N.L.I. was founded in 1824 with the support of King George IV and originally run via donations and annual subscriptions. The first charity street collection took place in Manchester in 1891. The R.N.L.I. has been responsible for saving so many lives at sea, the largest rescue being off Lizard Point, Cornwall in 1907 when 456 people. However, this has not been without cost when we have recently seen the 40th anniversary when 16 lives were lost when the Penlee lifeboat went to the rescue of the vessel “Solomon Brown”. The presentation concluded with a short film which recorded the effects on a small community when on the 18th March 1969, the Orkney lifeboat “Longhope” was launched to go to the aid of the vessel “Irene” and when 8 men were lost.

An extremely well presented talk which is highly recommended to other branches.

February 2022

The meeting on 16th February was attended by 9 members + 3 apologies.

Andrea Lang took us down memory lane with her talk on day trips and holidays to the seaside. First to develop were the spa towns such as Harrogate, Brighton and the seaside resort of Scarborough where “grand” hotels were built for the more affluent members of the population. Margate began developing lodging houses in the 1770s which offered accommodation for the less wealthy. The Factories Act of 1850 and the coming of the railways meant workers in Lancashire were able to take trips to Blackpool.

Piers, initially built to control the sea, started to become pleasure piers, the first one being opened in Brighton in 1823. The longest pier in the UK is in Southend which was built in 1895 whilst Blackpool has 3 piers. Nearer to home construction on the North & South piers began in 1850s and Roker pier was built in 1903 using unemployed labour.

Bathing machines for ladies, amusement parks, bathing pools and stalls on the beach all came into being in the late 1800s/early 1900s. The talk concluded with the all too familiar things of our childhood like donkey rides on the beach, shuggy boats, Punch & Judy as well as ice cream, candy floss and the fish & chip cafes.

January 2022

The meeting held on Wednesday was attended by 10 members. The speaker was Susan Lynn whose talk was entitled “Hunting of the Whale – Tyneside Men Venturing into Arctic Waters”.

Susan explained how her research into this topic stemmed from her own family history and how whale fishing from the Tyne started to grow in prominence in the 18th century, particularly during the Industrial Revolution. Whale blubber could be used for many things and Howden became the centre of the blubber boiling industry. Ships would leave the Tyne with a crew of around 50, often recruiting additional crew in the Orkney Isles. Dependent upon conditions in the Arctic, ships were often away from Port for some 7 months. In 1835 weather conditions were so bad that several ships were trapped in the ice.

Masters and crews brought back some interesting artefacts for want of a better term, which can be viewed in the Hancock Museum in Newcastle. What was a successful industry with over 50 ships sailing from the Tyne in the mid 19th century started to decline and by the early 1900s whale fishing had faded into history.

December 2021

The meeting on the 8th December was attended by 8 people, which was a Members Forum – researching family history in and around South Shields. It was both an interesting and productive meeting, which enabled everyone to share their experiences, not only into where they could research their ancestry but we also brought into the discussion some of the social history of South Shields. Hopefully we were able to offer some help to the newer members who are starting out researching their ancestry.

Last updated: 31st July 2022