BRANCH South Tyneside
The Charles Dickens Room (1st floor),
The Word,
Market Place,
South Tyneside, NE33 1JF
Contact: Ann Franklin



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


Date Subject of Talk Speaker
13th December 2023*** (Note change of date)Members Forum
21st February 2024Members Forum
19th June 2024BRANCH VISIT – TBC
18th September 2024Branch AGM

Branch Reports

November 2023

We had 11 members attend the meeting on 15th November plus 3 apologies, when the Branch Secretary gave a presentation entitled “The Stowaway”. From a literal ‘find in the attic’ Ann researched the life of Edith Williams, a young English woman who, having lived in Melbourne, Australia since childhood, she wanted to return to England. Unable to afford the passage she stowed away on a Swedish windjammer, the C.B. Pederson. This turned out to be a somewhat epic voyage as not only was there a stowaway on board, but instead of the usual cargo of grains, there was a selected group of fare paying passengers, plus Captain Dalstrom decided to navigate the notorious Torres Straits, a somewhat ‘graveyard’ for sailing ships.

The find in the attic mysteriously linked Ann’s father to this tale from his days as a Radio Officer in the Merchant Navy. Having spent time in South Shields with the Franklin family, Edith returned to her native Bootle where she married in 1938. On the 20th December 1940, in an attempt to destroy the Atlantic fleet moored in the docks, intensive bombing took place over three nights which became known as the ‘Christmas Blitz’. On the first night of these raids, Edith was among many civilian casualties who sadly lost their lives.

The meeting concluded with a very active discussion on family history research in general.

October 2023

The meeting held on the 18th October was a Members Forum, lead by John Stobbs, on the theme of ‘Life in South Tyneside between the Wars’.

17 members/visitors (plus 2 apologies) took part in the discussion on a time of economic depression, welfare reforms, social unrest and female emancipation. John had methodically researched facts and figures on unemployment and comparable wage rates in industries such as shipbuilding and coal mining. Also discussed was the provision of services such as roads, parks, libraries and health as poor housing and the fact South Shields was a port, lead to high instances of TB.

Unfortunately, time ran out on us and John has kindly agreed to do a follow-up on this topic at one of our meetings in 2024.

September 2023

We had 13 members plus 2 apologies attend the meeting on the 20 September which commenced with the Branch AGM. Current Officers agreed to stand for re-election and were unanimously accepted.

From conversations with our members earlier this year it became apparent that there was little, if any, of our members making use of the NDFHS website. Therefore, our Chairman made a splendid job of showing how the Membership Section can be accessed and the extensive records which can be used with their family history research.

June 2023

At the meeting held on 21st June, Catrin Galt, the Community Librarian, Family History and Heritage, gave a very detailed and comprehensive talk, on not only the resources at The Word, but other areas which could be of interest to those researching their family history in South Tyneside. 12 Members present at the meeting.

Following the move to The Word, much of the material such as parish records, Shields Gazette have now been digitised and are available to view on microfilm, whilst the more valuable documents have been retained either in The Word or Jarrow Town Hall and these cannot be accessed by the general public. The Local History section at The Word also welcomes donations or will purchase books written by local authors.

Some of the suggested websites for viewing at home were South Tyneside Births, Deaths and Marriages, National Library of Scotland, Richard Kelly collection as well as the Remembrance site to those from South Tyneside who served in the war which includes over 9000 names.

No meetings July and August.

May 2023

11 members plus 2 apologies attended the meeting on the 17 May when the speaker was Susan Lynn whose talk ‘California Calling’ relates to her own family history.

Having been contacted by an unknown American family member, Susan started her research with the story of John Craster Gunn who was born 1814 in Dotwick Street, North Shields. He became a Master Mariner, but having lost a ship in the Atlantic and unable to find another ship, he travelled to New York then on to New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was here he married, became involved in the whaling industry and where he settled for 14 years during which time he became a naturalised citizen. John and his family then moved to the west coast of USA where they settled in Oakland, California. John became the owner of the ‘John J’, a ship initially used for the transportation of people but then became a whaler. Having run aground on the mud flats at Oakland, John Craster Gunn lost his life in 1878 when he fell into the hold of the ship.

Susan then went on to recount how several members of the Gunn family had followed in the footsteps of John by travelling and settling in the USA. As always a most interesting and informative talk from Susan.

April 2023

The meeting held on 19th April was attended by 13 members plus 4 apologies. The speaker, Jane Gulliford Lowes, whose talk “The Horsekeeper’s Daughter”, had been highly recommended to the Branch and she did not disappoint.

Jane’s story begins with a box of old photographs which she had been given to look through as a small child whilst visiting family. It was one particular snap that held Jane’s fascination and which lead her to research the life of Sarah Marshall. Born in West Rainton, Co. Durham in 1863, Sarah was the first child of Thomas and Margaret. Thomas’s occupation was that of a ‘horsekeeper’ who was responsible for looking after the pit ponies and like many mining families, the Marshall’s moved from village to village within the Durham coalfields in search of work, finally settling in the Seaham area. Times were harsh and Sarah went into service in the village of Seaton.

As part of a drive to recruit single females into domestic service in Australia, Sarah obtained an assisted passage, arriving in Brisbane on 13th December 1886. There she went into service before marrying William Campbell, a man considerably older than herself. They had a son but when Brisbane suffered an economic decline, the family moved to a station in Queensland. Whilst living in a slab hut in the rain forest in Tamborine Mountain, Sarah passed away in 1911 leaving William and their son to run their farm. This was a thoroughly enjoyable talk which is recommended to other branches.

March 2023

Branch member John Stobbs was the speaker at the meeting on 15th March which was attended by 14 members/visitors. This was an extremely well researched presentation on life in the Holborn area of South Shields in the early 20th century.

The Edwardian era brought with it social and economical changes. Being located along the riverfront, the Holborn workforce consisted mainly of seamen, miners, factory workers, labourers and clerical workers. However, following the end of WW1 there was a significant effect in North East trade which resulted in a high unemployment rate in many of the N.E. industries, a fact which is highlighted by the 1921 Census. Edwardian social reforms included the Education Act, drafted by Arthur Balfour in 1902, which brought in free education and abolished the school boards in England and Wales. The first Arab boarding house for seamen opened in Holborn in 1909 as many of the seamen arriving in South Shields were employed as stokers (firemen) on board British ships.

For those in the group who have family history in South Shields, John’s talk gave us a good insight of how our ancestors had lived in the early 20th century.

February 2023

14 members/visitors (plus 1 apology) attended the meeting on the 15th February which was a talk by Sue Balmer entitled “Bringing Arbeia to Life”. Sue started her talk with a brief questionnaire on the Latin language followed by an explanation of how the Roman Empire had covered much of Western Europe, parts of the Middle East and most of the North African countries. The Romans brought with them such things as language, bridges, aqua-ducts and central heating.

Arbeia was founded in AD160 as a garrison which held around 600 troops and also a depot for goods being transported by sea. Being located on The Lawe in South Shields this offered a good vantage point. Troops and goods were then transferred by road to Corstopitum and along the Roman wall, the construction of which had started in AD122 during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Several Roman Emperors were known to have spent time at the Fort including Septimus Severas who was responsible for enlarging Arbeia to house granaries and Barates who married his slave Regina. Regina died at an early age and was buried at Arberia whilst Barates is buried in Corbridge. Victorian housing was built on the Lawe with several streets being named after Roman Emperors, i.e. Trajan Avenue, Vespasian Street, Julian Avenue.

Much of the housing built on the site was cleared in the 1970s and work began on excavating the ruins, and there has been a partial reconstruction of the Fort, the most notable being the West Gate. Whether this is a good or bad thing is open to debate.

January 2023

Andrew Clark was our speaker on the 18th January, when he spoke to a full room of members and visitors on what was another enthralling talk ‘Life on the Home Front during WW2’.

Two days prior to war being declared on Germany, the British government put into place ‘Operation Pied Piper’ which was a plan to evacuate women and children from possible target areas into a safer environment. Several of our members recalled they had family members who were sent to Cumbria. Anderson and Morrison shelters were introduced as well as communal shelters such as in the Newcastle Grainger Market. The Victoria tunnel was also used during WW2 but even so there was a high loss of civilian life during the blackouts. South Shields Market Place and the Wilkinsons Factory in North Shields were areas which suffered direct hits from the bombing, with a considerable loss of life.

Foods such as tripe, sheeps heads, heart and even horsemeat were eaten during the war. Not only food coupons but clothing coupons were introduced which continued after the war had ended. These were in addition to the Identity Cards. For those who were unable to enlist there were a number of volunteering jobs such as the Home Guard and women working in the shipyards. There were metal drives where items such as pans, railings etc were given up for war work.

These were just some of the topics Andrew covered in his presentation; a talk which is well recommended to other branches.

December 2022

The Branch meeting on the 14th December was purely informal. Although there were a few apologies due mainly to health issues, a small group of us met up in the cafe at The Word where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking about, not only family history, but on memories of life in South Shields and life in general.

Last updated: 5th December 2023