South Shields - Tyne and Wear

PUBLISHED: 15:43 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:22 20 February 2013



Canny South Shields has a great sense of place and a distinctive identity - the birthplace of Catherine Cookson, Barbour clothing and great fish and chips<br/><br/>Words and photographs by Tom Fennelly

What do you like best about eating out in South Shields - the famous curries or the legendary fish and chips, all served up on Ocean Road? Tell us whats great about this historic and much-loved North East port and resort.

South Shields has some notable bookmarks in the pages of its illustrious and colourful history. It is known to millions as the finishing line for the worlds biggest half marathon, it is the birthplace of one of Britains biggest selling authors, it provided the inspiration for the design of the first purpose-built lifeboat, it was the supply base for the building of the Roman Wall and the world-famous Barbour clothing firm started there.

A record 54,000 people took part in the 2009 Great North Run. Catherine Cookson was for many years Britains most popular author and, standing on a hill overlooking the Tyne estuary, the Roman fort of Arbeia is one of the most significant and important ancient history sites in Europe.

Yet some of the towns less well-known claims to fame make an equally important contribution to understanding what makes the South Shields tick today.

It is the place where Muhammad Ali renewed his marriage vows in one of the countrys first mosques, which serves one of the oldest settled Muslim communities in Britain.

It is home to arguably the best fish and chips and finest choice of curry restaurants in the country, and from an industrial heritage of coal and shipbuilding the town has re-invented itself and now imports coal and exports cars and grain through a world-class modern port.

South Shields boasts one of the finest stretches of coastline in urban Britain. It is a town of surprising contrasts where modern public art sits easily alongside expositions of a rich vein of history and a proud past.

It is a place where the canny folk of Shields have always made the most of what they have on the doorstep and, although a place which perhaps understates its achievements, the town continues to make major contribution to the regeneration of Tyneside.

The towns MP since 2001 is the current Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband, who from day one has immersed himself in the life of the Shields and its diverse community.

He says: South Shields has a great sense of place, a proud history and a bright future. It is a town with a distinctive identity and character shaped by generations from Roman times to those taking part in the 2009 Great North Run. While very much part of the North East, South Shields remains fiercely independent of Newcastle and Sunderland. It is the only parliamentary constituency since the Great Reform Act of 1832 never to have elected a Conservative MP.

Many things do change and the decline of traditional industry means that we need to continue to rebuild the economic base. The vision of the South Tyneside Transformation Plan is that we should take advantage of our special assets - location, coast and sea, strong community, proximity to thriving cities - and make them count.

South Shields is firmly on the food map of Great Britain As a popular seaside destination, South Shields has always been well-known for its fish and chips but none is more famous than Colmans in Ocean Road.

The multi-award-winning shop and restaurant has been serving up the nations favourite food since 1926 and it has been visited by some of the countrys top chefs, including Gary Rhodes and Brian Turner, who have praised the quality and consistency of the fish and chips served by Colmans.

Owner Richard Ords commitment and passion for the trade have certainly put South Shields on the food map of Great Britain. Every day the shop displays the names of the fishing boats landing the catch.

Its string of titles and accolades is well-deserved and its popularity with local people and visitors, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, is testimony to success of this family business with over 100 years of experience in the trade.

Colmans has won an international following with Richard serving up fish and chips for the Queens Birthday celebrations at the British Embassy in Guatemala in 2007. This year he went even better, cooking a staggering 850 helpings at the Queens Birthday party at the British Embassy in Rome.

Colmans has been National and regional winner of Fish and Chip Shop of the Year England and won the UKTV Food Heroes title in 2008. It was also voted Best UK Takeaway at the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2007, as well as being previous regional winner of National Chip Week. Colmans is also recommended by the BBC Good Food Magazine and Olive.

Ocean Road also boasts of one of the finest choices of Asian restaurants and richly deserves its nickname and reputation as Curry Row. An extraordinary artist inspired by the folk of Shields

With his own unique style of drawing, painting and sculpture, South Shield s artist Bob Olley has captured the very heart and soul of his home town.

His love of the Geordie folk, their way of life and, above all, their sense of humour, which is the essence of most of his work, has given him inspiration since he left the mining industry in 1968.

In 1890 a gentlemans public urinal was provide at Westoe Bridges and 82 years later it provided the inspiration for The Westoe Netty which has become perhaps Bobs most iconic work.

Among the famous recipients of Bob Olleys extraordinary works of art are Nelson Mandela. Charlton Heston, Sir Bobby Charlton, Tony Blair, Frank Carson and Dame Catherine Cookson.

His commissioned sculptures, murals and paintings appear in hospitals, Metro stations, public houses and health centres across the North East. A world-beating port bringing coals and cruise ships to Newcastle

Nowhere is the changing face of South Shields more dramatically shown than at Tyne Dock, which has been the heartbeat of the towns industrial fortunes for 150 years.

South Shields is the home of the Port of Tyne, which last year was named Port Operator of the Year, beating major league players situated in Holland, Egypt and Singapore. In a complete reversal of the saying coals to Newcastle, Port of Tyne was the fourth largest coal importer in the UK in 2008,

In another twist of history, Tyne Dock closed in August and a major new development is under way to create more operational land by infilling more of the old dock using dredged material from the New Tyne Crossing project. The dock was opened in 1859 after being dug out by hand to provide enough berths for 500 vessels serving mainly the coal and timber trade.

The modern port provides car export-import facilities with the 70-acre Tyne Car Terminal on the south side of the river serving Nissan, and the 50-acre Tyne Distribution Centre on the north side for VW Group imports. The port also has a major facility for exporting grain. The Tyne is now an established port of call for the major cruise ship operators.

The Port of Tyne success story is mirrored in the excellence of the world-renowned marine engineering and seamanship courses at South Tyneside College in South Shields, which attracts students from many countries and some of the biggest operators in the world of shipping.

Coastal splendour, culture, history, lifesaving heritage and famous visitors

The Leas is the National Trusts two-mile stretch of magnificent South Shields coastline reaching to Lizard Point and taking in Souter Lighthouse. This area of special scientific interest is ideal for cycling and walking and studying the abundant wildlife of the seashore.

Created by acclaimed Spanish sculptor, Juan Munoz in 1999, The Conversation Piece comprises 22 bronze life size figures and commands a superb view of South Shields harbour and the Tyne Piers.

Sculptor Irene Browns Spirit of South Shields holds a sailing ship in one arm while raising the other to greet the future. Nearby, The Fleet, also by Irene Brown, is a collection of seven stainless steel collier ships in full sail set in the sheltered water of Market Dock.

The Customs House consists of a theatre, cinema and art gallery. Built in the 1860s and beautifully renovated a few years ago, the Customs House has a growing reputation as the focus of artistic and cultural life on South Tyneside.

Arbeia Roman Fort, built around AD 160 soon was the military supply base for the 17 forts along the length of Hadrians Wall. Today, Arbeia is an important archaeological site and is one of the few places in Britain where visitors can see brought-to-life Roman buildings

The very first purpose-built lifeboat was designed here by William Wouldhave in 1789 and South Shields is also home to Britains second oldest preserved lifeboat, the Tyne, which stands as alongside the Wouldhave Memorial at the Pier Head. Nearby on the South Pier is the Watch House of the Volunteer Life Brigade, whose members have saved countless lives since 1866.South Shields market is one of the oldest and most popular markets in the North East. Held twice weekly in a traditional square, it has the 18th century old town hall at its heart and the historic church of St Hilda on the south side.

More recent famous visitors to South Shields in October were the ocean liner Queen Mary 2, which stopped off the South Pier on an around-Britain cruise; Lord Peter Mandelson who gave the annual South Shields Lecture, and the Eastern Crowned Warbler, which attracted hundreds of twitchers to Trow Quarry see this rare bird spotted in Britain for the first time and only the fourth ever recorded sighting in Europe.

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