In 2016 I made a documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ about South Shields photographer and local historian Amy Flagg who lived in the Westoe area of the town. Her most notable work was recording the impact of bomb damage on South Shields during the Second World War. When doing some local history research in The Word I came across a new book about Westoe.
The book goes into great detail not only of the houses but it’s residents. The section on Chapel House, where the Flagg family lived, includes a copy of an inventory of furniture which Amy listed for 21st May 1941. It includes a typewriter and photographic equipment in an attic, a what not and stirrup pump in the hall, with a gongstand in the breakfast room – it’s all in the detail. To find out more I talked to the book’s author and member of South Shields Local History group, Dorothy Fleet….
More recently the Village has undergone a revival and many houses have been restored as cherished family homes. It has regained it’s elegance and has a sense of the atmosphere of yesteryear. Although it is now totally surrounded by our busy town, Westoe Village remains a place apart. This book tells the story of each of the houses and the families who lived there from the mid-1700s. About 200 years ago it gradually became the desired location for families of successful local businessmen, who often worked together for the successful development of the town. For centuries before then it was a remote rural village of farms and cottages. (Map of 1768 with the River Tyne flowing out into the German Ocean, now the North Sea. A blue arrow points to Westoe at the bottom of the pic).
One of the stories in my book about the history and notable residents of the Village concerns Mrs Paine and her family. In 1780 a dashing Royal Navy Lieutenant called William Fox was in command of the ‘Speedwell’, an armed vessel on press gang duty in Peggy’s Hole on the North Shields bank of the river Tyne.
Mrs Paine’s young daughter, Catherine, fell in love with William and they arranged to elope to Gretna Green. Catherine joined William in a horse drawn carriage and they travelled at speed, changing horses at the posting stations along the way. Married by the blacksmith at Gretna, they returned home the following day and their marriage was accepted by the family. The following year Catherine gave birth to their son, George Townsend Fox.
Their romantic story ended tragically when William fell (or was pushed) into the icy cold river late one night when boarding the ‘Speedwell’. His fellow crew members recovered his body but, with no knowledge of hypothermia, presumed he was dead.
Left almost penniless Catherine returned to her family home. By 1807 her son George Townsend had married and had eight children, one was William who emigrated to New Zealand. After a highly successful legal and political career there, he served four terms as their Prime Minister and his childhood home in the Village is now a privately run hotel that bears his name.
The book is already selling well and with all proceeds going to the Local History Group to hopefully keep the group going forward and remaining solvent. With all the research, design and illustrations it’s been a real team effort.
For further information about ‘Westoe, a History of the Village and it’s Residents’
Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2019.