Currently in South Shields Museum there is a small exhibition featuring houses and residents of Westoe Village. One of the residents was local historian and photographer, Amy C. Flagg. Amy was born in Chapel House, on the site of a former medieval chapel, the house dates back to 1808. In previous blogs (July 19th 2018 & July 11th 2019) I’ve looked at her life and included a link to a 16min film I made about her local history and photographic work, an important historical archive for the town.
She documented the air raid damage on Shields during the Second World War and printed the photographs in her darkroom in the attic of Chapel House. These photographs and detailed records were just one part of the important historical archive that she left.
Another part of her legacy was a book printed in 1979 by South Tyneside Council Library Service which featured her detailed notes on The History of Shipbuilding in South Shields 1746-1946. The book includes a comprehensive list of ships, shipyard owners and important people of the town like Fairles, Temple, Wallis and the Readheads.
Amy put together a section about the shipbuilder John Readhead and Sons…‘In 1894 at his home, Southgarth in Westoe Village, he had been in failing health for some time but had visited the West Docks almost daily until the last few weeks’. During the Second World War she noted… ‘The West Docks may not have suffered as many attacks from the air as some parts of the town but there is no doubt that in terms of material damage, they were hard hit in April 1941 when major fires were started by incendiaries, and several bombs fell in Readheads yard’. Further research by Amy revealed that …’A ‘Satan’, one of the largest bombs dropped in England to date, fell on Newton & Nicholsons premises near the West Docks but failed to explode: many other bombs of sizeable calibre also fell in the river nearby’.
Her notes revealed what she called a ‘family’ feeling in the Readheads shipbuilding firm…’Not only between directors and employees, but department with department, staff with staff. Generation after generation has been proud and anxious to ‘get in’ sons or nephews to the various trades’. Amy realised the importance that Readheads played to South Shields especially during both world wars and recessions.
The book includes sections on place names like Pilot Street, Mill Dam, West Holborn and Coble Landing. At the bottom of The Lawe next to the river Tyne was Shadwell Street and Pilot Street which feature in the opening section of the book…’It is very fitting that these two streets should be the first section in these notes: the eastern extremity of the old township of South Shields was the birthplace and for long the nursery of shipbuilding in our town’.
Copies occasionally appear on EBay, and the book is available for reference only in the Local History section at The Word, South Shields. Check for details.
Gary Alikivi December 2019.