South Tyneside History website celebrates the heritage of the borough by preserving photographic and printed history. The images have been digitally recorded from original items held by South Tyneside library.

Included are historical maps, old postcards and thousands of images by notable South Shields photographers James Cleet, Amy Flagg and Freddie Mudditt – recently I’ve been invited to add my collection to the site so I’ll be in good company.

pic by Amy Flagg of South Shields Market bombed during Second World War. Courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

For over 25 years I’ve photographed South Tyneside, the main focus of this collection of images (2,000) were taken over the past decade of the changing face of South Shields.

The collection is a unique documentary record of the demolition of buildings at the sea front and market place, to construction of The Word, Littlehaven Promenade, Harton Quays, Haven Point and more – if it was getting knocked down or built up I was there!

Pic taken 11 March 2013 with South pier in the background and a flooded sea front car park, now the site of Littlehaven Promenade and Seawall.

The images will be available to view soon in the meantime why not check the site

 South Tyneside Libraries (

Gary Alikivi   January 2022


In 2016 when researching in South Shields Library about Historian and Photographer Amy Flagg (1893-1965), as well as her photographs of damage to the town by German air attacks during the Second World War, there was a number of personal scrapbooks full of the towns history and genealogy of families in the borough.

Also included was ‘Air Raids on South Shields’, these typed notes and diary entries were a record of official statistics of enemy attacks since the first bomb dropped in 1940. The next few posts feature selected pages from Amy’s war diaries. Detail from Tyneside newspapers and maps have been added to some entries.

pic Amy Flagg. Courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

This post tells how in over two hours King Street and the Market Place were made almost derelict by high explosive bombing. This was the night when the German Luftwaffe carried out an intensive and determined air raid on South Shields.

Thursday, 2nd/Friday, 3rd October 1941:

At 20.05 the Air Raid Message ‘Red’ was received and the ‘Alert’ sounded. A large number of enemy aircraft, flying at low altitude came in over the river. One or more of these planes succeeded in cutting loose some of the barrage balloons and it was evident that a heavy attack was developing. At 22.30 the Air Raid Message ‘White’ was received and the ‘Raiders Passed’ was sounded. In between the times Shields suffered.

The first bombs fell at 20.55. Wardle’s Timber Yard in Long Row where stacks of timber was damaged and a boundary wall was blown down blocking the road leading to Brigham and Cowan’s Shipyard. The attack was then carried, at 21.20 to the riverside and the Market Place. Three bombs fell near the river, one on vacant land near Comical Corner, one in Shadwell Street where the road and some adjoining railway lines were torn up, and the third on the new quay near Pilot Street.

A stick of bombs fell over the Market Place causing some of the worst damage done in the raid – one fell in vacant ground between the foot of River Drive and the Tyne Dock Engineering Company’s premises in Thrift Street. An Air Raid Warden on duty in River Drive was killed by blast and on the north side of the Market Place a messenger was seriously hurt.

Two more fell in the Market Place, one on the entrance to the shelter under the south east quarter, near East Street, the explosion fractured a gas main which burst into flame and set fire to a trolley bus standing nearby, the other fell on the shelter in the north east quarter.

The Market Place fires soon spread to adjoining buildings. Miller’s Stores caught fire and the flames crossed East Street and spread to the Tram Hotel, the Grapes Hotel, Jackson’s the Tailors at the corner of King Street and the King’s Shoe shop. The whole of this block was soon ablaze and had it not been for the solidity of the dividing walls at Lipton’s and Mason’s shops, more fire damage would have occurred in King Street.

pics Amy Flagg. Taken from her pamphlet ‘Humanity & Courage’.

Another bomb fell on Dunn’s Paint Stores and shop, demolishing the building and starting major fires spreading to Hanlon’s shop, the Locomotive Hotel, Campbell’s Lodging House and the Union Flag public house. Tins of burning oil and paint were hurled into the air and started fires in the City of Durham public house, the Metropole Hotel and the Imperial Hotel.

Crofton’s drapery stores at the corner of King Street was set on fire by a leaking gas main, then the fire spread to Woolworth’s next door, which was completely gutted. The side entrance to the Regal Theatre and Galt’s Fruit Store in Union Alley were also damaged by fire.

With so many fires and so much damage to the water mains, water had to be relayed from the Ferry Landing and the static water tank in North Street. Despite many rumours at the time, the loss of life in the Market Place shelters was comparatively small – twelve killed, five were rescued, this was partly due to the fact that as the road to the Market Place from Union Alley had been blocked in the previous raid, many people from the cinema had to go in the opposite direction to the shelters in North Street.

Three men on their way to work were crossing the Market Place as the bombs began to fall, one took refuge in the shelter nearby, but was injured, the second was killed just outside the shelter and the body of the third was never found. It was suspected that he had been blown by blast into the burning paint shop, long digging to recover his body was without result.

pic Amy Flagg. Courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

At daylight on Friday morning, the Market Place looked like the ruins of Ypres. Nothing could be seen but broken buildings the square was littered with debris and a tangle of fire hose. It was a scene of complete devastation. In addition, all remaining windows in St Hilda’s church were shattered, the roof dislodged and old stone walls pitted and scarred with shrapnel.

The Old Town Hall suffered heavy interior harm and none of the business premises was left intact. All the overhead wires were down and it was not until the afternoon of October 9th that buses were able to pass along King Street.

Gary Alikivi  April 2021

Link to Amy Flagg’s war photographs on the excellent South Tyneside History website.

Link to Amy Flagg documentary ‘Westoe Rose’.

WESTOE ROSE – making the documentary about South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg | ALIKIVI (


In 2016 when researching in South Shields Library about Historian and Photographer Amy Flagg (1893-1965), as well as her photographs of damage to the town by German air attacks during the Second World War, there was a number of personal scrapbooks full of the towns history and genealogy of families in the borough.

Also included was ‘Air Raids on South Shields’, these typed notes and diary entries were a record of official statistics of enemy attacks since the first bomb dropped in 1940. The next few posts feature selected pages from Amy’s war diaries. Detail from Tyneside newspapers and maps have been added to some entries.

In this post Miss Flagg describes in great detail a large scale enemy attack by over 70 German planes. Water, gas and telephone lines damaged, shipyards under siege, trains flung around like toys, houses obliterated, Ingham Infirmary on full alert. An attack so severe that one of the largest bombs in the country,  a ‘Satan’, was dropped on the town.

Fire brigades from across the North East were called in to help – it was a night when South Shields was caught in a ‘blitz by fire’.

Thursday 10th April 1941:

Shortly before the siren sounded, enemy aircraft were heard, ground defences became very active and two high explosive bombs were dropped. Then came a shower of incendiaries, an estimated 6,000 falling in the Tyne Dock area, Mile End Road, River Drive and Wapping Street district. It soon became clear that a large scale attack was developing and directed  on the shipbuilding, ship repairing and timber yards on the riverside.

After this, a series of flares were dropped, illuminating the whole region. Major fires were started on the west side of Tyne Dock, Redhead’s Yards, Middle Docks, Tyne Dock Engineering Company, Wardle’s Timber Yard and Brigham and Cowan’s Store Shed.

The Queen’s Theatre, the Railway Station tower and houses in Fawcett Street and Robertson Street were ablaze. Houses in Westoe Road, Tyne Dock and east Jarrow were also involved.

Pic. Amy Flagg. Taken from her pamphlet ‘Humanity & Courage’.

The resources of the Fire Services were fully extended and a call for ‘Mutual Aid’ had to be made – this was a reciprocal system that enabled a service to get help from other districts. Fire Brigades from Durham, Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland arrived, each town sending their complement of Rescue and First Aid Parties.

During the progress of this blitz by fire, a large number of high explosive bombs were dropped, causing great havoc. The largest number of casualties were found in the Mile End Road area, including Empress St, Palatine St, Fort St, and William Terrace. Two large calibre bombs fell close together in this thickly populated part of town, completely shattering a whole block of houses. Bombs also fell on the railway line near Studley Bridge and Ellesmere Street, where passenger coaches were flung about like toys.

Several bombs fell in Redhead’s Yards, doing much structural damage. Bombs also fell in Cayton and Armstrong’s Timber Yard, the TIC Docks, Middle Docks and a Fire Station in Anderson Street, and on the Battery Field at Westoe.

In King George Road, two houses were obliterated and a bomb also fell at the Deans. Prince Edward Road West was blocked by a large crater on the embankment below Dean Terrace. A water main burst, filling the crater and burying a motor car in mud.

pic. Amy Flagg. Taken from her pamphlet ‘Humanity & Courage’.

One of the largest bombs dropped in this country to date, was found unexploded in Newton and Nicholson’s premises, Templetown. It was a 1,800kg bomb, recognised as a ‘Satan’. The estimated number of bombs dropped was 38, but this does not include many which fell in the river, the harbour and the sea near the pier.

50 people were rendered homeless or evacuated. Two Rest and Feeding Centres were opened and maintained until all were housed elsewhere. On the following morning a request for the help of fifty men was made under the Police Mutual Aid Scheme. Two Mobile Canteens also came to supplement local arrangements for the feeding of personnel.

Casualties – 25 killed, 11 seriously injured, 65 slightly injured. Toll in human life was also taken at the Mile End Road area where a family of four was wiped out, but their pet spaniel was rescued alive after 80 hours. Four soldiers were injured at Marsden Battery through a shell burst from their own gun. Three suffered from head injuries and one from abdominal injury.

Gary Alikivi  April 2021

Link to Amy Flagg’s war photographs on the excellent South Tyneside History website.

Link to Amy Flagg documentary ‘Westoe Rose’.

WESTOE ROSE – making the documentary about South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg | ALIKIVI (


In 2016 when researching in South Shields Library about Historian and Photographer Amy Flagg (1893-1965), along with her photographs of damage to the town by German air attacks during the Second World War, there was a number of personal scrapbooks full of the towns history and genealogy of families in the borough.

Also included was ‘Air Raids on South Shields’, the typed notes and diary entries were a record of official statistics of enemy attacks since the first bomb dropped in 1940. The next few posts feature selected pages from Amy’s war diaries. Detail from Tyneside newspapers and maps have been added to some entries.

In one of the entries Amy recorded the night the war came to ‘Chapel House’, the Flagg family home in Westoe Village on Thursday, 16th April 1942:  

At 00.45 four bombs fell in the grounds of residential property in Westoe. The first on the edge of a field at ‘Seacroft’, failed to explode and was dealt with by the Bomb Disposal Squad. The second and third fell in the gardens of ‘Fairfield’ and ‘Eastgarth’ respectively. The last one fell on the lawn 10 yards from ‘Chapel House’.

No casualties were reported but considerable damage was done to a large number of houses in the neighbourhood, including over 40 roofs of houses in Horsley Hill Road which were penetrated by lumps of clay thrown up by the explosions.

In her diaries Amy recorded incidents that happened on Tyneside, she would add accounts of what she had seen, descriptions of her photographs or what was in official Air Raid Precautions (ARP) reports.

Saturday 22nd June 1940: The first bombs dropped on South Shields were four high explosives dropped near the junction of Marsden Road and Centenary Avenue. Several houses were slightly damaged by shrapnel. There were no casualties.

Friday 9th August 1940: One high explosive bomb fell in a garden at the back of Lawe Road near Pearson Street. Four people in an Anderson shelter ten feet from the crater were uninjured. One Home Guard was killed by machine-gun fire. No casualties from the bomb.

Pic. Amy Flagg. Courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

A comprehensive report by Amy detailed a raid by German aircraft on Sunday 16th February 1941: 

This night will be long remembered in South Shields. 130 enemy aircraft were engaged in action on the coast from Hull to Berwick. Bombers and minelayers came over in waves and were met with intense Anti-Aircraft fire.

At 00.25 a Heinkel 111, was hit by gunfire and collided with a Barrage Balloon cable on the North Foreshore. Part of one wing was broken off and fell on the shore. The plane lost height very quickly and crashed in Beach Road.

One member of the crew bailed out but his parachute caught on the overhead wires and he hung downwards until rescued. He was badly injured and died shortly after admission to the Ingham Infirmary. The remainder of the crew perished with their plane on impact with the ground.

At 00.50 a mine, which had not been released from the bomb rack of the plane, exploded with terrific force. It was seen and heard from beyond Newcastle and windows were broken as far away as Tynemouth, North Shields, Westoe and Laygate.

The Model Yacht House in South Marine Park and a small building were completely wrecked. Parts of the plane, maps, papers and clothing were subsequently collected and dredged from the lake.

The explosion had tragic results – one officer of the Borough Police Force and one Auxiliary Fireman were killed. Two other members of the Auxiliary Fire Service died in hospital. Seventeen more members of the Police Force, Fire Brigade and Auxiliary Fire Service were injured, some very gravely, and were admitted to the Ingham Infirmary.

Other enemy aircraft, apparently taking the flames as target, dropped bombs on Broderick Street, where an elderly couple lost their lives and several houses were demolished. On the junction of Lawe Road and St Aidan’s Road, damage was caused to St Aidan’s church and a number of houses, ‘Sea Merge’ and ‘Tyne View’ being completely wrecked.

During the same raid six parachute mines descended on the South Sands near Trow Rocks, and on some fields near the New Marsden Inn, but caused no damage or casualties. Many houses severely damaged and widespread breakage of windows was suffered in many parts of the town. 85 people were rendered homeless, some of whom were taken to an Emergency Centre.

Gary Alikivi  April 2021

Link to Amy Flagg’s war photographs on the excellent South Tyneside History website.

Link to Amy Flagg documentary ‘Westoe Rose’.

WESTOE ROSE – making the documentary about South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg | ALIKIVI (

FAMILY PORTRAIT – Downey photography studios in South Shields & London

As I was sorting out some books this picture card fell out of one of them. It’s something I picked up at Shields Market a few year ago. I’m not sure who the sitter is but the photo was taken by the Downey brothers, William and Daniel, who along with older brother James, had studios in the North East then moved to London.

Commercial photography was in it’s infancy when the brothers were taking pictures of royalty and personalities like Oscar Wilde.

Looking back to photographers in South Shields if it was a competition I couldn’t call it, they have different qualities. There was James Cleet with his housing clearance pictures during the 1930’s, and reported to be a bit of a showman in his mac and bowler hat, especially at Tyneside ship launches he would signify when he was finished by making a large sweep of his bowler hat and take a deep bow in front of the crowds.

Amy Flagg’s unforgettable Second World War images of a scarred town after the German bombs hit, then in her own darkroom printing photographs of devastating images of a town she loved, important pictures that still have a huge impact today.

Records show the Downey brothers worked out of a studio in London, but before that were based in South Shields. William Downey was born in King Street, South Shields in 1829, with help from his older brother James and together with brother Daniel, they set up a photographic business in the Market Square in 1860.

The studio became successful resulting in branches opening across the North East in Blyth, Morpeth and old Eldon Square in Newcastle.

In 1862 Queen Victoria commissioned William Downey to take a series of photographs illustrating the Hartley Colliery disaster, near Blyth. Soon after William and his brother Daniel moved to London where they accepted commissions from dignitaries and aristocracy including the UK royal family, the Emperor of Russia and King of Norway.

The brothers also took pictures of show business personalities from their studio at 57 & 61 Ebury Street in Belgravia, while older brother James, as well as his grocery business, kept a studio open in South Shields.

Big brother James was a huge help to William and Daniel. He was a grocer and importer of German yeast, with premises in West Holborn in 1865. 10 year later he had two shops trading as a grocer and confectioner out of 17 & 19 Eldon Street.

By 1881 he had one shop for his grocery business and opened the other as a photography studio. There is a record of a Frederick Downey at 19 Eldon Street, I suspect that he was James’ son who carried on the family photography business.

Meanwhile in London, Daniel and William continued their work of royal sittings and portraits. Sadly, Daniel passed away in Bethnal Green in 1881 while William died in Kensington in 1915. His son, William Edward, kept on the family business, as did his son, Arthur.

A lasting record of their work is an impressive set of 5 books called ‘The Cabinet Gallery’ printed by Cassell & Company of London, Paris and Melbourne in 1890. The volumes include 36 photographs each, plus a summary of the subject. Kings, Queens, Professors and actors all sat for a Downey portrait, the attention to detail made them stand out among other photographers and ensured customers would return. Their stamp is on the back of some pages.

Throughout the early 1900’s there is records for a Downey photography studio at 17 & 19 Eldon Street, but unfortunately by 1912 the trail goes cold. What happened to the Downeys in London and South Shields? Is there more to their story? If you have any information to add get in touch.

Source: Census records, Burgess Rolls, Wards Directories, Wikipedia, The Word South Shields.

Gary Alikivi  December 2019

HOLBORN – stories from a changing town

Like many towns in the UK, South Shields is changing, and in 2010 I made a documentary to capture those changes, in particular the area of Holborn, once called the industrial heartland of South Shields.  These short extracts are taken from interviews with workers and ex-residents of Holborn. 


Readheads Shipbuilders docks photo by John Bage.

The shipbuilding industry was a big part of Holborn…

Alex Patterson: My very first memory was going to a ship launch. There was a massive cloud of dust and rust, and smells of oil that left an impression on me that stayed all my life. I was a Naval Architect by profession and retired about 10 years ago.

John Keightly: I started in the Middle Dock in 1959 straight from school, the boys High school in South Shields. I was a carpenter. We used to hang all the staging of the big centre tanks an’ like I say no health and safety, no harnesses, no ropes, just walking along 9 inch planks 70 foot up.

Malcolm Johnson: Well I started in Readheads Dock when I left school. The noise was tremendous, you couldn’t hear yersel speak at one time. There was no ear protection like there is now. There was about 4 or 5 guys in every riveting squad, the riveter, the holder up, the catcher, the heater, I mean you can imagine the number of people that was in the yard at the time.

As I say the noise was tremendous you just had to live with it, it was part and parcel of yer day’s work.

John Bage: I started work in Readheads August 1964 three weeks after leaving South Shields Grammar and Technical school. I always wanted to be a draughtsman so applied to Readheads and was accepted for a 5 year apprenticeship as an outfit draughtsman.

Richard Jago: Me dad went into the Middle Docks, I think in the 1940’s when Sir Laurie Edwards owned it. He was there right up until he was made redundant in the ‘80s.

Liz Brownsword: Me Grandfather he worked in Readheads from the age of 14 until he was 77. Worked there all his life. He had to go into the docks because his parents couldn’t afford for his education no more you know. Me mother had lot’s of cleaning job’s when we were little.

Dignitaries that used to come into Readheads Docks used to admire the dark mahogany staircase and panels. Me mother used to say ‘Well they admire them but we’ve got to keep the bloomin’ things clean, keep them dusted you know’.

John Bage: There was almost a thousand people working there at the time because we got a lot of orders for building ships and the dry docks also had a lot of work. They were almost queuing up to go into the docks for work on them.

John Keightly: Well there was British tankers, Shell tankers, Coltex, every tanker you could name was in and out of the Middle Docks. As well as cargo boats, molasses carriers, grain carriers they covered all sorts of ship’s.

John Bage: Readheads built quite a few ship’s when I was there and a few of them returned to dry dock’s for survey. But one in particular was the Photenia, which belonged to a local shipping company, The Stag Line of North Shields. They used to bring the ship back to dry dock for conversion to a cable layer.

The ship would then go off to New Zealand and lay power cables from North Island to South Island, and then return to the docks about a year later to have all the equipment removed which would then be stored until a year later the ship got another contract for cabling. It would come back to the dock again, and the equipment would be put back on the ship again. A lot of equipment and work for the dry docks.

John Keightly: People in the market used to know when the ferry was in with all the smoke. Well they knew when the whalers were in with the smell, it was horrendous. When you got home yer ma wouldn’t allow you in the house. Used to have to strip off in the wash house, have a rub down before you were allowed anywhere near the door. I just loved the place, (the docks) it was hard work and they were strict but the camaraderie was just fantastic.

Immigrants arrived from many different countries and settled in Holborn….

Hildred Whale: My Great Grandfather was Karl Johan Suderland who was born in Sweden in 1855. He came to this country I believe, in the 1870’s. He did try his hand at a number of job’s, such as ship’s chandler, mason, he was a butcher at one time but eventually all these skill’s came together when he decided to run a boarding house at 67 West Holborn.

Yusef Abdullah: The boarding house was run by a boarding house master who was an agent for the seaman and the shipping companies where he got them employment. Also the arab seaman didn’t drink so there was no kind of social life only the boarding house where they used to have a meal, play dominos, card’s, meet friend’s etc…

Photographer James Cleet captured the housing clearences in Holborn during the 1930’s..….

Ann Sharp: I work with an invaluable collection of photograph’s here at South Tyneside Central Library and one of the area’s we have been focusing on along the riverside area of South Shields is Holborn. Where condition’s have changed considerably, industry and housing have changed over time. We are particularly looking at the photograph’s by Amy Flagg and James Henry Cleet.

We secured some funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to work with the community and volunteers and they’ve been helping us to retrieve the photograph’s from the collection to scan the photograph’s and looking at the images to find out historical information.

From that information they are compiling, others are actually inputting that information into a database. Then liberating the photograph’s onto the internet so that other people can find out what life was like for people along the riverside.

Bob Overton: (Owner, Rose and Crown pub) In the mid ‘90s someone turned up in the bar with some black bag’s and asked if I was interested in some old photo’s of the docks. I said yes and give him some money and in the bag were photograph’s of warship’s that were repaired during the Second World War. All the photograph’s had been taken by James Cleet and they are all marked on the back, Top Secret not to be published.

Norma Wilson: Just after the war there was a lot of housing done and they built the Orlit houses in Laygate Street there was 24 of them and that was a new development, and my family were rehoused there. We were the first people to move in there.

Alex Patterson: I live in Canada now and moved there in 1962. Most familiar memory is moving into West Holborn. These were brand new houses, and we moved from single room houses with 4 toilets in the street with a tap at each end. So it was relative luxury moving into a house that had a bathroom, water inside and a garden.

Liz Brownsword: Me Grandfather lived in West Holborn at the top of the street it was a 2 bedroomed house with a garden, living room and a scullery at the back. He loved his garden when he retired, growing cabbages, leeks, lettuce, you name it he loved growing vegetables.

Alex Patterson: We had an avid gardener at the end of the street, Bill McLean. Who provided vegetables and flowers for a little bit of pocket money. But he had a fabulous garden and everybody who lived in the street went there.

Norma Wilson: Me mam used to send us down on a Sunday morning to buy a cabbage or a cauliflower for Sunday dinner.

At one time there was 33 pub’s in Holborn, but one pub that survived was The Rose and Crown…

Bob Overton: (Owner) We had our opening night on November 30th 1983 and the guests to open it was Terry McDermott and John Miles, it was meant to be with Kevin Keegan as well but he had some contractual difficulties with the breweries so we ended up with just Terry and John.

Richard Jago: Probably during the ‘90s it was at it’s peak with music happening. There was a big roots scene and all sorts of people played here.

Bob Overton: A lot of local band’s and artists would turn up and play for reasonable fees. We had Tim Rose play one month and the following month we had Chip Taylor. I suppose a claim to fame was that Tim Rose wrote Hey Joe and Chip Taylor actually wrote Purple Haze which were the first hit’s for Jimi Hendrix in the UK.

Richard Jago: Think I’ve drunk here since the late ‘80s so I’m an apprentice really. Great bar, friendly people from all walks of life drink here.

Copies of ‘Hills of Holborn’ (30mins, 2010) are available on DVD to buy from South Shields Museum and The Word, South Shields.  There is a short version to view on the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.  Narration was provided by local historian and former museum worker, Angus McDonald with soundtrack by North East musician John Clavering. 

Gary Alikivi August 2019