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MARKET TOWNS OF DURHAM (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

South Shields in 1841

SOUTH SHIELDS, a parliamentary borough in the county of Durham, created by the Reform Act, and consisting of the previously existing townships of South Shields and Westoe in the parish of Jarrow. South Shields is on the south bank of the Tyne, at its mouth, 278 miles from London, by Barnet, Biggleswade, Norman Cross, Stamford, Newark, Doncaster, Boroughbridge, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham, and Monk Wearmouth.

Jarrow was eminent in ancient times for its Benedictine monastery, of which some remains still exist: it was destroyed in the devastating invasion of William the Conqueror ; but was subsequently repaired, and united with the abbey of Wearmouth ; at last it became a cell to Durham. Its revenues at the dissolution were £40, 7 shillings and 8 pence gross, or £38, 14 shillings and 4 pence clear. The present church of Jarrow embodies some portions of the ancient conventual church ; a chair is preserved in the vestry, which is said to have been the seat of the venerable Bede, who was educated in the monastery of Jarrow, and spent a great part of his life there.

South Shields (anciently written Le Sheeles) has risen into importance with the extension of the coal-trade in modern times. One inscription which has been dug up indicates that the Romans had a station here, at the termination of the military road since called the Wreken Dyke ; and various Roman antiquities have been found. The present town originated with the fishermen of the Tyne, who built here along the shore sheds, locally termed ‘sheels' or ‘shields’, to defend themselves from the weather. Subsequently, (during the fifteenth and two following centuries) the place became known for its salt-works ; nearly 150 pans were at one time employed, but that branch of industry is now nearly extinct. A number of artificial hills have been formed by cinders from the salt-works, the refuse of the glass-houses and the ballast discharged by the colliers, and some of these hills have been built upon.

The town of South Shields extends into the township of Westoe ; the old part consists of a long narrow and inconvenient street running parallel to the river ; but the more modern parts are better built and contain many good houses. In a large square near the centre of the town is the town-hall, used also as an Exchange and news-room, and having a market-house beneath. There is a chapel of great antiquity, but so mach altered that little of the ancient part can be traced, with the exception of the old tower ; there is a chapel-of-ease of modern erection, and there are many dissenting meeting-houses.

The two townships have an area of 1,760 acres ; and contained in 1831, 3,018 houses, inhabited by 4,659 families, 176 hoses uninhabited, and 27 building ; with a population of 18,726. The principal trade of the town is in coal, of which a great quantity is brought down the river in keels, and shipped here : there are some coal-pits in the immediate vicinity. Ship-building is carried on with great activity ; during the last general war several frigates were built ; and there were ten years since docks in which nineteen vessels at once could be docked and repaired : there were very extensive glassworks, a pottery, and manufactures of soda and alum, breweries and rope-walks. The original life-boat was built at South Shields by subscription. The market is on Wednesday ; and here are two fairs, but they are indifferently attended.

There are a subscription library ; a literary, scientific, and mechanics’ institution ; and a theatre. The two townships had in 1833, two day and Sunday national-schools one with ninety boys and 50 girls, and the other with 473 children of both sexes ; 54 other day-schools, with 1,893 children of both sexes ; and 11 Sunday-schools, with 1,226 children.

The living of South Shields is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Durham, of the clear yearly value of £330. It is in the archdeaconry and diocese of Durham.

South Shields has, since the Reform Act, returned one member to parliament. The number of qualified electors on the register in 1835-5 was 625 ; in 1839-40, 686, all £10 householders. South Shields is one of the polling stations for the northern division of the county of Durham.