THIRTY years as a policeman – most of it served in North Shields – meant that Charlie Steel had a professional interest in the town’s pubs.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Bedford Street, for instance, was known as the Flying Stool.
The last stool presumably flew in the late 1960s before the pub was demolished to make way for a shopping mall.
One of the most notorious North Shields watering holes was the Northumberland Arms on the riverfront, which was universally known as the Jungle.
I had thought that this was a reference to the clientele, but according to Charlie the nickname came from the animals’ heads and trophies on the walls when the building was the town house of the Duke of Northumberland in 1806.
Charlie, who lives in Monkseaton, served his last two years in the force as licensing officer and that was an added impetus for him to distil his researches into a book on all the recorded drinking places in North Shields and surrounding areas.
His detective work reveals that there were 440 pubs recorded in North Shields from 1822 to the present, with a further 110 in outlying areas.
Add the various ale, porter, wine and spirit merchants and brewers, and you have another 225 premises.
Whatever people went short of, it was not a place to have a drink.
In 1853, there were 217 inns, taverns and alehouses in the Borough of Tynemouth.
“As a relatively small town in the 1800s, North Shields probably had the highest number of inns, taverns and beer sellers to be found anywhere in the country,” says Charlie, who retired two years ago.
North Shields Low Town, by the riverside, had more than 100 pubs at the end of the 19th Century. One was the Aberllolwyn Arms – try saying that after a few pints.
Pubs would be next door to each other, or separated only by one building.
This was the case on the Fish Quay, with the Newcastle Arms next door to the Lord Collingwood and one building away from the Highlander, now William Wight’s grocery shop.
Even in a smaller area such as Preston Village, the Spread Eagle was next door to the Bamburgh Castle, which was closed down in 1937 and later demolished after the Chief Constable refused to renew the licence on hygiene grounds.
Back on the riverfront was the Dock Hotel, run by the Beck family since the 1870s. It was known in its last years as Minnie Beck’s.
Minnie, who ran the alehouse, was a teetotaller who would not tolerate rowdiness and could refuse to serve people she did not know or like.
The pub closed in 1973 after Minnie was beaten during a burglary.
“The Low Town was, by all
accounts, a formidable place and drunkenness would have been rife,” says Charlie.
“As a policeman, I had first-hand experience of a lot of it. Some pubs would be always good for a fight.
“In the old days it was a different world. These pubs weren’t places you went for a quiz or a quiet game of darts.”
Charlie has unearthed evocative pub and hotel names.
Opposite what is now Whitley Bay Metro station was the grandly-named European and United States Hotel.
Quaintly-called survivors include the Ballarat, named after the 19th Century goldfields near the town of Ballarat in Australia.
Other endearing premises were the Lumper’s Arms, Lass O’Gowrie, Rose of Allendale, Lucky Bob, the Polka, Prince of Prussia, Swedish Arms, Aquatic Arms, Friendly Tavern, the Flower Pot, Future Admiral, Greenland Fishery, Meters Arms and the Push and Pull Inn.
Inns and Taverns of North Shields by Charlie Steel (Tempus, £12.99).