Still guarding River Tyne a century after repairs

TODAY the piers guarding the mouth of the Tyne offer – weather permitting – a bracing outing for thousands of strollers.

The piers at the mouth of the Tyne

TODAY the piers guarding the mouth of the Tyne offer – weather permitting – a bracing outing for thousands of strollers.

But exactly a century ago the final chapter was being played out to a far more dramatic story.

Extensive repairs had finally been completed to the north pier in Tynemouth after 300ft of its length had been swept away by winter storms in 1897.

Reports of the time described how "the lighthouse and a few hundred feet of promenade attached being left standing like an island."

The rebuilding of the pier 100 years ago was marked by a stone panel which can still be seen today bearing the names of the four principal engineers who worked on the job and that of the contractors, Sir John Jackson Ltd. The original cost of the north pier was £568,000, with south pier at South Shields costing £526,000, though the reconstruction of the north pier cost an extra £450,000 taking the total build cost to £1,544,000.

The foundation stones of the structures – from Trow Quarry at South Shields – had been laid on June 15, 1854, after it had been decided that piers were needed to protect the mouth of the Tyne from the full force of the weather and heavy seas, which had seen many ships wrecked as they attempted to enter the river.

It was remarked that 200,000 seamen left and entered the river a year and so piers were of the "utmost importance".

On the day the foundation stones were laid, barges brought officials downriver from Newcastle, while "numerous craft" gathered at the river mouth.

The thousands of spectators were entertained by musical bands and the firing of the guns at Tynemouth Castle, but when building of the north pier began, the party spirit evaporated somewhat.

Prior’s Haven at Tynemouth, a small bay next to the pier site, had been where bathers and their bathing machines assembled but when building began, the bathers were evicted.

A letter to the local paper said: "A considerable amount of disappointment is being expressed by numerous visitors to this delightful watering place in consequence of the destruction by the works of the pier as far as bathing is concerned at the beautiful Prior’s Haven.

"It is to be feared that with the loss of the Haven, Tynemouth as a resort for visitors will be completely gone."

From the off, the piers felt the full force of the elements and crashing waves. In the 1860s 70ft of the south pier and 200ft of the north pier were lost and later giant cranes from both piers were swept away.

In the winter of 1893-94 it was found that 50 yards of blocks in the north pier had been displaced and 130ft of the foundations of the sea wall exposed and in some places undermined.

Bags of concrete and bundles of scrap chains were used as protection while work began on replacing the blocks.

The Tyne Commissioners also bought an old vessel, The Roxanna, which was filled with cement and sunk to provide another barrier.

When the rebuilt north pier was re-opened, a local newspaper criticised the fact that a gate had been installed at the round head of the pier in front of the lighthouse.

It reported: "It may be that the Commissioners are afraid that some felonious resident of Tynemouth might run away with the lighthouse if it is left unprotected, or they suspect that the disturbed sleepers of the village may one night smother the foghorn."

The Port of Tyne today spends between £150,000 and £200,000 on maintaining the piers.

Last year it invested £55,000 in restoring the north pier pavement and coping and £140,000 on structural work and repairs to the south pier lighthouse.

"The Port of Tyne is proud to be the custodian of such great North Eastern heritage," said a spokesman.

Let there be light THE lighthouses on the two piers were not built until 1895.

Last year the operational Tynemouth lighthouse was opened, for the first time in 100 years, to visitors as part of the annual Heritage Open Days.

Together with South Shields lighthouse and the smaller Herd Groyne lighthouse, Tynemouth Lighthouse is used by ships approaching and entering the Tyne.

More than 3,000,000 tonnes of stone work was used in the construction of the piers.

The north lighthouse is 26 metres tall and has a white navigation light over-arcing the horizon for a distance of 26 miles.

The south pier lighthouse is 15 metres tall and has white, red and green navigational lights over-arcing the horizon for distances of 13, nine and eight miles respectively.

Within the harbour entrance on the Herd Groyne is a small red lighthouse which is 13 metres tall.

Further up the harbour are the historic High and Low Lights, large white painted masonry towers which once guided vessels into port.

The High Light is 39 metres above sea level and the Low Light is 25 metres.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer