North Shields Fish Quay is located approximately 1km from the mouth of the River Tyne on its northern bank. Its origins date back to 1225 when a small settlement grew up around the mouth of the river at Tynemouth monastery. This settlement housed the fishermen who supplied the monks and lived in the ‘shiel’ huts from which the towns of North and South Shields derive their names.
Today it is the main fishing port on the River Tyne and the biggest prawn port in England.
North Shields Fish Quay is not one but a series of quays surrounding a central harbour known as the Gut. The neighbourhood is mix of commercial, residential, leisure and heritage uses dominated by the fishing industry, including the landing quays, fish market, wet fish shops, processing and merchant industry, as well as other traditional small and medium-sized industrial and commercial operations.
There is an ever increasing residential population, particularly at the tops of the banks overlooking the river, and in older and newer waterside apartments on Dolphin Quay, Union Stairs, Bell Street and the Lilley and Gillie site. Local tourism is also prevalent, encouraged by fish-related retail outlets and the array of traditional to trendy food and drink establishments as well as a heritage museum, community space and the newly installed Fishermen’s Memorial sculpture located on Fiddlers Green. The area was once regarded as being in general decline with several major building groups and plots vacant and derelict. However, over time the area has received significant public and private investment and is now becoming a sort after place to live, work and visit.
Within the conservation area stands Clifford’s Fort, a scheduled ancient monument, built at the end of the 18th Century to provide a defence for the mouth of the River Tyne. It did not see any military action and by the late 19th Century was no longer required for military purposes.
It began to suffer a protracted period of neglect and several buildings linked to the food processing industry were erected within its curtilage, in unsympathetic materials, and detract from its scheduled status.
The topography is dramatic with a busy, atmospheric, yet dour character, dominated by the river and its use, where you can often spot large ferry’s taking passengers to and from the continent, huge car transporter vessels moving goods, barges taking offshore structures to new development sites and much smaller fishing vessels followed by hungry gulls. Views of the river are long and varied with Tynemouth, South Shields and North Shields riversides, including residential, commercial and industrial vistas creating a wide and feature-rich horizon. Green oasis’s up the banks form a backdrop and create habitats for wildlife, with the foreshore and river mouth to the east an international focus for seabirds.
The streetscape and historic buildings of the area are some of its greatest assets and should form a central part of any future development proposals to both conserve and enhance the character and appearance of the area and provide a quality built environment.
The predominant materials that exist in the area are red bricks with welsh slate roofs, which in some cases have replaced with red pantile roofs that still survive in small pockets.
The journey along Clive, Bell and Liddell Streets, Union Quay and Tanners Bank opens up continually changing and framing views which is an intriguing element of the conservation area.
A small number of buildings are vacant and the area had suffered from under investment in the past, which has led to some erosion of their quality in terms of historic features such as windows, doors and roofs, and of the appearance of the area in general. However, a significant amount of public and private investment in recent years has transformed many historic buildings and brought them back into use for a varied number of uses, including, cafes, offices, heritages centres and homes.
Fishing and its associated industries are synonymous with the area and has been a constant presence for over 700 years. The industry has shaped the physical form of the river’s edge and the pattern of development.
There are no buildings of medieval origin standing and much of the built fabric is relatively recent. However, much of what is standing is characterised by the needs of the fishing and other traditional industries, such as tanneries and rope making, which have left a legacy of distinctive warehouses and smokehouses.
North Shields Fish Quay is at a crossroads – a future which is already seeing a diversification into an ever increasing number of different food and drink establishments, an increase in smaller businesses from various sectors, a greater focus of culture and the arts and an ever increasing tourist offer. The vibrant fishing industry is still going strong on the Quay and remains the core character and uniqueness, which draws people and businesses to the area on a daily basis.
The massing, height and design of any new buildings needs to be expressive in order to relate to their contextual setting.
The retention of business uses is considered vital in the harbour and Union Quay areas to retain that working industrial feel. This also encourages a varied and active day and night time economy.
Approached from the west from either Borough Bank or New Quay, a canyon effect marks the journey through from Clive Street to Western Quay. The area is framed by the steep banks of vegetation and landscaped areas intersected with steep steps up Lower Bedford Street.
The steps from Clive Street lead to a platform on Yeoman Street which opens up dramatic panoramic views of the river mouth, across to South Shields, and downstream towards Royal Quays and beyond. This is tempered by the rather invasive massing of the multi storey (seven at its highest) Dolphin Quays apartment development, which cuts across the vista enjoyed from Yeoman Street.
The majority of the buildings on Clive Street have now been redeveloped. Originally this was the east end of the Low Row, which stretched from Union Quay to the Smiths Dock, half a mile up the river, and at one time home to (a legendary) one hundred pubs and inns.
This was the old North Shields where all the trades were carried out side by side with cramped residences.
Although buildings now only line one side of the street, a variety of uses can be found on multiple floors, including fishmongers, a general dealers, cafés and fish and chip shops on the ground floor with flats, art studios, stores and offices above. These businesses and uses are a key feature and appeal of the area is exemplified by the opening of Dodgin’s yard and Allards restaurants.
The picturesque Fish Quay conservation area, with its colour, bustle and animation plays an important role in the character of Union Quay.
Aside from its use, its strength in design terms is in its contribution to the wider townscape. The buildings are narrow, built into the slope at the rear and have roofs parallel to the street which are punctuated at intervals by gables and some with surviving timber hoists.
Plentiful well-proportioned windows animate the facades although some of the depth and articulation of the fenestration has been lost through insensitive replacements. However, when closed, the widespread use of roller shutters on ground floor frontages has a deadening effect on the area in contrast to its feel when the premises are open. Roller shutters of all types should be resisted for any future developments.