The area around Clifford’s Fort and Tanners Bank contains the majority of the older buildings within the conservation area, many are notable for their variety and idiosyncrasy of architectural style, and now house a range of businesses and residential homes.
The Local Authority and local community recognises Clifford’s Fort as a major heritage asset and because of this significant restoration work over a long period of time was carried out to bring the building back to its former glory and remove it from the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register. This was achieved in 2015 and the Fort has now been unveiled with access for the public and events are also now regularly occurring within the central Fort area.
Beside the Fort, the New Low Light dominates the area. Beyond an alleyway is a polychrome brick, Victorian Gothic building in a style popular for small railway stations. Once the home and office of the Quaymaster it was built in c1871 to the design of the Borough Surveyor, J.P. Spencer and is certainly an asset to the visual variety of this part of the Quay.
The historic Old Low Light building, located within Clifford’s Fort, has now been lovingly restored into an exciting charity community space, including a café to ground floor, heritage centre to first and function space to second floor.
Now rejuvenated, the nearby Vita House, originally part of the gas works, is also an asset. As well as a number of other restored landmark buildings now occupied by a wide range of businesses, including Dockmasters, Barracks Building and The Smokehouses.
Behind Vita House is the former infamous New Dolphin pub, now The Staith House gastro pub, another building which is thought to have been recycled: it was possibly the winding house for the wagonway from Whitley Colliery to the coal drop at the Low Lights, before being turned into an open all hour pub for the fishing community.
The Gut, Union Quay and Bell Street form an area favoured by artists and photographers, when composing portraits of the Fish Quay. Many see it as representing the character and essence of the Quay due to its close mix of fish sheds and boats and small businesses and food and drink establishments.
The character of this area derives from a variety of features such as traditional paving and kerbs, the variety of mooring bollards along the quay edge or the winch blocks at upper-storey loading doors. Much of the original street furniture also includes a distinctive fish theme that runs as a common thread throughout the Quay.
The Fish Market is located downstream of the jetty and on the landward side of the Gut. The building formerly occupied by Wm Wight’s Shipping Grocers and now Allards restaurant, was originally the Highlander public house, rebuilt in 1878 to the design of H. Miller. Allards retains interesting architectural details to first floor and has also now restored the original Highlander pub façade, which all adds to the traditional character and history of the area. The street was originally built specifically to be useful to the fishing and allied trades and continues to be so, albeit to a lesser extent.
Many of the buildings within this area have more recently been adapted to house restaurants, cafes, fish and chip shops and wet fish shops. Renovations have also brought the upper floors back into use for a variety of small to medium sized modern businesses.
People come here to play on the sand and watch the ships pass by. This is where you can park-up the car or lock-up the bike and enjoy the views, fish and chips and ice cream. It is also the starting point for walks, with or without dogs, and of bicycle rides on this section of the Coast to Coast route. Birdwatchers are drawn here, able to get close to normally wary species such as Turnstone and Sanderling.