The Custom House Quay was so named long before there was a custom house in the town. It is the traditional home of the North Shields Wooden Dollies. Shipowner and brewer Alexander Bartleman erected the first dolly, an old ship’s figurehead, in 1814. It became the custom for sailors to cut off slivers for good luck. To date there have been a total of six dollies.
In 1814, a ‘Wooden Dolly’ was erected on the North Shields Fish Quay and it has developed to become a beloved local landmark.
Some locals initially resented Dolly as her position in the road blocked their carts from entering the Quay. They tied ropes to her ankles and used her to drag heavy masts up the banks of the Quay, causing her great harm. In 1850, to the dismay of some locals, Dolly was attacked by a group of drunken vandals who broke her neck and ripped her body from the ground.
A new Dolly was erected as a replacement and she became a good luck charm to sailors, who chipped pieces from her to carry on perilous voyages. Inevitably, after 14 years of abusive chippings, Dolly had once again become damaged beyond repair.
A second replacement was made, but the good luck chippings continued and the third Dolly was soon without a nose. A local blacksmith made Dolly a replacement nose out of iron to prevent sailor chippings, but instead the sailors found their good luck by nailing coins to her body. Dolly eventually succumbed to her wounds and was broken in half.
Her replacement, largely paid for by donations from locals, survived 55 years but thousands of good-luck chippings once again left her unrecognisable. In 1992, the most recent Dolly was placed on the Fish Quay at the same site as her forebears, outside the Prince of Wales Tavern, proudly, watching over the Tyne.