The Port of Tyne is located on both banks of the River Tyne about 37 kilometers north of the Port of Hartlepool in Tyne and Wear in north central England on the shores of the North Sea. This deep-river port is about four kilometers inland from the mouth of the river. While most of the cargo docks are located on the south bank of the river in South Shields, the International Passenger Terminal is in North Shields on the northern bank of the river.
With a population of about 90 thousand people, South Shields was a prosperous town with shipyards, salt pans, glass-making factories, and coal mines. Today, Port of Tyne residents tend to commute to nearby towns for employment, and the economy is largely based on services. North Shields, home to about ten thousand people, is the only international ferry port in the region, providing transport to Norway and the Netherlands. The Port of Tyne has undertaken efforts to revitalize its economy by adding new amusements, shopping and sports facilities, and improved docks.
The area around the Port of Tyne was inhabited by the ancient Brigantes, although there is no evidence of a settlement there. The Romans founded a fort called Arbeia in today’s South Shields in about 120 AD as a supply point for Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans occupied the fort until the 5th Century. After the Romans left, Anglo-Saxons began to migrate into the area of South Shields. Remnants of Viking and Danish culture remain in the area today, including in the local dialect.
North Shields was established in about 1125 as a fishing port to serve a Priory at the mouth of the River Tyne. Soon, a group of bare-bones homes and wooden quays were constructed to unload the fishing boats and ship coal to the Priory from Newcastle. Before the end of the 13th Century, around a thousand people lived on the north bank of the River Tyne in North Shields, and it was a strong rival of nearby Newcastle for exporting coal.
The Port of Tyne’s most important resource has long been coal. Coal mining began in the 13th Century, and coal exports went to London throughout the medieval period, and several coal-dependent industries like glass-making, pottery, and iron were located there even before the Industrial Revolution. Coal was also used to evaporate salt from seawater, making the area an important salt-producing center.
In the mid-15th Century, Salt production began along the River Tyne, and hundreds of boiling pans lined the river. The pans used a thousand tons of coal each year and created serious pollution from the hydrochloric acid that was produced.
Glass-making began in the middle 17th Century, and by 1827, eight glassworks were located in South Shields. During the 17th Century, Clifford’s Fort was built on the Fish Quay in North Shields to protect the coastal region from the Dutch. It was also important during the Napoleonic Wars. Today, fish processing facilities stand on the site of the old fort.
North Shields was home to the Port of Tyne’s shipyards early in its history. Small fishing vessels were constructed there. The older, smaller yards were eventually replaced by big yards like Tyne Dock that made iron vessels for a variety of uses including coal trade and fishing. The yards were eventually used for ship repairs, but all of the old yards are now closed.
In the 1850s, the Port of Tyne’s ship-building industry was well-established and prosperous, and the population grew to support it. In 1854, the North and South Piers were begun on both sides of the river, and they were finished by 1885. Tyne Dock was opened in 1859 with capacity for 500 vessels navigating the River Tyne.
In 1851, Charles Palmer opened a shipyard at Jarrow. First building wooden ships, the yards later manufactured iron ships. John Readhead founded a shipyard in South Shields in 1865, and the old dry docks are still visible today.
Like other industrial areas in the United Kingdom, the Port of Tyne suffered from the Great Depression, and the hardships have continued into modern times. With the decline of coal mining and heavy industry, Tyne and Wear has moved to new light manufacturing industries like electronics and automobiles and to the service sector. In 2005, over a million people lived in Tyne and Wear.