My Old Note Books: Cosmopolitan North Shields

A Shields Weekly News article [unfortunately not dated] spoke of "distinct ethnic areas": (quoting "an old Shields resident") "Germans and Norwegians in Bell Street; Greeks and Spaniards in Clive Street; and Lascars [Indian or Arab sailors] at the Bull Ring". There were many boarding houses for particular nationalities run by their fellow countrymen who had sometimes married local girls.

A 'Coloured National Mutual Association' was formed in 1930 to protect the interests of 'coloured' residents of the town - which suggests there were quite a few of them, especially as the association seems to have split into two groups in 1939. There was a 'coloured' seamen's hostel known as Colonial House at 3 Northumberland Place.

A Jamaican called Ann Preston was living in Preston Village in the 1820s, and an escaped American slave, Mary Ann Macham, was in service in Dockwray Square in the 1830s and later married a North Shields bank porter and survived until at least 1890.

There seem to have been a number of German and Norwegian owned shops in the town from at least the 1880s (and almost certainly much earlier). Norwegian names appear so regularly in the local papers that they elicit no particular comment. As I mentioned earlier the Norwegian community in Shields was substantial enough to open its own church in Borough Road in 1868. It was extended as 'recently' as 1953.

There were two Greek-owned ship chandlers shops in Clive Street until the 1950s, and "the small Greek colony in North Shields" was reported in 1940 as being "very optimistic regarding the Italian attack on their country". A Mr E. Defteros - a cobbler of William Street - said: "Italians are not good fighters but they are good gangsters". An Italian owned business in the town had the distinction of being demolished by a run-away tram in 1919.

There was a Jewish community in North Shields with a burial ground in Hawkey's Lane as early as the first decade of the nineteenth century. The ground was cleared in 1924 and the remains reinterred in a special Jewish section of Preston Cemetery. They bought a house in Linskill Street in 1870 which was consecrated as a synagogue in 1876. By 1880 this had become too small for the 20 or so families attending and needed to be enlarged. More Jewish families settled in the town in the 1930s as a result of Nazi persecution, but by 1965 the majority had moved on and the synagogue was closed.


  1. My grandad, George Kostalas, was one of the Greek ship's chandlers you mention in Clive Street. He emigrated around 1900 to cosmopolitan North Shields. Thanks for the article. I'm trying to find out more about his life in Shields between 1900 and around 1935. He also owned a gueshouse for Greek seamen and a cafe at the North Shields ferry landing. This period in North Shields fascinates me.

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  3. gillian wigham wood11 July 2016 at 15:46

    my grandfather john demetris was owner of the other greek owned ships chandlers @ number 20 clive street. violet was his daughter & my mam ,she talked about him often.

  4. My mother and her family -- parents, grandmothers, uncle and aunt, cousins -- came to North Shields, fleeing from Nazi Germany, in 1938. They started the Great Northern Knitwear factory in the Chilton estate. They also reopened the synagogue in Linskill Street for the major Jewish holidays. Otherwise they walked to the synagogue in Whitley Bay. Both my maternal great-grandmothers are buried in the Preston Cemetery. As you say, though, most of the Jewish community had left by the mid-60s. My family retained its connection to North Shields, though, because my father's dental practice was in Alma Place, by coincidence round the corner from the house where my mother grew up on Cleveland Road.

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