Old Town Hall, South Shields
25 Jan 2024
This is a
Civic Building, Town Hall
Current status is
Designer (if known):
Listed Grade II
This is the Old Town Hall which preceded it, an outpost of the Dean & Chapter of Durham when it was built in 1768. The land was originally owned by St Hilda's church next door - the Dean & Chapter bought 8 acres of land from them in return for £30 per annum to fund a market square and the buildings. Alongside this, a charter was sought to permit a weekly market and two larger annual fairs. The first was held in 1771.
It was originally a meeting hall and a manorial court, primarily dealing with land disputes and local feuds. The vaulted shelter are underneath was reserved for market traders, where folk would sell eggs and corn to the townspeople.
As South Shields became a borough in 1850, the Corporation were gifted the powers to compulsory purchase land for municipal improvement. Though this mechanism, they picked up this building for £500 in 1855. From thereon, this tiny little elevated space became the council chamber.
Somehow this space has lasted the rest of time. Only 14 years later the council made plans to demolish and rebuild a new town hall fitting of the growing town but opposition was too strong. With this said, the virulent support to stay in this building meant it was unlikely to ever happen. It was noted the current town hall was sufficient, and only the desire to increase the towns standing and provide a luxurious municipal building were sufficient arguments.
Some 80 years after, it survived a bombing raid by only a few metres and is now one of the last bastions of pre-19th century South Shields.
Listing Description (if available)
The period between the 1850s and the 1890s was a transformative one for South Shields, as shown on this Ordnance Survey of the Market Place. This area had already been built up in this fashion for a century or so given the advent of the Market Place, and was the melting pot of the town. Pubs, libraries, banks, hotels and breweries lined the streets, and it's worth noting the Customs House was adjoined to the old Steam Ferry Hotel. The hotel later absorbed the Customs House when it moved down the road.
A few pubs had come and gone in the half century - The Three Indian Kings, The Nunnery, the Exchange Vaults all opened or closed in this time, and very few still remain except the Alum Ale House named the Reeds Hotel on the eldest map. A tramway had also been constructed in 1883, using horses until being incorporated into the South Shields Corporation network in 1906.
By 1913 when this survey was illustrated, a large public conveniences were erected next to the Old Town Hall. This was presumably after the move to Westoe Road. The Grave Yard at St Hilda's was still in situ and many of the pubs were still thriving well into the 60s.
The Old Town Hall, 2023
The building in 1786. Source: South Tyneside Libraries
The Market Place after bombing during WWII. South Tyneside Libraries