Women in pictures – a few photos from TWAM’s online collection, Part I

As a volunteer at Discovery Museum I’ve been helping with some work in the TWAM online photo collection.  In the course of my ‘virtual exploration’ I’ve found some great photos I’d like to share with you featuring women.  Of course, women have done many jobs over the years and I couldn’t hope to include them all, even if we had a photo for each one, so with apologies to all the occupations I haven’t captured here, the following are just a few snapshots (quite literally) giving a tiny glimpse into the diverse contribution of women in our region over the years.  Part I focuses mainly on the period before the First World War.

Herring girls on the quayside

Herring girls on the quayside

Although we usually associate the fishing industry with men, there were many women working in supporting roles, leaving behind evocative images like the one above.  It’s quite a romantic image, but not a very romantic existence.  In the summer season these teams of ‘herring girls’ would have made a striking sight on fish quays up and down the east coast.  The herring preserving industry was at its peak in the late 19th and early 20th century and North Shields was one port where the trade thrived.  While local boats and local women were part of the activity, this was a national industry.  Each year huge shoals of the ‘silver darlings’ could be found moving down the north east coast of Britain from Shetland and the Hebrides all the way to East Anglia.  And each year the fleets of herring drifters followed the shoals from town to town to profit from this bounty.  Down the coast, following the boats by rail, came the herring girls, who worked on the fish quays gutting the herring and packing them with salt in barrels.  Many of these women, some as young as 15, came from Scotland.  They worked on the quayside in teams of three, two to gut and one to pack, working non-stop in all weathers until the catch was complete.  A hard life, but it wasn’t all bad – ‘following the herring’ did give women a chance to travel, and a bit of an adventure with friends.

Cullercoats fishwives going door-to-door, c. 1880-1900

Cullercoats fishwives going door-to-door, c. 1880-1900


Continuing the fishing theme, a well-known sight around the streets of coastal towns even in the early decades of the 20th century would have been the fishwives in their long skirts and shawls, who went door-to-door hawking fish from large baskets.  One of the regions’ most famous fishwives was Dolly Peel, 1782 – 1857. 

The renowned Dolly Peel

The renowned Dolly Peel

Officially ‘Dorothy’ but known as Dolly, Mrs Peel is a famous South Shields character, a resourceful fishwife who was also a smuggler and a poet.  Stories about her emphasise her strength and bravery – she once fended off a navy press gang which was pursuing her husband, single-handedly holding them at bay while he tried to escape before eventually being captured.  In the early years of the 19th century Mrs Peel’s husband took part in sea battles as a pressed sailor in both the Napoleonic war and the American War of Independence.

At some point in this saga Dolly is reputed to have stowed away to accompany him, and worked below decks helping the surgeon with the wounded during battle.  As if all this wasn’t enough, Mrs Peel was also famed as a poet for her ability to make up rhymes on topical subjects.  A statue of her, representing the resilience of local women, stands on River Drive in South Shields.

Outdoor jobs like these must have been some of the toughest types of work; more often women who sought work would find it in domestic or shop work, teaching, nursing and sometimes in manufacturing environments.

Shop assistants at Carricks Dairy, North Street, Jarrow, 1914

Shop assistants at Carricks Dairy, North Street, Jarrow, 1914


For most women, life included marriage and children – no easy ride when childbirth carried serious risks and all housework had to be done the hard way without mechanical aids.  But even this shared experience had different faces depending on your financial situation – a family portrait of a middle class family before the First World War (c 1910-1914) contrasts sharply with this group of women and children in a poor area of South Shields even two decades later in the 1930s.

Family portrait of a middle class family, c. 1910-1914

Family portrait of a middle class family, c. 1910-1914

South Shields, 1930s

South Shields, 1930s



Catherine Cookson as a young woman

Catherine Cookson as a young woman


Housing, diet, health, education, life expectancy for yourself and your family; life for the poor has always been a struggle.  Someone who knew this first hand was Catherine Cookson (1906 – 1998), who drew on the neighbourhoods and characters of her childhood to write novels which made her an international favourite.

Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock and later moved to East Jarrow.  As young Katie McMullen she grew up in poverty, suffering what in those days was seen as the terrible stigma of illegitimacy.  From her childhood she used making up stories, and later writing, as an escape.  She was determined to better herself, worked hard, and as a young adult moved to Hastings leaving the north east and its painful memories firmly behind her.  Here she met her husband Tom Cookson.  It was only after suffering a breakdown in the 1940s that Cookson began writing seriously, and drew on all her early experiences to create what would eventually become over 100 novels loved worldwide.  Her books recreate the poor South Tyneside communities of her childhood and are filled with strong female leading characters.

The second part of this blog will look at the impact of the First World War, which brought women new challenges, new opportunities….and a new football league.

Janette Bell


If you’d like to see more photos from our collection, many can be viewed online using TWAM’s collections search engine.  To find more pictures of people, try typing ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ into the Theme box and see what comes up!

Beware the servants

As readers of murder mysteries well know, when a body is found in a large country house it’s usually the butler that did it. While this is just a crime fiction cliché, research that I recently carried out at North Shields Library suggests that wealthy Edwardians would’ve been well advised to keep a close eye on their servants.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been popping into the local studies library to look through old copies of the Shields Daily News. My purpose was to uncover the stories behind one of our most exciting documents – a photograph album of criminals brought before the North Shields Police Court between 1902 and 1916 (TWAM ref. DX1388/1). This album contains over a thousand mugshots and as I researched them a number of interesting themes began to emerge. One of these was the appearance of a distinctive group of people – young female domestic servants.

These girls usually stood out by their appearance – it was very noticeable that they were smartly dressed, wearing hats rather than shawls. Another common factor was their youth with all those identified so far aged between 16 and 19 years. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they were all arrested for stealing from their employers.

One of the saddest cases is that of Dora Agnes Stephenson, aged just 16 when she was arrested in January 1906.

Dora Agnes Sanderson, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1906

At North Shields Police Court on 30 January she pleaded guilty to stealing a brooch, a blouse and a cloth bag belonging to her employer Robert Wardhaugh of Chirton Hill Top Farm. Newspaper reports don’t give an explanation for the theft but it appears to have been out of character. A report in the Shields Daily News of 23 January reveals that she was so distressed by events that she “swallowed some embrocation … and the stomach pump had to be used”. Her family appears to have been supportive and her father was able to supply the magistrates with good character references from previous employers. As a result she was spared jail. Instead her father was bound over in a sum of £5 to bring his daughter back to court if required within the following twelve months.

This case is quite similar to a number of others, including that of Ethel Penman, a 19 year old domestic servant from Jarrow.

Ethel Penman, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1906

Ethel Penman, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1906

The Shields Daily News for 16 July 1906 reveals that she was charged with stealing a lady’s feather stole and a pair of leather straps, valued at 16s, from her employer, Margaret Hamilton of 18 Latimer Street, Tynemouth. The newspaper report of the court proceedings states:

“Formally charged, the accused said this was her first offence and it would be her last. The mother of the prisoner said her daughter had not been previously guilty of theft … Accused promised not to misbehave herself in future and upon this understanding the mother was bound over in the sum of £5 to bring her daughter up to receive judgement if called upon within six months”.

There seems to be a pattern of young domestic servants stealing clothes and jewellery from their employers. The temptations of being surrounded by these expensive possessions were just too great for some and perhaps their youthful inexperience gave them false hope that they would get away with it.

Our final case, relates to one of the most interesting mugshots in our collection.

Maud Garmey, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1905

Maud Garmey, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1905

The girl in this picture is Maud Garmey, a 17 year old from Jarrow, who was working as a domestic servant at the Tyne Hotel in Clive Street, North Shields. She was arrested on 8 November 1905 for stealing three bed sheets, a pillow case and various other household articles valued at a total of £1 4s 2d. The Shields Daily News for 15 November 1905 reports:

“Jane Elizabeth Robson, a single woman, residing on the Ranter’s Bank, stated that on the 7th inst. the accused came to her house and asked to be taken in. She acceded to her request. Prisoner had with her a lot of things which witness afterwards handed over to the police. Inspector Thornton said he arrested prisoner and charged her with the theft.

She replied: “Yes, I took them”. Chief Constable Huish stated that he had had an interview with the relatives of the accused, who resided in Jarrow. They thought she should be sent to a home and with the assistance of the Police Court Missionary (Mr Macpherson), a home had been found for her. He asked the magistrates to deal with her under the First Offenders’ Act and bind her over to come up for judgement if called upon within twelve months on her promising to go into the home. Accused gave her consent and the magistrates bound her over.”

This case is slightly different from the others. The items stolen were household items – sheets, pillow cases and the like – rather than personal ones. Her expression is also rather different from that of Dora Stephenson or Edith Penman, who both give a sense of sadness at being arrested. Maud Garmey’s mugshot on the other hand is intriguing because she seems quite nonchalant and unaffected. It appears that her family were not as supportive as in the other two cases. Rather than taking care of her themselves they were trying to get her admitted to a ‘home’. It’s not absolutely clear what sort of home this was but it seems that her parents felt her behaviour was either an embarrassment or simply beyond their control.

I hope that further research will reveal more about the enigmatic Maud Garmey and the other criminals featured in our album of North Shields mugshots. Their stories tell us a lot about the Edwardian period and give us a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people as well as a glimpse into the murky Tyneside underworld. If you’d like to see more of our mugshots then why not take a look at our Flickr pages https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/sets/, where you’ll find over 200 of them, together with a wide variety of other fascinating images.


When is a railway a railway?

Many people see the opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway in 1825 as the beginning of the railway age, but did you know that railways existed more than 200 years before or arguably even earlier?

In basic terms a railway is simply a prepared track that guides vehicles so that they can’t leave the track. It can therefore be argued that railways date back to the rutways of classical Greece and Rome where two parallel channels were cut into the surface rock to guide wheels along a specific route. The earliest example of a rutway discovered in Britain served a Roman quarry at Blunsdon in Wiltshire dating to circa 300 A.D. While the Greeks and Romans used this technology for specific reasons such as transporting materials, they didn’t develop it into a system of general transport.

Rutway, Stoupe Brow Moor

Rutway, Stoupe Brow Moor © Copyright Christopher Hall and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

There were also underground railways during the Medieval period in the mineral mines of central Europe. It is indicated in the book De Re Metallica (1556) that the waggons didn’t run on rails. Instead a pin, attached to the axle of the two small front wheels of the waggon, ran between two closely aligned rails which kept the waggon on course. Underground railways such as at Silver Gill Mine, near Caldbeck in Cumbria were introduced to Britain by German miners that worked for the Company of Mines Royal. The railway transported ore to the entrance of the mine where it was loaded onto packhorses.

Interestingly the development of railway systems was purely a product of European based culture. The long gap between the classical age waggonways to the reappearance in the Medieval period has made experts wonder if this was a reinvention or a continuation.

Wooden waggonways are undoubtedly more recognisable as the predecessor of modern railways. We first see them appearing in Shropshire towards the end of the Elizabethan period and then being built at the beginning of the 17th century by colliery owners in the Midlands. During the same period this new technology was also quickly adopted and developed in the North East.

Huntingdon Beaumont is widely credited for being responsible for the construction of the earliest waggonway in Nottingham between 1603 and 1604. While trying his fortune in Northumberland, he is believed to have introduced the waggonway to the area. Unfortunately, Beaumont was unable to break into the monopolistic Newcastle trade and ended his days in Nottingham Gaol as a debtor. However, he did leave behind an important legacy in the North East. By the early 18th century, wooden waggonways had become the principal means of transporting coal from the major collieries in Northumberland and Durham.

Horse and Waggon

‘The Coal Waggon’ © Northumberland Archives, ZMD 78/14

Carrying loads equating to more than 100,000 tons every year on the main lines, wooden waggonways were the main mode of transport for the product of a major industry. They were also the largest civil engineering projects of their time, requiring major capital investment for the funding of the cuttings, embankments, railway and the building of bridges. While some only lasted decades due to the lifetime of a colliery, others were in use much longer.

Visitors from elsewhere in Britain and Europe were amazed by the cutting edge technology which attracted visits from fellows of the Royal Society, antiquarians, British dignitaries, foreign royalty and even industrial spies!

gosforth colliery

The Ouseburn Viaduct by T.H.Hair

The large amount of traffic over increasingly long distances propelled both technology and mechanisation forward. From the second half of the 17th century the key developments of wooden railways took place in the northern coalfield. The waggonways were so distinctive and innovative that they were referred to as ‘Newcastle Waggonways’ or ‘Tyneside Roads’ by the British and ‘English Coalways’ by those overseas. It’s important to note that the development of the locomotive was not caused by any performance restrictions of the wooden waggonways but rather the cost of the horses.

The Willington Waggonway began very modestly as a simple branch line from the east to the Benton Way becoming a major railway network (due to the expansion of Willington Colliery) with an independent route through Bigges Main to the River Tyne at Carville. Although made up of several lines, contemporaries referred to the collective whole as the Willington Way. The section of waggonway excavated in 2013 dates from 1785 and is located close to the river on the Bigges Main line (Willington Way 2).

Willington Waggonway Route

The Development of Willington Waggonway 1773 – 1810 © Les Turnbull, 2016, A Railway Rediscovered (currently unpublished)

Even if we discount Greek and Roman rutways and rail-less Medieval systems, railways had been operating for a much longer period before the opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway than they have since.


The Willington Waggonway Research Programme is funded by the Designation Development Fund, Arts Council England.


Newcastle and the River Tyne in 1895: Bridges and Ships

G12962. Lund, Newcastle from Gateshead

This magnificent panorama shows Newcastle in 1895, at the height of the city’s industrial development. Hundreds of ships left the Tyne every month for destinations in Britain, Europe and America. Newcastle dominated the British coal trade and its shipyards built some of the biggest ships in the world. Massive railway development spurred on the development of industry. As a result, in the 60 years from 1851 to 1911, the population of Newcastle more than tripled from 87,784 to 266,671.

This view was painted by Niels Møller Lund (1863-1916), an artist of Danish ancestry who grew up in Newcastle. Although he moved away as he established his artistic career, he continued to visit the North East on painting trips. His picture is part of the Northern Spirit displays at the Laing Art Gallery.

G12962b Lund, Newcastle from Gateshead, detail sailing ships

Lund has arranged his picture so that sunlight picks out a pair of grand sailing ships at the quayside.

g12962a. Lund, Newcastle from Gateshead, detail Swing BridgeAnother huge sailing ship is being towed by a steam paddle tug through the open Swing Bridge. However, steam ships, like the black-painted vessel at the quay, were more typical of the shipping trade by the date of the picture.

g12962cc, Lund Newcastle from Gateshead, detail, train

In Lund’s painting, several steam trains are crossing the High Level Bridge, which had been opened by Queen Victoria 46 years earlier, in 1849. The new bridge was an immensely important land link between England and Scotland. It meant that road traffic could pass through Newcastle without having to negotiate the steep, narrow Side, as had been necessary for centuries.

K9288aa. Robert Stephenson photoThe bridge was designed by Robert Stephenson (pictured alongside) and Thomas Elliot Harrison. It was an astonishing engineering achievement, and its double-decked structure, with road below and rail above, was unique when it was built. The foundations were made from elm piles driven into the river bed by engineer James Nasmyth’s newly patented steam-driven pile driver. About 650 Newcastle families suffered the loss of their homes, knocked down to build the approach to the bridge.


John Wilson Carmichael’s view shows the bridge being built in 1848 (he has imagined the removal of scaffolding), with a construction yard set up at the end of the old stone Tyne Bridge. Travellers had to pay tolls to cross the High Level Bridge. It was a penny for a pedestrian, three pence for a horse and wagon, and ten pence for twenty cattle.

Feeeing from tolls ofHigh Level Bridge 10 May 1937 aa

It wasn’t until May 10th 1937 that the bridge became toll-free, after the bridge was purchased from the railway company by Newcastle and Gateshead Corporations. John Grantham, Mayor of Newcastle, is pictured at the ceremony on the bridge. The old Redheugh Bridge was purchased from the bridge company at the same time. The cost for both bridges was £275,060 (£112,530 contributed from central Government), with Newcastle paying the lion’s share as most of the width of the river lies within the city’s boundary. This was a very large sum at the time, but the benefits for trade and transport were thought to be worth it.

GH Andrews, View of Newcastle

The old Tyne Bridge eventually became a hindrance to shipping because it was so low. After the old bridge was knocked down, there was a temporary wooden bridge, which is pictured in London artist George Andrews’s view of 1872. A coal keel is on the right, with its mast down so it could pass under the bridge. The old Tyne Bridge was replaced by the Swing Bridge, which opened in 1876.

F3405ab TM Hemy, Newcastle from GatesheadThe Swing Bridge, seen on the left of TM Hemy’s watercolour view of 1881, was designed and constructed by Sir WG Armstrong and Company Limited of Elswick, Newcastle, and cost £240,000 to build. The river was dredged at the same time. As a result, large vessels were able travel up-river and Armstrong could develop his armaments and engineering works at Elswick. Subsequently, the Elswick works began to build ships and other industry also developed.

TWCMS_J12867aSir William Armstrong designed hydraulic engines to smoothly move the Swing Bridge, which weighs a massive 1,450 tons. In 1924, 6,000 vessels passed through the bridge. One group that suffered from the new bridge was Newcastle’s keelmen. Keels were easily able to pass under the old low bridge, and they were essential to carry coal (about 21 tonnes a load) to ships moored in deep water.  With the bridge gone and river dredged, there was much less need for keels.

TWCMS_1993_11003 Swing Bridge cropped

There’s a splendid model of the Swing Bridge on show in the ‘Story of the Tyne’ gallery at Discovery Museum, donated by the Tyne Improvement Commission. It shows a couple of sailing ships berthed up-river from the Swing Bridge, illustrating the better access it created.

TWCMS_K11190cc Tommy on the BridgeTommy Ferrens, known as ‘Tommy on the Bridge’, was a fixture on the Swing Bridge for many years (and previously on the old Tyne Bridge). Blinded and partially paralysed by childhood illness, he had little choice but to beg for a living. Rain or shine, he stood rocking from foot to foot on the boundary mark between Newcastle and Gateshead in the belief that this made him immune from police attention from either area. His constant presence and his obstreperousness meant that he was considered a ‘Newcastle character’ at the time, and he featured on picture postcards like this one. He collapsed on the bridge on 1 January 1907 and died soon afterwards in Gateshead Workhouse Hospital from apoplexy and the effects of cold weather.

The High Level Bridge is Newcastle’s oldest existing bridge and still carries considerable rail traffic. However, transport needs have moved on. The Swing Bridge is only required to open occasionally, and now the Tyne Bridge and the new Redheugh Bridge have taken over the majority of local road traffic. Today’s through traffic completely avoids the Tyne Gorge, using the A1 Western Bypass or the A19 Tyne Tunnels.

Illustrations: Newcastle upon Tyne from Gateshead, 1895, by Niels Møller Lund (1863-1916); Robert Stephenson (1803-1859), photograph by Maull & Polyblank, London; High Level Bridge, 1848 (detail), engraving, drawn by John W. Carmichael (1799-1868), engraved by George Hawkins; Freeing the High Level Bridge, 10th May 1937, Tyne & Wear Archives  DF.GRA/5/3, Photograph album, 10 May-August 1937; Newcastle from Gateshead (detail), 1881, watercolour by TM Hemy (1852-1937); Model of the Swing Bridge, about 1876; Tommy on the Bridge, about 1900, picture postcard:  all, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums collections.

References: ‘£275,000 To Free Bridges’, North Mail, 10 April 1937 p9; http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Newcastle-upon-Tyne; https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/wwwfileroot/legacy/libraries/HistoryofNewcastlemainbody.pdf

A teaspoon of history: the evolution of British cookery books

I am so excited for our upcoming event, Time Kitchen (Wed. Feb 22nd) to nibble delicious historic dishes and learn more about ancient recipes!

This event has inspired me to look into the history of cookery books, and the recipes in our museum collections.

The earliest surviving collection of recipes in Europe is De re coquinaria (The art of cooking), potentially by Marcus Gavius Apicius, an early version of which was compiled in the 1st century. The version currently used is believed to have been compiled in the 4th or 5th century, and the first print edition was made in 1483.

Apicius (public domain)

Apicius (public domain)


(If you want to taste a dish right out of ancient Rome, drop by the Time Kitchen event on Feb 22nd, and try the Roman lentil casserole!)


Since Medieval times, competition among nobles to host the most lavish feasts encouraged the rise of professional cooks, and recipe compilations aimed at the cooks for grand houses. But the first recipe books for domestic readers were still to come. In the 19th century, the emerging Victorian middle-class desire for domestic respectability encouraged the emergence of cookery books in a form we would recognise today.

In 1845 Eliza Acton published the first cookery bookn for domestic audiences, Modern Cookery for Private Families. This book established some of the norms for writing about cookery that are still practiced today. For example, she divided the book by types of food and meals, listed the ingredients and amounts needed, and suggested cooking times for each recipe. She also included sections for foreign recipes, mostly for chutneys, although these may not have been widely enjoyed until after the second World War.

Eliza Acton’s book influenced possibly the most famous British cookery book writer of all time- Mrs Isabella Beeton.


TWCMS : 1995.2872

Her book, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, was published in 24 monthly instalments between 1857 and 1861. Mrs Beeton was more like an editor than writer, as many recipes were plagiarised from earlier writers, including Eliza Acton.

TWCMS : 1995.2872

TWCMS : 1995.2872

This book was mostly recipes, but also included advice on fashion, parenting, animal husbandry, household management, religion, and much else. Mrs Beeton’s book has been reissued in numerous editions and has never been out of print.

TWCMS : 1995.2872

TWCMS : 1995.2872

Although recipe books now are based, consciously or unconsciously, on Acton and Beeton’s Victorian cookery books, they have changed a great deal in the last century and a half.

The way the recipes are written have changed to be more specific, to discuss adaptations for dietary requirements, and to incorporate colourful and tempting images to encourage domestic cooks (later editions of Mrs Beeton’s book began to include colourful illustrations as well).

The contents of recipes have also changed in line with what is in fashion, and what foodstuffs and technology is available to the domestic cook.

TWCMS : 1999.1509

TWCMS : 1999.1509

TWCMS : 1999.1509

TWCMS : 1999.1509

In the 1920s amd ’30s, gas cookers were a popular new technology becoming readily available to home cooks. Books of recipes adapted specially for gas cooking became popular.

During World War II, rationing was instituted in 1939 and did not end until after the war in 1954. It limited what was available to eat, and resulted in some interesting recipes using every last bit of the cow!

TWCMS : 2007.1971

TWCMS : 2007.1971

TWCMS : 2007.1971

TWCMS : 2007.1971

TWCMS : 2007.17

TWCMS : 2007.1971










This book also provides advice  specific to wartime circumstances. You can imagine, an air raid siren blaring and thinking ‘Oh NO! My casserole!’




In the 1960’s the celebrity chef began to take off, and one of the biggest was Marguerite Patten.


TWCMS : 2000.4518

Her encyclopedic books A to Z Cookery in colour provided recipes for anything the home cook would need to know, with beautiful images of the ingredients and finished product.


TWCMS : 2000.4518

In the 1980s microwave cooking was suddenly available to the domestic cook, and it became all the rage!


TWCMS : 2011.2917


TWCMS : 2011.2917

Now cookery books come in thousands of varieties, ranging from books highlighting specific dietary requirements, to featuring specific ingredients, to celebrating indigenous foods around the world.


TWCMS : 2011.1439


TWCMS : ol

TWCMS : 2011.1439








TWCMS : pij

TWCMS : 1995.2872