I can remember on a payday coming into the house shouting "We've got a body this week!"
North Shields Fish Quay in the 1940s and 1950s was a little world all of its own.
The mortuary on the Fish Quay was known as the ‘Deed Hoose’ and was situated within Clifford’s Fort at the end of a terrace next to Ballard’s smokehouse. The remnants of the building are still there, it is roofless, but the curve of the double doors can still be seen. The mortuary was very basic, it consisted of a double lead-lined slab with a sink at the bottom, a hose brush which was used to wash the bodies down.
The Deed Hoose was looked after by an old lady called “Meggie”. A little woman always dressed in black with a small pair of spectacles on. She lived nearby on the Fish Quay. What Meggie didn’t know about deed bodies was nobody’s business, or so she thought. This was before the days of refrigeration, and one of Meggie’s jobs was to wash to bodies down to “Keep them Clean”.
I served in the River Tyne Police Force for 31 years, retiring in 1983, and that’s how I became acquainted with the Deed Hoose. The scientific equipment on the Police Launch consisted of a pair of size 12 wellies and very, very sharp knife which was used for cutting the clothing from the bodies (and for gutting fish, for which we got our fair share). We were paid ten shillings for particularly badly decomposed bodies. I was newlywed in the early days and hard up, I can remember on a payday coming into the house shouting “We’ve got a body this week”.
Transporting the bodies in those days was a problem, I remember on one occasion we landed a particularly “bad one” at the Fish Quay but no one would transport it, so a Fish Quay worker produced a pram and we wheeled it from the Gut to the mortuary. The outcry in the Shields Evening News of that day was terrific. We had quite a lot of explaining to do to the public, and the Chief Constable.
At that time, there was another Deed Hoose – it was the nickname of a pub, the Northumberland Arms, situated in the middle of Lower Bedford Street. The building is still there near the end to a terrace of garages on your left heading towards the river. It was named that because there was no life in the pub at all.