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North Shields 'new town'

In 1796 Frederick Howard, the 5th Earl of Carlisle, sold some of his plots of land in North Shields to John Wright who had plans for an ambitious townscape in a ‘new town’.  This included a grand processional way to be named Howard Street after the Earl’s family name, terminating in an elegant Georgian square to be named Northumberland Square.

Map of proposed Howard Street and Northumberland Square

John Wood’s plan of North Shields 1826

In its early days Howard Street consisted of large shops and offices at the river end with smaller houses, often occupied by sea captains and ‘gentlemen’ at the end beside Northumberland Square.

Sketch of Howard Street in 1889

Following their appointment in 1828, the new town commissioners for North Shields decided to commission municipal offices. The new building was designed by John Dobson and opened as the North Shields Municipal Offices in 1845. North Shields quickly grew to become the economic centre of the local area and was absorbed into the new municipal borough of Tynemouth in 1849. The new council chose to adopt the building in North Shields as its town hall. Facilities inside the building included a courtroom, a police station, and cells for five prisoners.

1861 image of Tynemouth Borough Town Hall

Hustings at the Town Hall taken during the Borough of Tynemouth by-election in 1861

Portrait of John Dobson, Architect

John Dobson

John Dobson (1787 – 1865) was, during his lifetime, the most noted architect in Northern England. Born in The Pineapple public house in Chirton, he designed more than 50 churches and 100 private houses. Best known for his work with Richard Grainger designing Granger Town in Newcastle he also designed several buildings in North Shields that are still standing today. These include the buildings which are now St. Columba’s United Reform Church on Northumberland Square, the Salvation Army Citadel at 28 Howard Street and the Exchange Theatre building which was once the town hall.

Wartime Recruiting

On Friday, 26th November, 1915, I climbed the stairs to the war-time Recruiting Office in the Scottish Presbyterian Church Hall, Howard Street, North Shields, and joined H.M.Army, and so started, like tens of thousands of young men, a happy, adventurous, exhilarating, dirty, squalid, degrading and frightening experience.

Photo of the former Scottish Presbyterian Church and Tasker Hall in Howard Street

The post-war period was a time when North Shields was a bustling town, with a thriving fishing industry and shipbuilding presence that supported a huge range of local businesses and commercial services located in and around Howard Street. Howard Street was the centre of commercial life; home to building societies, solicitors, accountants, insurance companies and Tynemouth County Borough’s civic building complex.


“When I first started at the office, (Howard Street) was a street of professional practices. There were three firms of accountants in Howard Street, there was a firm Leslie Knox and company on the western side, Tom Read at number 71 and there was another firm, French Wallace and Company who were a little bit further down the street.”


“It was an area of business… and very much centred around the local corporation, Tynemouth Corporation. The electricity Board was also in this building and there were a couple of insurance companies adjacent, the Pearl Assurance and the Refuge Assurance Companies. And of course, everyone came here to pay their rates so it was a centre for the local population using these buildings.”

Photo of Howard Street with Pearl Assurance on left
Photo of Elliot and Gladstone hardware shop dated 1909

Howard Street and Northumberland Square were also home to a range of other businesses and organisations, providing services that catered for all aspects of life including food and health and wellbeing.

This image dating from 1909 shows Elliot and Gladstone’s hardware shop with its staff posing outside and a few onlookers eager to get in on the act.

Howard Street and Northumberland Square have provided the setting for local communities to gather to mark moments of local and national significance, both joyful and sombre. From celebrating a local football team’s Amateur FA cup win, to marking royal funerals, the area holds great cultural importance as a place for public events.

In 1969 North Shields A.F.C won the Amateur FA cup, after beating Sutton United in the final at Wembley. They were welcomed home with an open-topped bus procession round Northumberland Square and down Howard Street as shown in this image.


You can read or listen to memories of other events which took place in or around the square, such as the annual procession of witness on Good Friday, welcoming in the New Year or the radio broadcast of the funeral of George V on our North Shields Heritage action Zone project page.

Photo of North Shields FC open-topped bus parade at Northumberland Square in 1969