South Shields is an industrial and port town in the north-east of England, part of the metropolitan borough of South Tyneside in Tyne and Wear, and historically (until 1974) part of County Durham. It is located on the south bank of the River Tyne where the river enters the North Sea.
The Romans established a fort, Arbeia, on the headland overlooking the river mouth and the sea, and archaeologists believe that there was a small supply port on the river bank. Arbeia was rediscovered in the late nineteenth century and its excavated ruins are open to the public. Attempts to found a medieval town at the site by the Bishops of Durham, in whose domains South Shields lay, were frustrated by the monopoly control over river trade and traffic held by the Corporation of Newcastle upon Tyne until 1850.
Only in the eighteenth century did the town begin to develop from something other than a scatter of fishermen's huts (the shielings that give the town its name). Salt boiling on the coast had been a traditional activity; and, combined with iodine from seaweed collected locally, gave the raw ingredients for the manufacture of soda. From these beginnings, substantial chemical, soap and glass industries grew in the nineteenth century. Coal mining also took place locally (the last deep mine in the town, at Harton, only closed in the 1990s), and coal export was important: Tyne Dock, created in South Shields by the North Eastern Railway Company, was for many years the largest coal dock in the world in terms of tonnage handled. the town also had a shipbuilding industry, and ship repair and conversion is still carried on.
South Shields gained a Muslim Yemeni minority population - descendants of seamen - in the 1890s and despite some disturbances in 1919 between jobless (white) ex-servicemen and Yemenis, community relations are by and large harmonious.
Wartime South Shields
South Shields suffered a double blow in the Second World War. The town was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, and, as a very high proportion of its men were merchant seaman, losses from U-boat sinkings were heavy. South Shields lost a greater percentage of its civilian population to enemy action than any other town in Britain.
South Shields is connected to Newcastle upon Tyne and other districts in Tyne and Wear by the Tyne and Wear Metro, and to North Shields, on the north bank of the River Tyne, by the Shields Ferry, the last surviving of dozens of ferries across the river.
South Shields is the finishing point of the Great North Run.