The town of Jarrow on Tyneside has a long history dating back to the Romans, Vikings and the beginnings of early Christianity.
But it’s perhaps most famous for the Jarrow Crusade of 1936 when 200 men marched from Jarrow to London in protest against mass unemployment.
I was keen to follow in their footsteps, and discover some of Jarrow’s history including a few hidden treasures.
Jarrow Heritage Trail
Start the walk at the striking-looking Viking monument near to the shopping centre and Metro station in Jarrow town centre.
The two figures are a nod to the Vikings who first arrived in Jarrow in 794 AD, attracted by by the small town’s strategic location on the River Don.
One of the Vikings’ first acts was predictably to raid the Jarrow Monastery, but the Viking leader was captured and killed by the locals.
Jarrow’s town centre looks to have seen better days but don’t be put off by the drab looking buildings and tower blocks. There’s a lot to discover if you delve deeper, explore the waterfront, and keep your eyes peeled.
Just beyond the Viking monument, there’s a statue to Charles Mark Palmer, the town’s most famous industrialist and its first mayor. Palmer had a massive influence on the town’s fortunes, more of which later in the walk.
On the opposite side of Grange Road, you’ll see Town Hall, a distinctive red brick building, which was opened by Charles Palmer in 1902.
It was here that Joseph Symonds, one of the organisers of the Jarrow Crusade, set off in 1936. There’s even a plaque to commemorate his journey.
Walk further along Grange Road and you’ll arrive at Christ Church where the Jarrow marchers held a service before they set off on their march to London in 1936.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the Jarrow Crusade and the impact it made during the 1930s.
It caused shock waves throughout British society although little was done to help Jarrovians despite the protest.
The Jarrow Crusade was a reaction to the closure of the town’s shipyards in 1933. The yards were the main source of local employment and their demise had a devastating impact on the town.
It resulted in 80% of Jarrow’s working population ending up on the dole and on the brink of poverty.
The Crusade was designed to draw attention to the plight of Jarrovians. The march covered 282 miles and took 26 days to complete as the marchers walked to London with their banners.
On the way they were joined by local MP Ellen Wilkinson who was the only woman to participate in the march.
The marchers reached London on 31st October 1936 and Ellen Wilkinson presented their petition at Parliament.
During the last 15 years Jarrow has passed through a period of industrial depression without parallel in the town’s history. Its shipyard is closed. Its steelworks have been denied the tight to reopen. Where formerly 8,000 people, many of them skilled workers, were employed, only 100 men are now employed on a temporary scheme. The town cannot be left derelict, and therefore your Petitioners humbly pray that HM’s Government and this honourable house should realise the urgent need that work should be provided for the town without further delay.Jarrow Crusade Petition
But their cries for help were largely ignored and the government did little to help bring work to Jarrow.
Ironically, World War II revived employment in the town whilst the post-war clearance put an end to housing overcrowding.
But by the mid-1970s, Jarrow was once again suffering from high unemployment – and sadly, this continues today. I’m sure that the Jarrow marchers would have been devastated if they knew their efforts had failed the town.
Inside the Shipbuilding Town
Walk along Grange Road until you meet Ferry Road and Staple Road junction. Head towards the waterfront parkland from where there are good views along the Tyne.
This area would have looked hugely different when Charles Mark Palmer started the shipbuilding industry here with his brother George in 1851.
It marked a massive turning point in the town’s history and resulted in a huge boom in its population.
Jarrow was transformed from a small community into a major shipbuilding and industrial centre. My great grandfather James Wilkinson was a shipyard manager in the 1870s at Palmer’s.
Today it’s hard to imagine the sheer scale of the shipbuilding works on Jarrow and Hebburn riverfront. Palmers’ shipyards covered a whopping 140 acres and extended for a mile along the riverside.
There were two large shipbuilding yards, a slipway, engine works, several iron foundries, steel works and blast furnaces. It must have looked and sounded like an industrial inferno…
In 1852 Palmer Brothers launched their first ship, a tug called Northumberland. It was the first of many ships to roll off the production line.
Palmers also became a major builder of warships for the Royal Navy and also manufactured several torpedo boat destroyers.
Ships with names like Hercules, Nelson, Pegasus, Terror, Undaunted and Surprise were just some of the battleships and cruisers built in Jarrow.
Within a few years Palmers became the largest shipbuilding plant in the country, employing thousands of men and boosting Jarrow’s economy.
The industrial complex was so extensive in scale that the cranes of Palmers’ shipyards would have been visible from the end of several streets in the town.
Today’s riverfront is much quieter and there are few signs of the town’s shipbuilding past. It’s hard to locate the Palmers’ works without looking at an old map (see above).
The other point of interest here is a monument telling the story of a former pub which was located on the riverside site. The Gaslight was one of the town’s oldest drinking dens and was popular with shipyard and industrial workers.
The memorial also tells the grisly tale of William Jobling, one of the last men to be executed and gibbeted in England. It’s thought that he was brought here and secretly buried by his family in 1832.
Before leaving the riverside area, take a slight detour to your left to the Tyne Tunnel pedestrian and cycle tunnel which is well worth a separate trip.
The tunnel was opened in 1951 and links Jarrow with Howdon on the north bank of the Tyne.
You can’t miss the strangely shaped dome of the entrance which resembles an UFO!
The tunnel was opened in 1951 and links Jarrow with Howdon on the north bank of the Tyne. There are actually two parallel tunnels which are 300 metres long.
They’re reached by the world’s longest wooden escalators which are 186 feet long. It’s fun to peer down and see the seemingly endless escalator as it rattles down to the bottom.
I’m fascinated by underground tunnels so this is definitely something I’ll be coming back to see on my next trip!
After taking a quick look inside, return to Chaytor Street and walk towards the Shell Oil Terminal on Priory Road.
Once at the terminal, take a left down Curlew Road and follow the River Don cycleway to Slake Road.
It may not be the most scenic route but the scenery does improve when you reach the banks of the River Don.
The original settlement of Jarrow was built at the mouth of the Don, showing the importance of this waterway in early times.
Jarrow’s original name was King Ecgfrith’s Port after the Northumbrian king who gave the land to the monks of Jarrow.
Later it became known as ‘Donmouth’ which was just a small hamlet and continued to be a tiny community for many centuries.
Everything changed in 1803 when the Alfred Pit opened, heralding the age of industrialisation and the rapid growth of Jarrow.
It’s here that you’ll come to an area that was known as Jarrow’s Lake or ‘Jarrow Slake’ which at one time provided a sheltered haven at the mouth of the River Don.
Tyne Dock was created from part of Jarrow Slake in 1859 so that coal could be shipped and goods such as iron ore could be brought in.
There’s also a grisly murder story associated with this place. Nicholas Fairles, a local magistrate, was murdered here in 1832. William Jobling (see above) was found guilty of his murder and was gibbeted close by.
In the 1870’s a floating hospital was moored at Jarrow Slake to deal with cholera victims in a group of white huts built on a pontoon.
It was to designed to prevent the importation of infectious diseases from overseas ports. The Port Sanitary Authorities checked ships for signs of diseases and the sick were removed to an isolation hospital.
A smallpox epidemic in South Shields in 1871 required 51 patients to be admitted to the floating hospital for treatment. A kind of early example of a pandemic hospital.
Sadly for us, the hospital was dismantled in the 1930s.
In the 1970s Jarrow Slake’s gloopy mud flats were reclaimed so you’ll have to use your imagination as you look out over the site today.
Turning right along the footpath, you’ll come to an inter-tidal mud flat which is a great place for wildlife watching. On my visit there was a large group of mute swans.
Bede and His World
Walk a short distance past the wildlife area and turn right at the car park into Drewett’s Park.
This large green space was given to the people in 1910 by Drewett Ormonde Drewett, a former resident of nearby Jarrow Hall which we’ll come to later in the heritage trail.
Drewett is one hell of a name but sadly there is little information about the life of the man. Apparently he lived in Jarrow Hall for only a short time because of the fumes from a neighbouring chemical works!
Turn left and follow the path around to St Paul’s Church along the river edge which feels like being back in earlier times.
As you approach St Paul’s Church you’ll see an old bridge across the river which was built in the 18th Century. It’s possible there was an early bridge which served the monastery and church nearby.
I wondered whether there might have been a Roman bridge here, given that they built a fort at Arbeia in nearby South Shields.
Originally a long causeway skirted the edge of Jarrow Slake leading to the bridge.
Continue for a short distance along the route ahead of you and then turn right up the path to St Paul’s Church and Monastery, one of Britain’s most important sites of early Christianity.
The monastery was founded by Benedict Biscop who had visited Rome and dreamed of creating an important Christian site and seat of learning in England.
The Venerable Bede lived and worked here until AD 735. But the Vikings sacked the monastery in AD 794 and left it in ruins.
Fortunately the church was restored in 1074 and looks in amazing condition today, given its age and ancient origins.
This church and monastery were located near the River Don because it connected them to the river and the North Sea. I had never made this connection before when I visited the site.
Arriving from the riverside walk direction gives a great new perspective on the history of the area.
During Anglo-Saxon times there were craft makers and early industries on the nearby riverside site including glass making.
Glass workers had been brought in even earlier by Benedict Biscop who employed Gaulish glaziers to make Britain’s first stained glass for the monastery’s windows.
Stand and marvel at this incredible relic of an earlier age which has survived the ravages of time. I can hardly believe that the church was built in AD 681. It’s still a place of worship today.
The monastery ruins are largely 11th Century but standing amongst the stones give you a really good feel for what it would have looked like in Bede’s time.
After your visit, head down the front path of the church towards the main road and turn right up the hill towards the Bede Museum and Jarrow Hall.
Turn down the side entrance to the museum and then take a right towards old Jarrow Hall which is viewable from the outside.
Built in 1785, Jarrow Hall played an important role in the industrial boom in the town and was the home of several important entrepreneurs.
It was built by the mining and shipbuilding developer Simon Temple who opened Jarrow colliery in 1803. The mining development kickstarted Jarrow’s industrial growth and propelled it from hamlet to small town.
Walk back and turn right towards the Bede Museum , formerly known as Bede’s World,
The Bede Museum is well worth a visit for its outdoor historic reconstructions, artefacts and tours… take a trip around the museum if you have time.
Alternatively, head back to Church Bank and take a right turn and walk back towards Jarrow Town centre.
When you meet the junction with Priory Road, continue over the road and go straight ahead does High Street back into the main town.
Jarrow might not be the most fashionable visitor attraction on Tyneside but the heritage trail around the town reveals hidden treasures,
There is a huge amount of history here from the ancient to the modern. I’d strongly recommend making your own crusade to Jarrow and looking at the town through a fresh pair of eyes.
Credits and Maps
This 3 mile (5km) heritage walk is based on the South Tyneside Jarrovian Journey Trail with additional stops and information.
Photographs are copyright of Tammy Tour Guide. Archive images are from Newcastle Libraries, Tyne and Wear Archives and Malcolm Dillon.
Sources include Malcolm Dillon’s Some Account of the works of Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron company and Tyne Built Ships.
The plan of shipbuilding yard, engine, steel and iron works at Jarrow-on-Tyne is copyright and courtesy of Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Limited.)