On the Trail of Stan Laurel in North Shields

Stan Laurel immortalised in North Shields

Stan Laurel was part of one of the most famous Hollywood comedy duos of all time with Oliver Hardy. But few people know about the depth of his Geordie roots in North East England.

Laurel and Hardy were kings of comedy in the 1920s-1950s, appearing in 107 short films, feature films, and comedy roles. They were adored by fans and heralded by critics as two of the greatest comedians of all time.

But there’s no doubt that Stan Laurel’s career and comedy style was influenced by his upbringing in northern England. His sketches drew heavily on music hall traditions and his childhood memories.

My Stan Laurel Film Trail takes you on a tour around his former home town of North Shields to discover his life on Tyneside and how it influenced his career.

Looking for Stan Laurel

START – Point 1 – The Old High Light – Tyne Street – North Shields

Even tho’ I was born in Lancashire, I’ve always felt I belonged to Shields.”

Stan Laurel letter to Vic Silver (a Tyneside comedian), 1955

Start your tour at the Old High Light on the corner of Tyne Street and Beacon Street in North Shields. This distinctive building was designed to help guide ships along the river and would’ve been well known to Stan Laurel who lived on a street nearby.

Walk for about 100 metres towards another tall, white building called the New High Light which is directly opposite Dockwray Square where the young Stan Laurel lived in the early 1900s.

From here there are panoramic views over North Shields Fish Quay and the River Tyne which must have been a familiar sight for the young Stan Laurel. But the riverfront scene would have been very different in his day with dozens of fishing boats plying their trade along the river, and fish being gutted on the quayside.

The High Light

Point 2 – Dockwray Square Laurel Park – North Shields – Stan’s Childhood Home

On your left, you’ll reach a small park – Laurel Park – named after Stan Laurel. Walk through the main gate and head towards the large statue of Stan Laurel in the centre of the park.

You should now be standing in Laurel Park. A statue by artist Bob Olley was erected in 1992 to commemorate Stan Laurel’s association with North Shields. It’s a decent likeness and captures the cheeky humour of his befuddled character.

Stan Laurel has been quoted as saying that his heart belonged to North Shields. It’s clear that the town was an important influence on him as were its people and his parents’ theatrical friends.

Laurel Park – North Shields

Stan Laurel was born ‘Arthur Stanley Jefferson’ in Ulverston, Lancashire in 1890. The name change to Stan Laurel came later when he was living in Hollywood. Stan was worried that a name with 13 letters might be bad luck so he officially became ‘Stan Laurel’ in 1931.

Stan’s family moved to North Shields around 1895 and he spent 10 years of his life in the town between the ages of 5-15. He later claimed that the experience of living in North Shields “made me”.

His father was Arthur Jefferson, a theatre manager and actor from Bishop Auckland, and his mother Margaret (‘Madge’ – née Metcalfe), was an actress. They moved around the country with their work and were never in one place for long. Arthur Jefferson moved to North Shields to manage several theatres including the Theatre Royal.

The 1901 Census shows the family living at 8 Dockwray Square with Sarah Metcalfe, Stan’s grandmother, as well as two domestic servants. Mary Ellis – a ‘monthly nurse’ – is also listed. She was a midwife who was waiting for the delivery of Stan’s baby brother on Census day. Bizarrely, the newborn is crossed out on the list of people on the Census form because he arrived overnight!

Stan Laurel listed in the 1901 Census c/o Ancestry

Point 3 – 8 Dockwray Square – Stan Laurel’s Home Life

Leave the park from the back gate and turn left onto the square of modern houses. Sadly the original house where Stan Laurel once lived were demolished in the 1930s.

You can still see the location of Stan Laurel’s old family home. Look for house number 6 on Dockwray Square which was once the site of his family’s residence – a large terraced house..

The original house was notable because it was the first place where Stan had permanently been able to live with his parents. Previously he’d frequently been left to live with his grandmother when his parents toured the country.

You can’t miss the site because there’s a blue heritage plaque on the front wall of the house, although, bizarrely, some of the dates are wrong.

Stan’s father ran several theatres around the north east of England – two in North Shields and others in Blyth, Jarrow, Hebburn, Wallsend, and Bishop Auckland.

When I first came to North Shields for work, I’d wrongly assumed that Dockwray Square had been a poor area but was surprised to discover that it was a smart place to live in Stan Laurel’s day during the early 1900s.

Old Dockwray Square

Stan recalled his early years in North Shields in a series of letters, remembering how he “first started at a kindergarten at some house in Dockwray Square – it was down in a basement”.

The school house was actually located at 34 Dockwray Square where he was taught by a Miss Mason.

The theatre was definitely in Stan’s blood from an early age. His parents even converted the house attic into a performance area so he could put on his own plays. Legend has it that whilst rehearsing a fight scene, young Stan knocked over a paraffin lamp and nearly burned the house down!

The young Stan also performed an impromptu play called “The Rivals of Dockwray Square” with his siblings in the backyard of the house in 1897. The photographs (see above) show these early performances at the house.

Stan appeared in one of his father’s early outdoor productions – a huge procession through the streets of North Shields to celebrate the Relief of Mafeking (a famous battle in the Boer War).

This epic event featured servicemen, bands, carriages, horses, 8,000 school children, and theatrical tableaux. In the evening there was a torch procession and illuminations culminating in a massive firework display in Dockwray Square.

“Dockwray Square was magnificently lit up and presented a dazzling sight. A band played in the area and there was a capital pyrotechnic display given in the presence of thousands of people,” reported the Shields Daily Gazette. The newspaper also reported that a huge bonfire was lit on nearby Clive Street where a greasy pole was erected and “a program of sports was carried out” during the day with prizes of hams and soap!

Stanley played the young hero, “Bugler Dunne” in the production. He’s pictured (see below) with a horse ridden by his friend Roland Park. The main parade took place in Dockwray Square not far from the family house, and moved through the town to Northumberland Square.

My Dad produced a show battle of Boers and Britons in Dockwray Square – fireworks and bonfires etc – with impersonations of Lord Roberts, Kitchener, Buller – Kruger – and myself as bugler Dunne.

“I still have a photograph of myself taken that day”.

Stan Laurel letter – 1954 – Copyright of Letters From Stan

Stan lived in North Shields until 1905 when his family moved to Glasgow where he made his stage debut at the Britannia Panopticon music hall in 1906 at the age of 16. That’s where he started to wear his trademark top hat and baggy suit, a forerunner of his movie character.

But Stan never forgot his Tyneside roots, often referring to his Geordie upbringing. He retained a strong affection for North Shields, calling it “canny auld Shields” in his letters home from Hollywood.

Stan was photographed on the steps of his former house when he visited the town in 1932 after he became famous. Sadly the property was demolished later in the 1930s to be replaced by modern flats which were also torn down in the 1970s.

Stan continued to regard Dockwray Square as his “spiritual home” even after he found fame and fortune in Hollywood. It was here that he discovered the theatre and learnt how to perform to an audience for the first time.

Stan Laurel’s visit to Dockwray Square – 1932

Point 4 – The Stairs – North Shields – Comedy Inspiration

Walk back towards Tyne Road from Dockwray Square. Face the river, turn left and walk 100 metres towards the ‘How Do You Do’ public house . There’s a distinctive replica wooden dolly by the outdoor sitting area. Take the long flight of stairs on your right down to the Fish Quay below.

You should now be on Union Quay Stairs, one of several long flights stairs linking North Shields quayside with the higher main town. It was one of many staircases linking the high and low towns at the turn of the century.

This vertical staircase may have provided inspiration for one of Laurel and Hardy’s most famous comedy sketches in the silent film “Hats Off” (1927). There were several similar staircases in Stan’s day and it’s debatable if the famous sketch was an amalgam of several of the stairs close to his family home.

One thing is certain. Stan Laurel would have seen furniture being dragged up the stairs on the quayside as a boy.

In the Hollywood movie , he re-imagined a scene with removal men carting furniture up impossibly steep stairs, only to discover they could have taken an easier route to the top.

The movie version was shot on a steep flight of stairs on Vendome Street in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

The duo repeated the gag in a scene for “The Music Box” with two men grappling with an unwieldy piano. It’s one of my favourite Laurel and Hardy sketches with brilliantly choreographed pratfalls and slapstick humour.

Each time the piano slips and bounces down the 147 steps, it ramps up this classic comedy or errors.

There’s no doubt that Stan sometimes took inspiration from his Geordie childhood for sketches, characters and drew on Tyneside humour… and this is the best example of how he drew on his early life on Tyneside.

“The Music Box” sketch

Point 5 – North Shields Fish Quay “Another Nice Mess You’ve Gotten Me Into”

Turn left at the bottom of the Union Quay steps and walk along the main quayside towards North Shields Fish Quay… imagine the scene in Stan’s day when fishing was a major industry.

When Stan Laurel was a boy, North Shields Fish Quay would have been teaming with fishing boats and industry. The smell of the fish and guano works would have been overwhelming. During herring season this area – known as the Low Lights – would’ve been packed with fishing boats and women gutting, salting and packing the fish.

Stan Laurel is thought to have drawn on these early experiences for sketches in several films. In the film “Towed in the Hole” Oliver and Hardy play travelling fishmongers who decide to cut out the middle man and catch their own fish. The pair buy an old boat and do it up –but unsurprisingly things don’t go to plan. There are definite echoes of the fishermen and boat builders who would have worked on the Fish Quay during Stan Laurel’s early years.

“Towed in the Hole” – film clip

The 1930 short film – The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case – may also have been inspired by Stan Laurel’s time in North Shields. It opens with a comedy sequence featuring Oliver and Hardy fishing on a quayside.

There’s an detailed description of these films in Danny Lawrence’s excellent book “The Making of Stan Laurel: Echoes of a British Boyhood” which I cannot recommend too highly if you’re a fan of Stan Laurel.

Lawrence believes that North Shields had a major impact on Stan, pointing out that many of Laurel and Hardy’s films feature sailors, ships, and ports. “Saps At Sea’, “Any Old Port” and “Our Relations” are just three examples.

The duo fishing – The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

Stan later wrote about the mischief which he got up to on North Shields Fish Quay which led to him being sent to boarding school in Tynemouth. He also refers to how this influenced his comedy film characterisations.

He also remembers mucking around on the Quay and falling into a barrel of fish guts and having to be hosed down!

The reason my folks had me board there was due to my always being in mischief and trouble at home – like setting fire to the house (accidentally, of course) and falling into a barrel of fish guts in my best Sunday suit on the Fish Quay near the “Wooden Dolly”… drinking gin (thought it was water), got cockeyed and many more escapades too numerous to mention.

Think this was the forerunner of my film character!

Stan Laurel letter – Copyright © 2020
North Shields Fish Quay
North Shields Fish Quay

Point 6 – Tanner’s Bank – North Shields to Tynemouth – Stan’s Neighbourhood

Walk along the quayside and take a sharp left turn up Tanner’s Bank and continue to the top of the bank where it meets Tynemouth Road. Turn right and continue along the road towards Tynemouth.

As you walk up Tanner’s Bank try to imagine what life in North Shields would’ve been like when Stan lived here. Industries on this road included a large saw mill, tanneries, breweries and smoke houses. There are still visible signs of some of these buildings even today.

As you reach Tynemouth, take a left turn along Station Terrace towards what is now the Metro station. This station is where Stan would have got off the steam train from North Shields on his journey to school.

Tynemouth Station

Stan recalls getting into all sorts of mischief including spending his fare on buying sweets instead of his rail journey. He wasn’t averse to bunking off school either, as he admitted in later interviews.

“I used to go to school in Tynemouth and ride the old steam train every day. That was quite an event for me to go by myself with my school bag strapped on my back wearing knickers & cap!

Sometimes I had to walk! I spent my fare on Black Bullets! They used to sell big ones at a penny apiece. I asked the lady in the shop once, how long she would let me have one for a H’appney, as I only had that much and she wouldn’t cut it in half. Anyway she gave me one on the promise to pay the [rest] later!

Stan Laurel letter to Mary Rutter – 1957 – Copyright © 2020

Point 7 – Tynemouth King’s School – School Days

Walk past Tynemouth Metro station and up to your left until you meet Huntingdon Place where there is a small park. Turn right and you’ll see the King’s Priory School. Continue along Huntingdon Place and turn right. Walk for 100 metres to a side road called Newcastle Terrace where you’ll find what was once Gordon’s College.

Kings Priory School – Tynemouth

Today the King’s School in Tynemouth is seen as the ‘posh’ school, just as it was in Stan’s day. The fact that his parents had enough money to send him there shows their affluence and status in the community.

Before being sent to the King’s School, he attended another Tynemouth school called ‘Jesmond College‘ which Stan referred to as ‘Gordon’s’ in his letters. It was a private school run by a father and son team.

Look for this former private school at 2 Newcastle Terrace to the rear of Huntingdon Place in a large 3-storey terraced house.

‘Gordon’s” College – 2 Newcastle Terrace, Tynemouth

Stan was enrolled as a boarding pupil in Tynemouth which seems strange because it’s not far between North Shields and Tynemouth. But he was clearly a handful and his parents had to juggle a hectic schedule. Stan says that he was sent there because of “always being in mischief and trouble at home”.

Later he wrote about the time he spent at the college and told an interesting anecdote about his teacher, James Gordon.

He was quite a character – he collected cats. Don’t think he ever let them out of the house – you could smell them from Jarrow. The fish quay was like a garden of roses compared [with the house].

The old screwball used too write poetry and we had to sit and listen to it all day long. His favourite one was ‘Ode to the Tyneside’.”

Stan Laurel letter – Copyright © 2020

In 1903 Stan was sent to board at King James 1 Grammar School in Bishop Auckland because he wasn’t making good academic progress in Tynemouth. But he continued to get up to mischief and later claimed that he was probably “the worst scholar that ever attended” the grammar school.

Despite this Stan was later to refer to his childhood as the happiest days of his life. Some biographers have speculated that these school experiences may have influenced how Stan Laurel depicted pompous teachers in his comedy sketches when he became famous.

Point 8 – The Grand Hotel and Longsands – Tynemouth – Celebrating the ‘Kings of Comedy

Retrace your footsteps to the Queen Victoria statue at Huntingdon Terrace and cross over onto the main road. Turn left down Percy Park Road just before you meet Tynemouth’s Front Street. Continue for 300 metres until you hit the sea front at Grand Parade.

Stand on the seafront and look towards the Grand Hotel where Laurel and Hardy visited in the early 1930s.

Laurel and Hardy often stayed at the Grand Hotel when they were appearing at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. But their 1932 trip was different… it was intended as a celebration of Stan Laurel’s homecoming.

Film historian AJ Marriott says that Stan Laurel told the crowd that: “I was not born in North Shields, but I feel that I just belong here. I am proud to be amongst you all”. In his speech to the crowds Stan described it as “the greatest day of my life” and wiped tears from his face. It was in his own words “a great homecoming”.

Amateur newsreel footage shows the duo at a civic reception and a charity event on Longsands beach. There’s an amazing ceremony where the two of them hand out presents to 600 local children.

Grand Hotel – Laurel and Hardy reception

On another visit to Tyneside in 1947 Oliver Hardy is said to have quipped that Stan was so excited about nearing his hometown that “he almost jumped out of the car'” with excitement.

Laurel and Hardy were to return the Grand Hotel several times on their national tours, but by the 1950s the seaside hotel was showing signs of faded glory:

I remember staying at the Grand Hotel in Tynemouth in ’52. We spent two miserable weeks there, the place was so dilapidated and run down and most uncomfortable. Was happy to leave the place.

I wouldn’t have stayed there one more night if we could have found other accommodations. We expected to say at the Railway Hotel in Newcastle, but unable to get reservations.”

Stan Laurel – 1958 letter – copyright of Letter From Stan

Before you move on, take a look at the heritage board about the history of this area (opposite the Grand Hotel) which has more information about Laurel and Hardy.

Heritage board – Longsands

Laurel and Hardy returned in February 1947 for another civic reception. On this occasion they met with the Mayor of Tynemouth, whilst they were appearing at the Newcastle Empire Theatre.

Their last stay at the Grand Hotel took place in 1952 for two weeks, while they were once again performing at the Newcastle Empire. The hotel still has a room named after the comedy duo.

Point 9 – Tynemouth Pavilion – Seaside Memories

Walk in a northerly direction up the coast road for about 200 metres and stop at the Tynemouth Ornamental Lake.

Stand here and look out to the sea and beach. On the opposite side of the road there would’ve been a large building called the Tyneside Pavilion which later burned down in 1996.

As a boy Stan Laurel came to the beach here and remembered riding his pony across the golden sands.

A letter from Stan Laurel to a fan called Mrs Miller who lived in Tynemouth reveals how much he loved the area:

Thank you for the belated Xmas greeting card calendar with a view of Tynemouth Pavilion on the sands…

The site of the pavilion brought back many happy memories of my early days – that was one of my favourite haunts.

I used to often ride the sands on my pony – her name was ‘Peggy’.”

Stan Laurel letter to Mrs Miller, 1960 – Courtesy of Letter From Stan

He also visited Cullercoats during his youth, and saw the fishermen catching crabs and lobsters. This may have inspired the escaped crab sequence in the film “Liberty” and Stan’s quirky pet lobster sketch in “Atoll K”.

Point 10 – Ayre’s Terrace, North Shields – Stan Laurel’s Miniature Theatre

Return to North Shields along Percy Park Road (to the left) and then take the Tynemouth Road to North Shields Christ Church. Go straight ahead along the main to road to Albion Terrace. Take a right turn along Ayre’s Terrace and walk to the top of the street.

Stan Laurel’s last home on Tyneside was Ayton House on the northern edge of North Shields. The family moved into this impressive detached property around 1902, but didn’t stay for very long. His father was already experiencing financial troubles and theatre woes but still took a lease on the new house.

This larger house would have been a step up in terms of the family’s affluence. A walk along Ayre’s Terrace gives a feel for the neighbourhood which was regarded as “suburban” in its heyday. One of the larger older houses on Ayre’s Terrace (see above left) gives a sense of what Ayton House might have looked like.

The only surviving photograph of Ayton House shows Stan posing on the steps with his mother around 1905.

Stan Laurel at Ayton House with his mother – copyright of Lois Laurel-Hawes

Walk along Ayres Terrace, turn right up Brightman Road and walk to the top of the street. Take the footpath on your right which follows the line of allotments. Ayton House would’ve been located somewhere to your right.

Trying to find its exact location requires some cunning detective work. The house is shown on a 1918 map of North Shields (shown below) but it was demolished some years later.

In its day, Ayton House was a spacious property with “14 lofty rooms”, four bedrooms and two attic bedrooms as well as a large garden. It was an ideal family home and also boasted “excellent cellarage” which Stan’s father could use to store alcohol supplies for his bars.

Stan persuaded his Dad to create a miniature theatre in the attic where he performed sketches on the small stage in front of his young friends. He called it the “Stanley Jefferson Amateur Dramatic Society” and showed early business acumen by charging an admission fee. One of his earliest plays was a melodrama featuring Stan as a heroic character chasing a bloodthirsty villain.

But by 1905 the Jefferson family had moved on, they left Tyneside and went to live and work in Glasgow after a difficult period of theatre problems. They would never return to live in North Shields.

When Stan Laurel visited North Shields in 1932, he tried to find the old house but discovered the area was much changed since his boyhood. Ayton House was demolished in the 1930s. In common with many of the area’s large villa houses it was replaced by smaller, high density terraced homes.

Ayton House – 1918 c/o National Library of Scotland

Point 11 – Northumberland Square – North Shields – The Wooden Dolly

Follow your footsteps back down Ayres’s Terrace to Albion Road and take a left turn, walking down to Upper Camden Street. Take the right turn down this street towards Northumberland Square and enter the small park with its centrepiece of a wooden dolly.

One of Stan Laurel’s childhood friends, Roland Park, lived in Northumberland Square and the two men stayed in touch down the years. Stan would have been familiar with the square’s Georgian style houses and the park from his visits to Roland’s house.

Laurel had a deep affection for what he called “Canny Auld Shields” as seen in his letters to friends written in California. In a letter of 1958 Stan describes some of the improvements to North Shields and mentions the Wooden Dolly in Northumberland Square.

You can still see the dolly figure today, having been recently restored. It was originally created by Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson in 1958.

They are certainly making great progress in modernising ‘Canny Auld Shields’. I can imagine the changes that have been made since I last visited – even to a new ‘Wooden Dolly’ in Northumberland Square”

Stan Laurel letter – 1958 – courtesy of Letters from Stan

Point 12 – Norfolk Street – North ShieldsThe Old Town

Walk to the edge of Northumberland Square and take the furthest road to the left which is Norfolk Street. Walk down to the right and carry on for another 200 metres until you reach the road’s junction with Savile Street.

Former Town hall North Shields
The former Town Hall

In Stan Laurel’s day Norfolk Street was a busy place and a civic hub especially the Town Hall where Stan’s father, Arthur Jefferson, a local councillor for Tynemouth, attended important committee meetings.

Stan’s father was often busy sorting out council business, theatre work and doing charitable work. In his later life Stan was to refer to his his absent Dad as “The Guvnor”.

Arthur Jefferson was also an active freemason and member of the St George’s Lodge in North Shields. The lodge met in a number of venues in North Shields including the Freemasons’ Hall and the Albion Tavern close to where you’re now standing.

Arthur Jefferson – North Shields freemason records – 1900

It was here where Stan returned with Oliver Hardy for a reception in 1932. The duo attended a civic welcome at the Town Hall before being entertained at the nearby Albion Assembly Rooms where they enjoyed a lunch hosted by the Mayor.

A rare photo taken outside the Assembly Rooms shows them lost in a sea of people whilst another picture has them being escorted around the town.

“Ain’t it grand to be blooming well home,” Stan Laurel told a huge crowd of adoring fans who mobbed them.

Oliver and Hardy visit North Shields in 1932

Point 13 – Lower Rudyerd Street – North Shields – Theatre Life

At the junction of Norfolk Street and Savile Street turn right along Savile Street and walk for 150 metres until you reach Rudyerd Street. Turn left down Rudyerd Street and walk for 150 metres to the bottom which turns into ‘Lower Rudyerd Street’.

The Boro’ Theatre – corner of Lower Rudyerd Street c/o National Library of Scotland

Today Lower Rudyerd Street is a mix of terraced houses and sheltered accommodation – and there is little to suggest its theatrical history. But it does have a strong connection to Stan Laurel and his family’s theatres.

At the top corner of the street you can see the site of The Borough Theatre which was once run by Stan Laurel’s father, Arthur Jefferson. The old map (see above) shows its exact location which is now occupied by housing.

Arthur Jefferson’s main theatre had been the Theatre Royal around the corner on Prudhoe Street (also long gone). But his lease on the Theatre Royal expired in 1902 and as he wasn’t able to renew it. As a result, he decided to move his operations to the Boro Circus on Lower Rudyerd Street. It had been a circus space but Jefferson invested in converting it into a new theatre.

The Borough was primarily designed for theatre shows but it also started showing films in the early 1900s including Georges Méliès’ classic A Trip to the Moon. Stan’s father was a major innovator in introducing cinema to northern England.

ls it possible that Stan Laurel caught the cinema bug from his father’s early experiments with the cinematograph and silent films in North Shields?

Sadly a major fire completely destroyed The Borough in 1910 and few photographs remain.

Point 14 – The Wooden Dolly and Shields Ferry – North Shields

The Wooden Dolly in the early 1900s c/o North Shields Local History Library

At the bottom of Lower Rudyerd Street, turn right along Gardner Street until you hit Borough Road. Turn left down Borough Road and walk down the bank towards the quayside. At the bottom. of the hill, take a left turn and stop outside the Prince of Wales pub (the Old Wooden Dolly) .

The Prince of Wales Tavern is best known for the large wooden figurehead of a women in a red dress. There have been several wooden dollies on this spot but this is the latest incarnation.

In 1850, the Dolly was attacked by a group of drunken vandals who broke her neck and ripped her body from the ground. She was replaced by a number of new ‘Dollies’, each of which suffered a similar fate.

Stan Laurel refers to the ship’s figurehead in several letters to friends. In a 1957 letter, Stan joked that he “wouldn’t be surprised if the new ‘Wooden Dolly’ looks like Marilyn Monroe”.

I understand great changes are being made in No. Shields. Dockwray Square where I used to live is all being torn down to make way for new flats. The old Born’ theatre that my Dad originally built has closed for good – and they are going to have a new ‘Wooden Dolly’…

All the old landmarks are gradually disappearing – everybody will soon have to wear their Sunday clothes every day.”

Stan’s letter to Mr and Mrs Short, 1958 – Copyright © 2020

Continue walking down the quay front away from the Fish Quay for about 100 metres until you reach the Shields Ferry landing stage.

Stan Laurel shared fond childhood memories of riding on the Shields Ferry between North and South Shields in his letters. He remembered that its nickname was ‘the Ha’penny Dodger’. It was known as ‘the dodger’ because it dodged the other river traffic… although some say that it was because it was easy to dodge paying the fare!

Back in Stan day’s there were three ferries across the Tyne – and this one was designed as a cheap and quick ferry for foot passengers.

It ran from North Shields New Quay to Kirton’s Quay in South Shields – and had the shortest crossing of the three Shields ferries. The ferries were eventually rationalised resulting in the single ferry that you can leap on today.

In my time it was known as the ‘Happney Dodger’ – still running incidentally. I took a crossing on it in ’54 just for old times sake.”

Stan Laurel

END OF WALK – Point 15 – North Shields Waterfront

Retrace your strep to the Wooden Dolly and carry on along North Shields waterfront along Bell Street. When you see the vertical stairs to your left – after 200 metres – climb them to reach the top of the bank. You’re now back at the starting point of the walk at Dockwray Square.

You’re now walking along North Shields waterfront with great views of the River Tyne. Much has changed since Stan’s day including the loss of industry and the regeneration of the quayside. The herring gutting industry and guano works have been replaced with trendy bars and restaurants.

As you walk along the front, you’ll see The Ropery stairs on your left, another vertical flight to the Bank Top above which may have inspired the piano routine. That said, there were many more stairs in Stan’s day, some of which were cleared in the 1930s. But several still remain and doubtless provided an inspiration for his sketch.

By the 1950s the town North Shields was no longer the place Stan remembered so fondly. He wrote back home: “Don’t think I’d want to live in North Shields anymore, it’s no different to anywhere else now”.

It was now 50 years since he’d lived in North Shields. Stan Laurel had made the journey to Hollywood, teamed up with Oliver Hardy and crafted a series of well loved non-sensical sketches and gags in comedy films. He’d become a worldwide superstar and prolific comedy writer.

But he owed many of his comedic and theatrical skills to his early days in North Shields and Tyneside.

Stan Laurel continued to enjoy Tyneside humour and heritage. He also retained a lifelong passion for Geordie food including tripe and onions. During Stan’s childhood, there was a tripe shop nearby as well as ‘tripe dressers’ who prepared this meat. Old habits die hard!

In one letter from Los Angeles, he signed off telling a friend what he was about to have for his dinner…

“[I] am having a Tyneside Pheasant – a kipper with a feather stuck in it!!!”

Sam Laurel letter

It speaks volumes that even 50 years later, Stan was still making jokes drawn from his Geordie upbringing and celebrating his North East roots.

Was this barrel sketch a riff on Stan Laurel’s fish gut story?

In their film “Way Out West” Oliver Hardy waxes lyrical about ‘possum and yam’, a famous food dish from Georgia, his home state in the USA. Stan Laurel responds by making a quip about “good old-fashioned fish and chips” from his own home town.

And the Geordie influence didn’t stop there. Stan’s screen image was based very much on the traditional English attire of bowler hat and coat and tails, albeit with baggy irreverence. He would have worn a formal “Eton suit’ when he was a schoolboy in North Shields. He adapted this to great comic effect in his films.

It seems that you can take the Stan out of North Shields but you can’t take the Geordie out of the man!

Return up the steep Union Quay Stairs to the start of the walk near Dockwray Square…

Stan Laurel Film Trail Map

Download the full Stan Laurel film trail interactive Google map here

The approximate time to complete the full tour by foot is 1 hour 45 minutes on largely flat terrain except for the Union Quay Stairs down to North Shields Fish Quay.

Searching for Stan…

The Making of Stan Laurel: Echoes of a British Boyhood by Danny Lawrence (McFarland Books) is a brilliant book which tells the full story of Stan Laurel’s childhood in North Shields and northern England.

Letters from Stan is a great website for fans of Laurel and Hardy with the most complete archive of Stan Laurel’s letters and correspondence.

Arthur Jefferson: Man of the Theatre by Danny Lawrence is an in depth book about the life of Stan Laurel’s father with plenty of detailed information about his time in North Shields.

The Arthur Lloyd website has fascinating photographs and background on the history of theatres in North Shields.

The film Stan and Ollie provides an interesting insight at Laurel and Hardy’s later years and includes scenes when they visited the North East of England on their final tours. However, there are few actual locations used and quite a lot of artistic licence!

Another interesting place to visit is Stan Laurel’s birthplace in Ulverston, Cumbria where it’s worth checking out the small but intriguing Laurel and Hardy Museum.

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2 replies »

  1. Goodness, i didn’t know Stan Laurel was from North Shields. I have seen that there is a Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston ( now in Cumbria) and there is a Stan Laurel pub there too. My other half and I were once out in a pub in Manchester. It was an old fashioned pub with little tiled rooms. One was filled with Laurel and Hardy lookalikes all out together!

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