Ferry history

A black and white image of the old Northumbrian ferry

Historic information


Historical documents indicate that there was a ferry service operating between North Shields (in the historic county of Northumberland) and South Shields (in the historic county of County Durham) this long ago.


A steam packet operated between North and South Shields.


The North Shields Ferry Company obtained a charter to operate the ferry service that exists today. Their first three ferry boats were: Baron Newcastle, Durham and Northumberland. The Baron Newcastle was eventually replaced by Tyne.


The Tyne Direct Ferry Company began a ferry service with a ferry called Percy.


The Whitehill Point Ferry started up with a ferry called Favourite.

1862 to 1908

The paddle steamers of the Tyne General Ferry Company provided a passenger service between Elswick and South Shields, stopping 21 times in as many miles. The company went into liquidation as a result of competition from the faster electric trams.


The Tyne Improvement Commission bought The North Shields Ferry Company, The Tyne Direct Ferry Company and The Whitehill Point Ferry and took over their ferry boats. 13 ferries were built to the Tyne Improvement Commission's specification: Shields (1868), Tyne (1869), Tynemouth (1883), J B Proctor (1890), Northumberland and Collingwood (both 1896), George Armstrong (1904), Thomas Richardson and U A Ritson (both 1906), South Shields (1911), Durham and Tynemouth (both 1925) and Northumbrian (1929).


At this point there were 11 ferry routes across the Tyne between Newburn and the mouth of the river.


The Tyne Tunnel was opened, resulting in a huge reduction in ferry traffic. Before it was opened, the three ferry boats then in operation - South Shields, Tynemouth and Northumbrian - carried about 400,000 cars each year, as well as countless pedestrians. The Tyne Tunnel also caused the ferry between Jarrow and Howdon to be discontinued.


The service known as the Market Place Ferry, the only service which survives today, was taken over by Nexus (formerly Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive). The Freda Cunningham was built to their order in 1972.


The Shieldsman was built.


The Pride of the Tyne was built, and the Freda Cunningham was taken out of service and sold.


The Spirit of the Tyne was built, and the Shieldsman was taken out of service after the Great North Run.


The Shieldsman was sold.

Today's ferries

Click here to find out about the Features of the two ferries which operate our passenger service today.

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