Old Low Light Heritage Centre: A wooden box with the power to reignite memories of North Shields fishing heritage

Old Low Light Heritage Centre tells the surprising story of North Shields fishing life through art, objects and real stories of the community, told by the community. What differentiates the centre is the strong presence of oral history relating to people who live in the area. The sense of community spirit and the ‘roots up’ growth of the centre – magical from the beginning. 

North Shields and the Fish Quay

If you aren’t familiar with where North Shields is we’ll fill you in. North Shields is a small town on the north bank of the River Tyne, eight miles North-East of Newcastle-on-Tyne. It is characterised by its ‘High Light’ and ‘Low Light’ ‘leading’ lights (also known as the Fish Quay High and Low lights) constructed in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. These the precursor to the ‘modern’ lighthouse as we know it. Initially these lights were lit by three tallow candles and magnified by copper mirrors that reflected the light out into the mouth of the Tyne. Sounds wildly romantic, tallow lights shining either side of high and low tide, traditionally guiding weather worn fishermen into and out of the quay. A necessity for the safety of those at sea.

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View of the Fish Quay and High Light built in 1807 [worldtrek.com]

How did the Heritage Centre Begin? 

Two teachers, Nina Brown and Jan Taylor from North Shields decided to put things in a box (below) because they wanted pupils in local schools to discover and talk more about North Shields town, it’s history and the Fish Quay particularly. After the box was taken into the FISH (Folk Interested in Shields Harbour) group and seen by North Tyneside Council – both backed the project!

This evolved into ‘The Netties’, a concentrated group of local volunteers running events and outreach within the local area relating to North Shields and the Fish Quay’s history.

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Nina & Jan’s Wooden Box

Old Low Light Itself 

Old Low Light officially opened it’s doors in October twenty-fourteen with a cafe, after a long volunteer and trustee lead rebuild. It happens to be the oldest building in the Fish Quay and is a Grade II listed building. The whole site is volunteer run and lead, you can find out more, and how to volunteer here.

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Old Low Light [Trip Advisor]

Current Exhibitions 

Old Low Light Heritage Centre is home to many exhibitions, talks and music sessions. It’s a celebration of what makes North Shields and the Fish Quay so unique. However, the exhibition we’ve heard the most about is: It Started With a Fish and Ended With a Pla(i)ce (4th August – 15th October).

It tells the story of the fishermen, co-curated by themselves and Old Low Light. Shining a light on the “most dangerous peace-time job in the world*” on an unforgiving river and sea. Here you can view photography by Julie Nicholson and talk with the fishermen themselves. A unique exhibition from the perspective of those who work the Tyne and those who live by it.

[*Nine fishermen from the UK lost their life in the first half of twenty-sixteen and thirty-one in Alaska. Fishing is important to the UK (and world) economy and the lives of the locality of North Shields, bet you had no idea it could be so dangerous?]

Lastly, we think this is the most interesting heritage centre in the UK. The building and it’s purpose, how it came to be, it’s position on the Fish Quay and the lives the building is intertwined with. We urge you to go and see! Huge thankyou to Pearl Saddington and Hannah Mather for putting it on our radar. 

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