The local connections to Britain’s battles at sea

An illustration regarding HMS Lion
An illustration regarding HMS Lion
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The Northumbria World War One Commemoration Project is staging two major exhibitions this year.

The first will feature the story of the Battle of Jutland (May 31, 1916). It runs at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre, Fish Quay, North Shields, from May 27 until June 23, when it will move to other locations.

The Tyne would rapidly become one of the major naval shipbuilding rivers, with armaments factories turning out large naval guns.

The exhibition examines the many connections of the River Tyne and our communities to the greatest sea battle in history up to that date.

The advent of iron warships can be traced back to the 1850s when the commercial shipyards of Sir Charles Mark Palmer at Jarrow were asked to construct early ‘ironclads’ by the Admiralty.

The Tyne would rapidly become one of the major naval shipbuilding rivers, with armaments factories turning out large naval guns. Sir Charles Parsons’ factories would provide the first steam turbines to power warships, which could achieve unheard of speeds (37 knots/43 mph) after he had shown his ‘demonstrator’ turbine-powered ship Turbinia at the Spithead naval review in 1897 on Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

The development of dreadnought battleships in a naval arms race with Germany and the innovation of lightly armoured, but faster battlecruisers was all carried out using the capacity of Britain’s naval yards, including Armstrong’s and Palmer’s.

The Tyne was pivotal to the efficiency of the fleet. Designated a ‘protected port’, it had security provided by batteries at Tynemouth Castle and the provision of a submarine mining base near the Fish Quay at North Shields.

On the outbreak of war a huge Admiralty floating dry dock was brought to the river and placed near Jarrow Slake, involving massive dredging operations.

Warships were regularly in the river for refit and repairs. Major repairs were carried out to Admiral Beatty’s flagship HMS Lion after she suffered severe damage in the skirmish at Dogger Bank (January, 1915).

That encounter, which was a wake-up call to both sides, is the subject of our next free talk at the Low Lights Tavern, Fish Quay, at 7.30pm, on Tuesday.

Peter Coppack, who has researched our connections to the Battle of Jutland for the exhibition, will consider the battle of The Dogger Bank and the deficiencies it revealed in Britain’s naval equipment, communications and tactics: defects which would loom large in the definitive encounter at Jutland.

Anyone with information about anyone from North Tyneside who died as a result of the war is asked to contact the project. The workroom is open from 10am to 4pm on weekdays at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, North Shields. More than 1,800 casualties feature on the database at www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk and it is now being expanded.

Our address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.