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Brunswick War Memorial Plaque

Brunswick War Memorial restored and unveiled at South Shields Town Hall

This is a story which moved me, I’d come across a tiny part of it whilst watching one of Bill Clavery’s DVDs showing his collection of old pictures of the Laygate area of South Shields. Not long after the Armistice at the end of the Great War a group of families in the Brunswick Street and Wilson Street areas of South Shields started a collection to raise enough funds to erect a War Memorial to their young sons who had participated in and given their lives during the First World War , it has to be remembered that this area of the town, a strip of land running alongside the River Tyne from the Market PLace to Tyne Dock was the beating heart of South Shields. The area that we now call Rekendyke comprised then a multitude of packed terraced housing in “long streets” where the majority of South Shields folks lived, it was this area that South Shields grew in and developed after the industrial revolution took growth away from a small township huddled around its church and market. They were never anything but poorer people living here, they were mainly employed in chemical, mining, and shipbuilding industries prior to the Great War, but when the call came the young men of Laygate answered it in earnest and with valour. Many, not old enough yet to vote, were sacrificed and did not return to South Shields and this was the reason why their families and neighbours wanted a lasting memorial to them.

They raised sufficient funds to have a wonderful brass plate engraved with the names of all the 207 young soldiers and seamen of these few streets who had gone to war, and commemorating those who did not return or were taken as prisoners of war. The plaque was mounted on a wall at the end of Brunswick Street and unveiled by Lt. Col. Sir Robert Chapman on 21st. April 1919, it was looked upon with pride for many years until the demolition of most of the terraced streets in the Rekendyke area started in the 1960s, the plaque seemed to be lost forever until it was rediscovered in the Royal British Legion Club in Queen Street, South Shields many years later.

South Tyneside Council and the Royal British Legion ensured that this plaque attained Listed Monument status as an historical artefact of significant importance to the borough, and funding was sourced with the help of English Heritage to have the now blackened and heavily tarnished brass plate restored, cleaned, re-polished and mounted on a suitable backing. The aim was to give it a new home where borough residents can view it again.

Finally, yesterday evening in a re-dedication ceremony in South Shields Town Hall the Brunswick War Memorial Plaque was unveiled by the Mayor Cllr. JIm Sewell and the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne Wear Sir Nigel Sherlock, the event was also attended by Sir David Chapman (Bt) grandson of Sir Robert who originally performed the first unveiling on those Laygate Streets. A colour party from the Royal British Legion provided an escort for the gathered guests and a lone piper played as they made their way down from the reception room to view the ceremony. The plaque is mounted in the main entrance hallway of the Town Hall and looks magnificent.

The ceremony was performed in the entrance hallway with short speeches from the Lord Lt. Sir Nigel Sherlock, who admittedly did not know a huge amount about the Laygate area but was able to distinctly remember Allens dept. store on the corner of Laygate Lane, Iain Malcolm the Leader of South Tyneside Council, the Mayor Jim Sewell, and the Revd. Paul Kennedy Vicar of St. Michael and All the Angels, Westoe, performed the re-dedication.

I hope to have excerpts from their speeches in a short while.

It was fitting that this ceremony was held just as we are about to go into that period of remembrance close to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, the timing was perfect and we must pay tribute to those who have toiled to have the plaque ready and mounted just in time for these events. For those of us who consider ourselves “Shieldsmen” it would be almost impossible NOT to have had some forebears and relatives who were NOT born and brought up in the Laygate area of the town, it was where the vast majority of our families originated, so now you can pop into the Town Hall at any time and view the names on the plaque. Yesterday I was scouring for Coulsons, Nichols, and Raines, all names associated with my mother’s side of our family.

Please click on any photo to enlarge.

Adam Ellison, South Tyneside’s representative to the UK Youth Parliament read Rupert Brooke’s poem “The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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Written by curly

November 10, 2011 at 9:09 am

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the very moving report and pictures. Sometimes our local politicians do us proud. I thought mt great uncles name might have been on there as he lived in the Regent Street area but it seems not. Will have a better look tonight.


    November 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm

  2. Someone letting you down with their speeches Curly?
    Aren’t you glad we still have journalists around trained in the use of shorthand!


    November 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm

  3. Yes Ispy, this is certainly one of those ventures that you would hope that every politician from every party would support, sadly sometimes that support is all too often not given publicly. That grieves me considering that young men gave their lives so that this generation could have the liberty to vote for whomever we choose. I know that we have very few opposition councillors in South Shields, but at times their absence from major cross party events can be very irritating!

    David, yes, someone (indeed more than one) has failed to live up to the hype.


    November 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm

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