South Shields Museum & Art Gallery explores the story of South Tyneside through sensational displays, hands-on exhibits and stunning art.
The Museum has three main displays: Tales of South Tyneside, which explores the local and social history of the area during the twentieth century together with the lifetime achievement of the successful local author Catherine Cookson. Art Adventure takes a fresh approach to the interpretation of many of the Museum’s paintings. Changing Faces charts the history of South Tyneside from the Bronze Age to the twentieth century through the Museum’s archaeological, natural and historical collections.
At the very heart of its community, South Shields Museum celebrates the rich heritage of South Tyneside and the people who shaped it. The building that South Shields Museum currently occupies has had a long and interesting past. It was constructed in 1860 as a home for the South Shields Literary, Mechanical and Scientific Institution. In 1873 the building became the town’s first free Public Library and Reading rooms and it opened as a museum in 1876.
The museum is spread over two floors telling the story of the borough’s social, industrial and maritime history from 4,000 years ago to the present day through a range of displays, exhibitions and nationally significant works of art.
On the ground floor you can get closer to the collection and treasures of South Tyneside. There’s also Creature Corner, home to our resident reptiles and insects, the shop and a small cafe, the Victorian Pantry, serving a range of hot and cold refreshments.
Up on the first floor is the temporary gallery which holds regular exhibitions and Art Adventrue, our interactive gallery displaying paintings by artists such as Scott, Carmichael and Hemy.
The Museum holds extensive collections of local art portraying the area by local artists and personal memorabilia once belonging to popular author, Catherine Cookson.
South Shields Museum & Art Gallery’s art collection consists of mainly 19th and 20th century works by British artists. Apart from the inclusion of some works by nationally recognised artists, the collection is largely ‘local’ in character either in its imagery, origins of artist or by its donor.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the coastal location of South Shields, maritime subjects are a strong feature of the collection.
The art collection dates from 1873 when the former Mechanics Institute building reopened as South Shields’ first free public library. Three years later, a room in the library was given over to the opening of a museum. One of its first acquisitions was an oil painting of South Shields Market Place (about 1800) by an unknown artist.
The Museum today occupies the whole of the former library building and the fine art collection consists of approximately 500 items including works by nationally recognised artists such as Charles Napier Hemy (‘The Last Boat In’), Thomas Sidney Cooper, (‘The Approaching Storm’) and Harold Harvey (‘Blackberrying’), artists popular in the North East such as John Scott, Ralph Hedley, and Robinson Elliott and by others too, not normally associated with fine art, such as novelist Catherine Cookson, who before finding fame and fortune through her written work had tried her hand as a commercial artist. Painting remained a passion of hers throughout her life.