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Bill Quay

Place name:

Possibly from the personal name ’Billa’, used earlier for Bill Point and Bill Reach.

Bill Quay 1860

In the mid-nineteenth century, Bill Quay was dominated by the chemical industry, with four chemical works: Burnett’s Chemical Works; Union Chemical Works; Bill Quay Bottle Works and Robson’s Paint Manufactory. The other industries were the coke manufactory and the Bill Quay Shipyard. The names of the public house reflected the industry; the Bottle House Tavern to the west near the terraces occupied by chemical workers and The Ship to the east near the shipyard.

Bill Quay 1900

Even just before the First World War, Bill Quay was a village on its own. All chemical factories had gone. To the west was the hamlet of Jonadab, comprising mainly Ridley Place and Jonadab Place, separated from Bill Quay by Prospect Terrace and the brickworks. The shipbuilding yard of Wood Skinner dominated the central area of Bill Quay, replacing the chemical works. A floating landing stage projected into the river, close to the site of the coke works. The village of Bill Quay was in two parts, the older part comprising High Level Square and Reay Street, overlooking the Tyne was by this time occupied by the poorer families. The more regular later terraces of Wood Terrace, Joel Terrace, Lavery Street , Ann Street, Drake Street, Eldon Place and Swinburne Terrace, further up the hill, were the homes of the more affluent. By this period the earliest terraces built for chemical workers (known as Bottlehouses) had been demolished for the development of the shipyard. Hainingwood Terrace was home to several of the foremen from Wood Skinners yard.


Other parts of Tyneside are renowned for building large ships, but the Bill Quay area, which was the main shipbuilding area in Gateshead, specialised in smaller coastal craft and the fitting out of larger craft.

In 1818, William Boutland set up his shipbuilding yard in Bill Quay. Robert and John Maddison had a small yard alongside Boutlands. These yards eventually became R. B. Harrison’s ship repair yard.

Later, in 1883, the site of the old bottle works was cleared, the Bottle House Chapel of 1839 was demolished, and Wood Skinner’s yard opened on the site.

Further east in Pelaw Main was the J & D Morris ship repair yard.

The Quay

From the parish quay to the west, grindstones from the Kells quarries at Windy Nook and the Tate-Brown quarries in Felling were shipped.

Coal mining and transport

To the east of Bill Quay at Pelaw Main were the coal staithes where coal was brought from collieries in the area by many waggonway routes to be shipped to both other parts of this country and abroad. The trimmers, who spread the cargo evenly in the holds of the ships, were apparently the ’aristocracy’ of Bill Quay. Men from Bill Quay also worked in the collieries in the Felling area, on the waggonways and in the cokeworks. The nearby Felling Pit was the scene of a devastating explosion in 1812, when 92 men and boys died. The accident led to developments in mine safety, especially the safety lamp.


The alkali trade of the nineteenth century created chemical factories along the riverside from Bill Quay in the east to Friar’s Goose in the west. Alkali was needed for the production of glass and soap, but the supply of natural alkali from the Mediterranean was restricted during the Napoleonic wars. During this period, the Leblanc process was adopted and an early soda works on Tyneside (the second - the first Leblanc soda works in Britain opened across the river in Walker in 1806) was the Doubleday and Easterby works at Bill Quay. The trade continued to be important until near the end of the nineteenth century, when the more profitable Solway ammonia-soda process, led to salt supplies becoming more important than fuel supplies. Chemical production moved to areas close to salt deposits, such as Teesside and Cheshire.


The Parish Church for the area was St. Mary’s at Heworth, and the nearest Catholic Church St. Patrick’s at Felling, but Methodism was dominant in Bill Quay, with the main social activities centred on the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist chapels. According to local reminiscence, the ’money’ people were Wesleyan Methodists (and members of the cricket club) while the poorer were Primitive Methodists.


Parolle, then Scanners Limited and eventually Marconi produced radar and communications systems on the site of the old Wood Skinner shipyard. During the 1950s they were involved in producing equipment for the radar defence network of the U.K.


In 1871, in the Bottlehouses area near the chemical works, of the 55 families, 38 heads of household were immigrants from Ireland.

During the nineteenth century, the population of Bill Quay rose form 744 in 1841 to 1,593 in 1871.

The most common place of employment was the chemical works, followed by the shipyards. Work on the river as watermen and as trimmers at the staithes was also important.





Bill Quay


Blackhall Mill




High Spen



A History of Low Fell
A History of Low Fell
A Four part series By M. Hope Dodds

Gateshead Central Library
Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, NE8 4LN
Tel: 0191 433 8410

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