Talk about ‘Grand Old Man of Shields’ at Fish Quay Heritage Centre

A talk on the ‘Grand Old Man of Shields’ who helped shape North Shields is due to be given.

By David Sedgwick
Friday, 20th May 2022, 3:28 pm
Updated Friday, 20th May 2022, 3:30 pm
John Foster Spence wearing TVLB outfit (courtesy of Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade).
John Foster Spence wearing TVLB outfit (courtesy of Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade).

Local historian Mike Coates will talk about prominent local businessman John Foster Spence at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre on Saturday, May 28, at 11am. Entry is £4 (free for Old Low Light members).

It is part of a programme of events linked to the centre’s current exhibition, ‘Folk who Shaped Shields’ which focuses on the contributions of four inspirational people – John Dobson, John Foster Spence, Richard Irvin and Sir James Knott – who helped to shape North Shields.

Mike will outline the key achievements of philanthropist Spence (1818-1901), member of a leading Quaker family.

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He will describe how Spence spent six decades serving the community as a councillor, Mayor, alderman, magistrate and active member of many local committees and societies for which he was honoured in 1894 when he was given Freedom of the Borough of Tynemouth.

As a young man, in 1840, he was prominent in a campaign to build a Customs House in North Shields to free the port from Newcastle’s control and played an important role in the River Tyne Commission.

He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade in 1864.

Twenty years later he was instrumental in the development of Northumberland Park.

More than a century after his death he is still remembered today, with the John Spence Community High School named after him.

Mike, a volunteer at the Old Low Light, said: “Several years ago I did some research on Northumberland Park and began to realise the significant role that John Foster Spence had had in the history of North Shields.

"He was involved in so many different committees and causes, always working for the good of local people and his legacy is still bringing benefits to the town today.

“He was a remarkable character. As well as being a family man and running a successful drapery business until two years before his death, he dedicated his life selflessly to public service.”

‘Folk who Shaped Shields’ is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 3pm until 15 October 2022. Further information about the exhibition is available at