Special guests at Gipsy Queen talk

The Old Low Light Heritage Centre was delighted to welcome some special guests to a talk about the tragic loss of a paddle tug from North Shields 150 years ago.

Phyllis Marden and her son Danny, who live in Essex, came to hear speaker David Kidd’s talk ‘Every man for himself – the story of the Gipsy Queen’, which sank with the loss of 18 men, one of whom was Phyllis’s nan’s uncle, Robert Ralph.

The paddle tug sank on the Tyne on Boxing Day 1873 after colliding with a sunken hopper barge. This resulted in the loss of four crew members and 14 workmen from Tyne Commissioners who were being taken from North and South Shields to their jobs upriver on dredgers to deepen the river and make it suitable for large ships.

Phyllis and her son were exploring their family tree when they heard about David’s research on the paddle tug.

She said that Robert, who was 35 when he drowned, was born in Kent but as a young man joined the Royal Navy. The family assume it was his working life at sea that led him to North Shields, where he began working for the Tyne Improvement Commission.

“We heard about David’s research and he was able to tell us more about how my nan’s uncle was lost. We were really keen to come to his talk,” she said.

David Kidd, an expert in maritime history, explained that his interest in the loss of the Gypsy Queen stemmed from a story his grandfather, who also worked for the Tyne Commissioners, told him when they were on the ferry between North and South Shields.

His grandfather talked about a ferry that sank with the loss of many lives. David could not find any record of a ferry being lost but later came across information that led him to the sinking of the Gypsy Queen.

He said that although his talk was the story of a tragedy and the loss of lives, it was also a celebration of the ordinary working men who changed the face of the river.

He is now building a model of the Gypsy Queen which he hopes to have completed by this December and the actual 150th anniversary of the incident.

Old Low Light centre director, Guy Moody, said: “David’s talk was fascinating because he provided so much context about how ordinary workmen including those lost on the Gypsy Queen played such a huge part in developing the river as we know it today.

“At the Old Low Light, we are passionate about preserving the history and heritage of the area so we were delighted to meet Phyllis and Danny and to hear how David’s research had helped them with their own family history.”


Phyllis Marden and her son Danny with speaker David Kidd, second from right and Centre Director Guy Moody, far right.

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