According to local folklore, these rocks were thrown there by the devil in an attempt to curb the wealthy sea trade of Newcastle, something which was never achieved.
Usually covered at high tide, the Black Middens have been responsible for many shipwrecks and over the years have caused the death by drowning of hundreds of mariners and their passengers. Most poignantly, they all died within a few yards of the safety of the shore.
During three days of blizzards and storms in 1864, the Black Middens claimed five ships and 34 lives.
These dangerous rocks, which are now overlooked by Admiral Lord Collingwood’s monument, were instrumental in bringing about the formation of the first ever Volunteer Life Brigade service which was established at Tynemouth in 1864 (Roundabout Tynemouth July 2010).
Before the North and South Piers were built, the sea would roar in from the south and thunder against the cliffs, which made the river entrance an extremely hostile and treacherous area.
In the early days, these black rocks formed sand bars which stretched across the river and moved with every tide. With one tide there could be up to seventeen feet of water, and with the next tide it might only be six feet of water – making navigation on the river extremely difficult and dangerous. However, after construction work on the piers had been completed, the river became easier to dredge, thereby enabling a safer shipping flow into the harbour.
The term ‘Midden’ tends to be a local term, and the strict dictionary definition is: “an accumulation of refuse, especially from a prehistoric kitchen fire; a dunghill or manure heap”.
Whichever way these hazardous rocks are defined, the infamous Black Middens have existed for centuries and remain a sinister reminder of darker days.
by Charlie Steel © 2011
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, local historian Charlie Steel has lived almost all of his life in Monkseaton. His books “Monkseaton and Hillheads” and “Inns and Taverns of North Shields” are published by Tempus and are available in all good book shops.
All Charlie’s articles which are featured in Roundabout Monkseaton can also be found on his website www.monkseaton.info. Charlie also writes articles for Roundabout Tynemouth.
If you have any old pictures or photographs of Monkseaton that you would like to share then please e-mail Charlie at firstname.lastname@example.org.