Wooden Dolly comes home to North Shields

Freshly restored and back where she belongs – the famous Wooden Dolly of North Shields takes pride of place once again in the centre of Northumberland Square.

The mahogany statue, depicting a fishwife with a basket, is part of a longstanding tradition in North Shields.

But her condition began to deteriorate after more than 60 years outside and she was taken away for repairs in December last year.

Now she’s back watching over the square after being restored at Thompson’s workshop in Kilburn, North Yorkshire, the same workshop where she was created by Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson in 1958.

Resident David Sherdown watched as she was lowered into place by a crane on Friday morning. He said: “If anything in North Shields is iconic, it’s the dolly. When I walked over, I went ‘wow’, she’s back. I used to walk around these parks when I was a kid and she was the thing you noticed. It looks fantastic.”

A woman shouted ‘great to have her back’ as she crossed the square.

North Tyneside’s Elected Mayor, Norma Redfearn CBE, said: “It’s wonderful to have the dolly home again, the square hasn’t quite been the same without her.

“Wooden dollies are part of a long-standing tradition in North Shields and when the condition of the dolly began to deteriorate, we decided we had to take action to preserve an important piece of local history.

“Thankfully, we have been able to keep the tradition alive and see the dolly retained as the centrepiece of the square, and I hope it gives our residents real joy to see here back where she belongs.” 

The return of the dolly coincides with the completion of the first phase of work to revive a Grade II listed Georgian terrace on the north side of the square for housing and is another part of the council’s Ambition for North Shields.

John Sparkes, head of regeneration at North Tyneside Council, said: “The dolly is a unique example of the kind of work that Robert Thompson was famous for, and the statue has a special place in the hearts of local people.

“When she was taken away for repairs in December, people were coming up to us concerned that she may never come back. Well I’m pleased to say that the amazing people at the Mouseman workshop have done a remarkable job of restoring her.

“As we move forward with our Ambition for North Shields masterplan, it’s important that we retain the unique character of our area. The dolly, together with the completed first phase of new homes, are an important part of that and it’s great to have her home.”

The first of North Shields’ wooden dolls was placed at the entrance to Customs House Quay, on Liddell Street, in 1814. 

It became traditional for mariners to shave pieces of wood from the figure as good luck charms before going to sea and a replacement doll was made each time the previous version was defaced beyond recognition.

The Northumberland Square dolly is the fifth statue of its kind.  

In 1992, a sixth Wooden Dolly was placed where the first four had been at the entrance to Customs House Quay.

The restoration was overseen by Ian Thompson Cartwright, Senior Director at Robert Thompson’s Ltd and great-grandson of Robert Thompson.