The Boarding House by Dr. David Campbell (cont.)


Despite their valour, the period after the First World War saw new immigration restrictions on the Arab seamen. Re- classified as “coloured aliens,” they were barred from receiving welfare and sometimes deported. With a depressed shipping economy and an expanded labour market – as British service personnel were de-mobilised and returned to the civilian workforce – Arab seamen became the targets of popular hostility. Although South Shields has been known as “the town where colour doesn’t count,” clashes between Arab seamen and “Britishers” in 1919 and 1930 saw labour disputes portrayed in the media as “race riots.”
The North East has historically been identified as a welcoming host with a relative lack of hostility towards others. The region’s mono-cultural status (some 96% of respondents defined themselves as ‘White British’ in the 2001 census, compared to 87% in the rest of England) hides its history of international migration. A major centre for immigrants from Scotland and Ireland in the early twentieth century, as well as a home for people from further a field, by some estimates more than one-third of the 1911 population was made up of individuals born outside of England or the children of immigrants.
Tyneside was unusual in the sense that some significant black migration predated 1945, and central to this was the arrival of the Yemeni sailors in South Shields. Their presence was met at times with popular hostility and their relationships with the wider community produced periodic moral panics. However, despite the decline of the coal and shipping industries for which they came to work, the Yemeni community is neither dead nor invisible. The mosque in the town is one of the oldest in Britain and largely the product of the Arab seamen’s efforts. Today there are still around twenty seamen from the older generation living in two boarding houses in South Shields (Mohammed Sayyadi’s and Muhammed Mohamed’s). While this number has dwindled over time, their impact on our region’s culture continues to live on in the communities, sometimes generated by marriage with locals, they have helped create. With a number of seamen remaining in South Shields to receive the pensions they are owed so that they can continue to support their families who have remained in Yemen, our region continues to be marked by transnational relations that have colonial origins.