Ferries have existed here since medieval times to link North and South Shields. It is reported that in the nineteenth century, because of the badly dredged river, it was possible to walk across at low tide. However even if this is true, most people crossed by ferryboat, some of which could carry animals and goods as well as foot passengers. Proposals for bridges linking the two towns came to nothing and the ferries remained the accepted - and only - means of crossing the Tyne at Shields. The present Market Place ferry has been running for a great many years and as the other ferries have gradually disappeared is the only one remaining. It was also the only one to carry vehicles, although it no longer does so. It leaves from the ferry landing near the Market Place in South Shields and the New Quay at North Shields and is known nowadays as the Shields Ferry.
In 1827, following failed proposals for a bridge, a company was set up and a Parliamentary Act obtained to operate a ferry between North and South Shields run, appropriately enough, by The North and South Shields Ferry Company. Starting in 1830 the ferry carried passengers, cattle and goods across the Tyne with landings at the Market Place/New quay in North shields and at Ferry Street in South Shields near the Market Place on a similar route to todays ferries. Other ferries sprang up to compete and the Direct Ferry and the Whitehill Point Ferry operated between different points on the river also linking the two Shields. In 1863 the Tyne Improvement Commission (TIC) made use of their powers to acquire any ferry, and bought up the three ferries, instituting a new ferry company and improving the service with new boats and better ferry landings. The service was often criticised for its lack of capacity and inefficiency both before and after TIC involvement. It hindered shipping movements and was cancelled whenever fog descended on the river.
By 1954 only the Market Place vehicular ferry was still running, using three boats. Following the opening of the Tyne Tunnel in 1967 the number of vehicles carried was very small. The old boats, the South Shields and the Tynemouth were withdrawn from service and, after the introduction of a new diesel-engined boat carrying foot passengers only, the Norhumbrian went too, becoming for a time a floating restauarant at Bill Quay, Gateshead. This new boat was the Freda Cunningham, making her debut in 1972, but unfortunately prone to mechanical failure. Another new boat, The Shieldsman, appeared in 1976 and she was joined in 1994 by the Pride Of The Tyne which between them maintained the ferry service until recently, also providing pleasure trips up and down the river. The Freda Cunningham was sold. By this time the ferries were run by the Tyneside, later Tyne and Wear, Passenger Transport Executive. Bus links at North Shields are provided, at South Shields the ferry landing is only three minutes walk from the Market Place. New ferry landings were installed fairly recently and a new ferry, 'Spirit Of The Tyne', to replace the Shieldsman entered service in May 2007. The present service operated by Nexus runs half-hourly from 0645 until 2240 with a reduced service on Sundays. For details see Nexus, Shields Ferry