A brief history of the construction of the piers appeared in the Shields Daily Gazette of 18 May 1895 to mark the completion of their construction.
The foundation stone of the piers was laid with appropriate ceremony in June, 1854, by the late Sir Joseph Cowen, then chairman of the Commission. The first part of the work was carried out by contract, but great difficulties and some disputes arose, and early in the sixties the Commissioners took the work into their own hands. In 1868 a terrific gale swept away or seriously injured a considerable portion of the newly constructed work, and the plans prepared by Mr Walker, C.E., of London— were reconsidered by Mr Ure and Mr Messent, and rearranged on their present basis. It was found that the cause of the disaster was that the foundations of the piers had not been carried far enough down into the blue clay. The damaged work was reconstructed with much deeper foundations, and the extension of the piers was continued on the new line. The work necessarily proceeded slowly and after 1880 was continued more tentatively until the all-important question of the width of the harbour entrance between the pier ends should be decided by experience. The South Pier—so far as the structural work was concerned, was practically completed three or four years ago, and the North Pier was on the very eve of completion when the great gale of November, 1893, swept away the Titan crane and did considerable damage to the structure of the pier itself, and to the end of the South Pier. In December last year the crane on the South Pier went the same end, but the work there, being practically finished, the loss was not so serious. The crane on the Tynemouth Pier has now been reconstructed, and during the present year the work of finishing off both piers has been pushed vigorously forward. On the South Pier a small army of workmen have been engaged in lowering the level of the railway metals—or rather in laying new rails flush with the surface of the pier, removing the old rails and the concrete in which they were embedded, and which rose six inches above the pavement of the pier, and in cementing the surface to a smooth and uniform level. This work, which is now completed to beyond the boat landing, will render the pier the finest promenade in the North of England, and will be much appreciated both by the residents of and the visitors to South Shields. The coping of the pier is being completed both at the shore end and round the circular head of the pier where was removed by the gale and we understand that the handrail on the inner side of the pier is to be continued down to the watch house of the Life Brigade. But the most important work in progress is the erection of the lighthouses on the ends of both piers which will remedy the complaints so frequently made by shipmasters who have to enter the river at night. The lighthouse on the south side will be 57 feet above high water mark, the stone shaft being now practically completed and ready for the lantern, and will show an intermittent light similar to the present Groyne light. The lighthouse on the North pier is just beginning to rise above the level of the pier. It will be 60 feet in height showing a red, white, and green light. Gas will be the illuminant in both cases. Although the severe winter and the present storm have delayed the work, it is expected to be completed before the end of July, and thus the top-stone will be placed on two structures almost without equal in the kingdom. The piers are carried out into a depth of about 36 ft. at low water, the width of the harbour entrance between the pier ends being about 1,300 ft, with a depth of 50 ft. at high water of spring tides. The South Pier, including the submerged base, is 5,397 ft long, and the North Pier 3,189 ft. Over three million tons of stone, exclusive of lime, cement, etc., have been employed in their construction, and the actual cost of the constructive work has been £1,100,000, exclusive of the lighthouses which are to cost £6,600 more. If the vast amount paid interest on the money borrowed for pier construction is taken into account the total cost of the pier works will exceed two millions sterling.
Source: Shields Daily Gazette 18 May 1895