The Yemeni Community 

(The Arab BoardingHouse),South Shields

From the end of the 19th Century and up to the First World War several thousand Arab seamen arrived at a number of British ports. The main concentration was to be found around both the Bristol Channel mainly Cardiff and on Tyneside, South Shields. Many of the men came from the Yemen and neighbouring parts of Britain’s Aden Protectorate. Along with Somali seamen, they represent the first significant Muslim communities to settle in Britain.

The majority of the Arab seamen who came to South Shields before WW1 had been employed as firemen (stokers), on board steamers, calling at the British port of Aden. Many claimed to be born in Aden but few were British subjects. However, their citizenship claims to UK were upheld during WW1 when they formed a very useful reserve army of labour on British shipping. Many were to die serving on convoys and shipping routes during this time.

These photographs are from the Yemeni community in and around the last surviving boarding house in South Shields. For Arab seamen arriving in a strange land with little knowledge of its language or customs, the Arab boarding- house was virtually essential for their survival. It offered not only accommodation, but also food that was lawful to their religion (halal), the assistance in securing further employment on board ship, credit before future employment could be obtained and help and advice in times of need. The Arab boarding house masters in South Shields were indeed the big men of the community.

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