YEMENI IN BRITAIN
The Boarding Houses
Boarding Houses were lodgings designed to cater for sailors docking on Tyneside. Comparative to modern day bed and breakfasts, the seamen lodged together in certain areas of the town including Holborn and Laygate.
Through the Ages
"Ali Said opened the first seaman's boarding house for Arabs in 1894 . He opened it in the Holborn area of Laygate, South Shields which became an area largely associated with its Yemeni residents as more boarding houses and Arab businesses opened. By 1920 there were 8 boarding houses and the appearance of more Yemeni-run cafes lead to the formation of a Yemeni community. At this time there would have been between 300 and 600 Arabs resident in South Shields at any one time."
The Boarding Houses were owned and run by their boarding house masters. Most Arab boarding-house masters were former seamen who had chosen to settle in South Shields and set up their cafes and small shops around the Laygate area. The boarding house master played a key role in the lives of the Arab seamen. They would offer the seamen assistance in securing their next ship, money if the men ran out and advice if they needed any kind of help.(1)
A Short Film by Tom Mcgorrian - shown on BBC in 1992
Mohamed Muckbles boarding house, from Henry Cleet collection. Holborn. 1920's, © South Tyneside Libraries
"When I was a little girl almost every Arab house, (was) commissioned from the police and they used to have Arab dancers. One would play the drum which was home made because they used to kill their own goats which is not allowed now and stretch the skins and make them - I've seen them do them. The drum is called in Arabic the tablah and they used to dance (with) say 2 or 3 men on one side and another 2 or 3 on the other side facing each other and it was quite a happy time. There were no women from Arabia in England so I never saw the women dancing". - Mrs Selma Hussein interviewed circa 1992.
Mohamed Muckble, his boarding house and stamp showing the date March 08th 1915, Thanks to Norman Ghaleb
More recent times
"there are only 2 boarding houses, it's a sad reflection on when I was a child when from Tyne Dock right down to the Mill Dam every other house was a boarding house. You couldn't walk down the road without seeing Arabs, now they're few and far between."
- From an interview given in the early 1990's by boarding house owner Mrs Selma Hussein.
The two boarding houses in question were one on St. Judes Terrace owned by Abdul Ghani (above) and 50-52 Brunswick Street owned by Mr Hussein (Al-Sayyadi).
As in older times, the question of which house a seamen decided to lodge in would often depend on tribal connections as Mrs Abdul-Ghani explained. Lodgers would reside in the boarding house belonging to those from closest to their home village.
For example, as Mr and Mrs Abdul Ghani were both themselves from the Al-Shimary tribe, their boarding house attracted other 'Shimarys' as well 'Khuladis' of whom there were many.
Mr Hussein, however, was the only seaman from his Al-Sayyadi tribe in South Shields for many years and filled his boarding house with people from villages near to where he originated, friends and Somalis who by Mrs Abdul Ghanis account did not stay in St Judes Terrace.
"My name is Ahmed Ali Hussein and I came to England in 1945 and opened my boarding house." - Mr Hussein
Inside views of a Boarding House 1990s
A collection of some of the residents from Mr Hussein's boardinghouse early 1990's
At present only Mr Husseins boarding house survives as an operating boarding house mainly occupied by Indian college students. The decline of the Tyneside shipping industry alongside the aging population of sailors contribute to the dissolution of this part of South Shields history.
Bringing people together - boarding house food
Most participants on 'The Yemeni Project' have reminisced with happy memories of boarding house meals.
Many remember the taste of the food, some can still smell its aroma, some people have been left touched by the humble communal way of eating adopted in the boarding houses based on Islamic tradition.
Here are some examples of the kind of food served with photos reproduced with kind permission of Katherine Abu Hadal from http://www.shebayemenifood.com (To try making your own Yemeni food, visit her website to access a wide range of recipes).
Boarding house activities
"This is our meeting place, if we don't go here, where we would we go?" - Yemeni boarding house resident
"They (the boarding house residents) all congregate here in the evening and have a game of cards or dominos until 6 o'clock when they watch the news. They're very interested in current events and political events too" - Mrs Hussein
Some of the card games played included poker and bellote
Hubs of interest in the Yemeni community
Over the years, the community has attracted interest from people wishing to find out more about it. One such person is Richard Lawless as photographed below. These photos were taken in Mr Husseins boarding house as Lawless and his assistant gathered research for the well-known book 'From Taiz to Tyneside'.
(1) Richard I. Lawless, 1995. From Ta'izz To Tyneside: An Arab Community In The North-East Of England During The Early Twentieth Century (ARABIC AND ISLAMIC STUDIES). Edition. University of Exeter Press.