Blue Plaque Honour for Hebburn Environmental Campaigner Jennie Shearan

Posted by: Kaye Russell on 22 November 2023 16:09

A commemorative Blue Plaque has been unveiled in honour of a fearless environmental campaigner.

Eliza Jane 'Jennie' Shearan fought tirelessly over decades for clean air for the people of Hebburn.

Councillor Angela Lamonte (front) is pictured with Jennie Shearan’s grandson Gianfranco Rosolia, Loes Veldpaus, Senior Lecturer in Architecture and Urban Planning at Newcastle University and Lauren Dunbar of The Common Room.
Jennie Shearan, Hebburn environmental campaigner.
Jennie Shearan, Hebburn environmental campaigner.

She led Hebburn Residents' Action Group and campaigned against pollution from Monkton Coke Works from 1980 to 2000. She was also the first and only female Chairman of Tyne and Wear County Council. She died in 2005, aged 82.

The plaque was officially unveiled by Councillor Angela Lamonte, Chair of Hebburn Community Area Forum and Hebburn South councillor, at Hebburn Central ahead of it being positioned at the home Jennie Shearan once lived in Melrose Avenue. Also in attendance were members of Jennie's family and Hebburn Action Group.

Unveiling the plaque, Councillor Lamonte said: "It's lovely to have this plaque for Jennie. She was such an inspiration. She had such strength and wouldn't give up. I'm proud to be here having known her personally."

Jennie was born in Hebburn in November 1922. In 1953, Jennie and her family moved on to the newly built Monkton Lane Estate. Incoming residents were assured that the nearby Monkton Coke Works would close down after a couple of years.

However, over decades the coke works, which was constructed in 1936 in response to the Jarrow March, continued to grow, converting ever-increasing quantities of coal into coke with the hazardous sulphur dioxide fumes, acrid smoke and constant soot negatively affecting the health and quality of life of local residents.

Jennie went from being elected Hebburn Councillor in 1977 to being the only ever female Chairman of Tyne and Wear County Council in 1985.

In 1987, she formed the Hebburn Residents' Action Group. With her lead, it empowered the local community and highlighted the health risks caused by air pollution in her neighbourhood at all levels, including British Coal, Central Government and to the European Parliament.

Councillor Audrey Huntley, Deputy Leader of South Tyneside Council with responsibility for Culture, Leisure and the Visitor Economy, said: "It's wonderful to be celebrating Jennie Shearan's achievements with a commemorative Blue Plaque.

"Jennie was a Hebburn councillor. She fought fearlessly for her local community, and through her decades of unwavering campaigning for environmental justice she galvanised the town and took on the big industry to bring about real change and cleaner air for local people.

"The Blue Plaque honours a remarkable woman whose legacy lives on. It will also serve as a reminder of the incredible work she did to make life better for the people of Hebburn and beyond, and for the generations that would follow."

The Blue Plaque unveiling is one of five that have been awarded across the region as part of the Inspiring Pioneers Commemorative Plaque scheme, a partnership between local councils, Newcastle University and The Common Room and aims to highlight and celebrate pioneering women who inspired great change in industry.

Jennie's grandson Gianfranco Rosolia. He said: "Jennie had been this wonderful mix of vigour and energy and strong principles. She was kind, warm and funny and she'd really loved life and she loved people and she especially loved Hebburn and the people of Hebburn.

"It is such a special moment. For Jennie to be recognised as part of the North East's Inspiring Pioneers initiative that celebrates women of the region who have inspired great change is a huge honour. I'm so glad that Jennie and the action group have been recognised in this way. I think it's a truly beautiful way to commemorate their legacy."

Lauren Dunbar, Programme and Engagement Manager at The Common Room, said: "At The Common Room we are extremely proud to be representing Jennie Shearan as part of our Inspiring Pioneers campaign, with Newcastle University.

"The Inspiring Pioneers project is installing five blue plaques across the five local Tyne and Wear authorities to bring women in STEM to the forefront of our history. Recognising these women for their achievements has been a real pleasure, alongside Jennie, we have Rachel & Katherine Parsons, Hope Winch, Dorothy Buchanan and Susan Mary Auld, all of whom were true trailblazers of their time." 

Last modified: 22 November 2023 16:15