There was a Roman fort on the site in the 1st century, and it was also occupied by the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century. The town derives its name from its Anglo-Saxon name 'Gyrwe' (pronounced Yeerweh), which means marsh or fen.
The Monastery of St. Paul in Jarrow was once the home of the Venerable Bede, who's most notable works include 'The Ecclesiastical History of the English People' and the translation of the Gospel of John into Anglo Saxon. In 794 Jarrow became the second target in England of the Vikings, who had plundered Lindisfarne in 793. The Monastery was later dissolved by Henry VIII. Not far from the Monastery is 'Bedes World', a working museum dedicated to the life and times of Bede.
Jarrow remained a small town for several centuries, growing rapidly in the last two or three centuries with the introduction of heavy industries like coal mining and shipbuilding.
Palmers Shipyard employed as much as 80% of the towns working population until its closure in the early 1930's. Around 1000 ships were built at the yard before its closure. The closure of the shipyard was responsible for the event for which Jarrow is most famous. Jarrow is marked in history as the starting point of the Jarrow March (to London) to protest unemployment in Britain in 1936.