`THE ARCHERS` COME TO TOWN: WHITLEY BAY 1955

 

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t was 1955 and Newcastle United Football Club had earlier in the year won the F.A. Cup for the third time in 5 years. Their historic 3-1 victory over Manchester City had created widespread excitement north of the River Tyne and Ashington born Jackie Milburn was well on his way to becoming a footballing legend.

 

That was the sporting story of the moment, the one that set the pulses racing. But what about the minutiae of everyday life, the local issues that affected everyone but never grabbed the main headlines. What was life really like now that the austerity of the immediate post-war years had given way to a renewed sense of optimism. What was the summer like down at the coast in Northumberland`s favourite seaside resort, Whitley Bay.

 

 

“Look I`m a star!“

-One of Whitley Bay`s bathing belles

 

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he Whitsun weekend marked the beginning of the main summer holiday season and the time when the town`s many attractions were getting into full swing. The Spanish City funfair was open every day of the week and British Railways were starting to run a 10 minute shuttle-service of city to coast trains. The fine days and lighter nights brought large numbers of day trippers to Whitley Bay, to enjoy the sea air, visit the funfair, have a meal and a drink before returning home sober and content.

 

However, there was a small minority who were intent on mischief, getting drunk and generally making a nuisance of themselves. There was a small percentage of young people whose pastime was vandalism. There had been a report of damage being caused to a sunblind outside a shop in Station Road and the street was beginning to be called `Hooligan Street`. The police were called to the incident but the offenders had made their escape by train.

 

The price of Danish butter was 3/11d and a 1lb jar of marmalade 1/3d. Electric washing machines had become more popular and in Park View, F.W. Johnson`s were advertising Hoover machines for £28.17s.6d, Servis machines for £49.19s.9d and Bendix machines for a very pricey £103.6s.9d. A £1 deposit secured a Rudge or Triumph bike at Laverick`s Bicycle shop down the road in Cullercoats.

 

The previous year the local council had been granted borough status and the first Mayor was appointed at the Annual General Meeting. The Borough Council`s notepaper was now embossed with the town`s new Coat of Arms and the girls on their telephone exchange were welcoming callers with a cheery, “Hello, Municipal Offices here”. The Council operated a ground breaking policy of selling council houses to sitting tenants although some Councillors expressed concern at this policy.

 

One of the concerned Councillors was particularly well known in the town. He was Gladstone Adams, a professional photographer perhaps better known for inventing the windscreen wiper. In 1908, he had driven his motor car to Crystal Palace to watch his beloved Newcastle United Football Club play Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup Final. On his way home, having seen his team defeated 3-1, snow kept obscuring the windscreen of his motor car and he regularly had to stop to manually clean it. This frustrating experience inspired him to invent the windscreen wiper, the design of which he patented in 1911.

 

The Whitsun holiday weekend turned out to be an excellent one for the town and despite a rail strike, which paralysed many parts of the country, British Railways maintained a 15 minute shuttle service to the town. As a consequence, thousands of people streamed into Whitley Bay to enjoy the unabated sunshine. There were long queues for the cafes and ice cream kiosks and the subsequent clean up operation yielded a total of 2½ tons of litter. Traders in the town said that it was the best Whitsun for many years.

 

The Mayor, Alderman M.M. Snowball, officially opened the new Ice Rink on Whit Monday and the event was attended by some 2,000 people. The opening very nearly had to be cancelled as the freezing plant suffered a breakdown late the previous night. However, hasty repairs were made and the event proceeded as planned. The Ice Rink, which was operated by the owners of Durham Ice Stadium, was described as being the “biggest and finest in Britain” and in the words of the Mayor, “would be an amenity for the resort”.

 

Over the Whitsun holiday, the New Coliseum cinema was showing `Seven Brides for Seven Brothers` starring Howard Keel and Jane Powell whilst the Essoldo cinema was screening “a stirring western story of conflict between an Indian tribe and the Americans” titled `White Feather`, the star of which was Robert Wagner. The town`s other two cinemas, the Picture House and the Gaumont, were showing Rock Hudson in `Magnificent Obsession` and Edward G. Robinson in `A Bullet for Joey` respectively.

 

                                            

The New Coliseum - 50 years on

 

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esponding to the opening of the new Ice Rink and the anticipated increased interest in ice related sports, Wilsons Sports shop in Park View had started to sell ice skates and ice boots, a complete set of which cost £4. 7s.6d. Elsewhere in the town, a bedroom suite, consisting of a main wardrobe, a dressing table and a gents `robe, had been reduced to 42 guineas.

 

The town`s popular Member of Parliament  Miss Irene Ward retained her seat at the General Election increasing her majority from 7,656 to 10,836 in the process. Meanwhile, local politicians were concerned with more mundane issues and debated whether or not to erect two street lamps outside the Mayor`s home, a custom which was believed to be unknown outside of the counties of Northumberland and Durham.

 

The annual `Bubble Girl` competition was causing controversy. Local Councillors were not amused when some newspapers described it as a “municipal glamour contest” whilst there was also concern, in some quarters, that the contestants might quarrel among themselves. The competition was held each year to choose a girl to ride in a bath of bubbles on the back of a lorry as part of the Glasgow Fairs Gala Parade in July. 

 

The Glasgow Fairs Gala Week consisted of a series of events “which provide literally something for every age and taste”. Holiday makers from across the border could expect to enjoy events such as, a bonny baby competition, sheep dog trials, a sandcastle competition, boys basketball finals and a startling innovation, a piano playing marathon in the sea below Watts Slope.

 

The holiday season brought its fair share of accidents with a lady visitor from Portobello in Scotland falling to her death from the Figure of Eight ride at the Spanish City. Despite the accident the ride continued to operate and tragedy struck again 4 hours later when another lady holiday maker fell from the same ride, this time with less tragic consequences. She sustained leg and collar bone injuries. The owner of the ride was quoted as saying that it was only possible to fall if the ladies had been standing up.

 

Cycling offences seemed to be the order of the day as two locals were fined 10 shillings each for having `incomplete` brakes, whilst another was fined a similar sum for having no lights on his cycle. The sport of cycling was extremely popular and there was great excitement as the cream of British amateur cycling came to the town as part of `The Oats` Amateur Circuit of Britain 9-Day Cycling` event. Hailed as Britain`s greatest, toughest and longest road race, the event had been started in Manchester by the popular TV announcer Sylvia Peters. The 112 mile leg from Scarborough to Whitley Bay finished on the main promenade beside the Rex Hotel and attracted huge crowds.

 

Controversy was never far away. The headlines exclaimed “Blondie will be back” as the Council were asked to approve the design of a British Railways poster showing a blonde reclining in a mauve bathing costume on Whitley Bay`s golden sands. This was the same blonde who, three years earlier, had been banned from appearing on the cover of the town`s guide book. This time around the Council seemed to have little option but to approve the poster as British Railways were meeting the majority of the production costs. These posters were destined for railway stations throughout the country as well as in Germany, France and other continental stations.

 

With the weather being exceptionally good the Glasgow Fairs Gala proved to be a record breaking event with unprecedented numbers of holiday makers, day trippers and motorists crowding into the town. Over the sunny weekend British Railways brought  55,000 passengers to Whitley Bay and Monkseaton stations whilst the bus companies used “everything on wheels” to get people to the sea. The beach was packed with sun seekers and the Council hired out a total of 11,655 deck chairs and 311 tents.  All boarding houses and hotels put up their `No Vacancies` signs.

 

Sadly, the Bubble Queen got cramp in one of her `shapely` legs during the 2 mile Gala Parade through Whitley Bay requiring her to get out of her bath momentarily in order to stretch her leg.

 

Meanwhile, alcohol fuelled violence erupted in the Victoria public house and it was alleged that a razor had been drawn during the fighting. The age of the `teddy-boy` was just beginning. Alcohol continued to cause problems and in a separate incident a drunk tried to hit a bus conductress. The investigating Chief Inspector was quoted as saying, “Bus conductors have a very difficult job on Saturday nights and it is up to the police to see that they are protected”.

 

One of the biggest hoaxes to hit Whitley Bay was perpetrated by the RAFA (Royal Air Force Association), the organisers of the Glasgow Fairs Gala Week. It had been announced that  `The Archers`, of radio`s Ambridge fame, would be leaving from the front entrance of the Rex Hotel. Thousands of visitors and residents packed the promenade as perspiring police struggled to keep the hotel entrance clear. Commercial photographers stood on car roofs as the excitement mounted and the time for the `The Archers` appearance drew near. Then, from the hotel doors emerged three RAFA members in fancy dress carrying large bows and arrows. A visitor from Lincolnshire said later that “everyone was fooled and I have never felt so silly in all my life”. `The Archers` repeated their exit from the hotel three times before some of the onlookers saw the joke.

 

 

The Rex Hotel as it is today & no sign of `The Archers`

 

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xceptionally good weather never lasts long and by early August the town had been hit by a little hurricane. A refrigerator weighing 200 hundredweight was carried over 100 yards, a seafront ice cream hut was demolished and another one was badly damaged by high seas. Unsuspecting holiday makers, watching the angrily rising tide, got soaked to the skin and a number of paving stones on the Southern Lower Promenade were torn up.

 

With a history dating back to 1887 the Whitley Bay Flower Show was one of the major events on the Whitley Bay summer calendar. The 3-day event, held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, was promoted as `not just a flower show` and included performances from the Newcastle City Police Band, a Scottish country dancing display, a mannequin parade by a leading Newcastle fashion house and a children`s fancy dress parade and competition. There were eleven marquees in total.

 

As the summer began to come to an end the Council started the task of gathering up the statistics for the season. Hotels and boarding houses reported full bookings for the whole of the season and beach receipts were up a staggering 57% on the previous year. It was clear that Whitley Bay had enjoyed its most successful year since the end of the war in 1945. The future looked bright.

 

                                                        It is all in the small print

The majority of the stories in this piece appeared in the Whitley Bay & District Weekly Guardian between May and August 1955. Local newspapers are a fascinating resource of ground roots local history and whilst some of the stories show that much has changed in the years since they were first published many of the issues to which they relate still concern us to the present day.

 

 

Written: Geoff Holland 2006

Photographs: Geoff Holland 2006

 

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