THE WHITLEY BAY DISCOVERY WALK

 

At the height of its popularity Whitley Bay was a busy seaside resort attracting visitors from far and wide. Here generations of families enjoyed everything that the traditional British seaside holiday had to offer. However, as air travel became more accessible in the 1960`s holidaymakers began to seek out more exotic destinations where sunshine could be guaranteed. Holiday patterns had changed forever. As you step out on this walk you will discover for yourself some of the fragments of Whitley Bay`s rich and varied past. Be prepared to be surprised.

 

 

It`s holiday time- let`s shout about it!

 

Distance – 3 miles

Start–Whitley Bay Railway Station. Finish–New Coliseum, Town Centre.

 

1. The walk starts where most visitors to the town first arrived at the beginning of their fortnights holiday; the railway station. Opened in 1910 and replacing the original 1882 station the renaissance style building was designed for the North Eastern Railway Company by W. Bell. Having as its central feature an impressive clock tower, the station`s symmetrical façade looks directly towards the sea, the town`s raison d`être. Inside the station, on the wall facing the former ticket office, is the mosaic triptych, `Passing` by the artist Ian Patience. The central panel features a nocturnal seascape whilst the two outer panels show a young family enjoying a day on the beach. Outside, to your right at the head of Clarence Crescent, stands a very rare combination of a telephone box/post office kiosk. Introduced in 1928, less than 50 of this K4 type kiosk were installed throughout the country. Proving unpopular with customers the majority were withdrawn in 1935 but somehow this one escaped the axe. It was Grade II listed in October 1986.

 

2. Leaving the station behind, head eastwards along Station Road keeping to the right hand side. Within 100 metres, on the corner of Albany Gardens, stands 18 Station Road the former studio of professional photographer Gladstone Adams. In 1908 the 1880-born photographer drove 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 endured the 3-1 defeat of his team, 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 eventually patented in 1911. In the early 1970`s this building was home to Spectro Arts Workshop, a flourishing centre of artistic activity. Continue to the junction with Whitley Road, one of the town`s main shopping streets. Once over the zebra crossing, turn left past the Station Hotel, the venue in October 1907 of Whitley Bay`s first ever leek show, and then immediately right into the Esplanade. Take a moment to look above eye level to see some of the interesting features of the buildings that make up the four corners of this junction.

 

 

Whitley Bay Railway Station Clock Tower

 

3. Now head down the `bed & breakfast accommodation` dotted  Esplanade, a clear sign that tourism still plays a vital role in the town, until you reach the promenade. On the right hand corner stood Sylvesters night club, which had, since it was built in 1910, many reincarnations; the Alletsa Ballroom, the Gaumont Cinema and the Empire Theatre. The Esplanade is in essence a continuation of Station Road and, therefore, provides an easy and direct link between the railway station and the seafront. This fact undoubtedly influenced the proposals to site from this point a pier which would have projected straight out into the sea. First planned in 1908, the scheme was abandoned because it was felt that the cast iron columns, which were to support the 270 metre platform and concert pavilion, would not withstand the forces of nature. A much grander scheme was drawn up in 1935 but, once again, the proposals failed to get off the ground.

              

     It`s all in the name!

 

During the latter part of the 19th century Whitley Village was considered a suitable home for gentlemen; a `dream village by the sea`. However, villagers grew tired of being confused with Whitby, along the coast in Yorkshire, and around 1898 calls began to be made to change the name of the village. There is a story that a certain William Oliver of Tynemouth died in Scotland and that his body should have been sent to St. Paul`s Church on the 19th September 1901. As a member of many local groups his funeral was well attended but no coffin arrived. It had, in fact, been sent by rail to Whitby and did not arrive at Whitley Station until 8.45 pm. and as a consequence the burial had to be carried out by lamplight. The ensuing indignation ultimately led to the name of the village being changed to Whitley Bay.

 

 

4. Cross over to the seaward side of the promenade and turn left past the still handsome Rex Hotel, once home to a popular folk club. A host of well known musicians played here in the early days of their careers, including Gerry Rafferty, Billy Connolly, Ralph McTell and local legends Lindisfarne, who `came home` for the club`s 1970 Christmas Party following the release of their first album, `Nicely Out of Tune`. You are now at the centre of Whitley Bay`s lively nightlife which attracts revellers from throughout the country. It is not, therefore, without a touch of irony that the artist, who produced some of the most famous Guinness posters, was born in the town in 1898. Working for the Irish drinks company between 1925 and 1960, John Gilroy created many iconic Guinness images, including the workman casually carrying a massive girder on his shoulder and the thirsty sea lion making off with the zoo keeper`s pint. Over the 35 year period of his involvement with Guinness he produced more than 100 press advertisements and nearly 50 poster designs.

 

 

The handsome Rex Hotel

 

5. Follow the main promenade, officially opened on the 25th May 1911,  passing on your right `Grant`s Clock`, described on unveiling in 1933 as “ a little sister to the lighthouse”, the 1924 -built Central Lower Promenade below you and the Victorian Marlborough Hotel on your left. Soon you will arrive at the `Sandcastles` by the artist Richard Broderick, a wonderfully functional art work which acts as a wind-protecting seating area for walkers. Continue straight ahead crossing Watts Slope before climbing slightly uphill to join the large grassed area known as the Links. This popular recreation area was during the early part of the 19th century strewn with colliery spoil heaps and ironstone workings. Eventually, work was started to totally transform this area and in 1890 Whitley Bay Golf Club began to use the area. Follow the main path across the Links and when it descends to the Panama Dip, with the circular gardens to your left, turn right towards the sea and the Northern Lower Promenade. The gardens were laid out by the local council in the 1930`s and the Dip was named after the café which had occupied this site since the end of the 19th century.

 

 

A very rare combination

 

6. In the heyday of Whitley Bay this stretch of sand would be teeming with holidaymakers. Continue northwards passing first the Panama Swimming Club and then the art décor style drinking fountain, erected to commemorate the coronation of King George VI. Within 200 metres you will arrive at one of the town`s gems; the Rendezvous Café. This delightful ice cream parlour has provided refreshments to generations of holidaymakers. It was a favourite haunt of the poet Julia Darling whose poem, `Rendezvous Café: Whitley Bay` perfectly captures the flavour of the café with lines like, `Rendez Vous with the sea/ and the sugary breeze/ Come eat strawberry flan/ while we can, while we can.`

 

7. Now it is time to part company with the sea and the sand, turning left through either one of the two archways adjacent to the café and across the car park to join the main road along the coast. Cross over and turn left past the 1970`s Leisure Pool, which stands on the site of the former Prudhoe Memorial Convalescent Homes, opened in 1869 in memory of Lord Prudhoe the 4th Duke of Northumberland. A short walk brings you to the junction with Marine Avenue and the site of the former Spanish City fairground. Founded in 1908, the fairground was for many years the entertainment complex around which the seaside resort revolved. In 1980, the pop group Dire Straits thrust the Spanish City into the international music spotlight with their song `The Tunnel of Love`. Lines such as, Girl you look so pretty to me/like you always did/Like the Spanish City to me/when we were kids conjure up the thrills and spills of a trip to the fairground. The unmistakeable white dome of the Grade II Listed Empress Ballroom rises to your left and is very much a major symbol of Whitley Bay. These days it is simply known as `The Dome`.

 

8. Turn right into Marine Avenue passing on your left the recently refurbished Playhouse, formerly the Essoldo and once one of four cinemas in the town. In 1897 Marine Avenue was still known as Seaside Lane and linked the village of Monkseaton with the coast. Continue along this pleasant tree-lined avenue, crossing over to the left hand side as you reach the tennis courts and bowling greens of Souter Park. In 1859/60 the Blyth & Tyne passenger railway line was constructed and the first station to serve the surrounding area, Whitley Junction, was erected where Souter Park now stands. The line by-passed Whitley Village, as it was then known, as it made its way to the docks at North Shields. The track was realigned in 1882 and a new station was built in Whitley Village.

 

 

The stained glass artwork `Beach`

 

9. On reaching the westerly corner of Souter Park turn left into Norham Road and cross over to Monkseaton Station, which replaced the old Whitley Junction station in 1915. Inside the station, at both ends of the curved canopy, are the stained glass artworks, `Beach` and `Shipyards` by  Mike Davis. The `Beach` artwork refers to its immediate locality and to holidays by the sea, whilst the more abstract `Shipyards` echoes the business of the river and the coastline. On the platform there are two sets of five seats, terracotta in colour, by the artist Colin Rose and these are the only seats of this unusual design on the Metro System.  Outside the station again, cross back to the other side of Norham Road and turn right towards Whitley Bay town centre. Within little more than 100 metres, on your left immediately after the end of the park, stood the former Northumberland Village Homes. Opened in the 1880`s, the Homes were occupied by up to 150 girls who were kitted out in a distinctive uniform of a blue serge dress and a red cape and were given instruction in household duties. The Homes closed in March 1985 and have now been tastefully converted for housing. When you reach the bottom of Norham Road you will join Park View, another of the town`s main shopping streets. Head to your right.

 

Shopping in the 1920`s

 

In his 1920 `History & Guide to Whitley Bay`, Albert Rudge described the shops as being “numerous and equal to city establishments” as well as being “well stocked and thoroughly up to date”. The guide included adverts for such items as, `fish, game and poultry`, `casement curtains, linoleums and carpets`, `fancies, prima donna cakes`, diamond rings`, `fresh milk, Cumberland eggs, country butter and margarine`, first class provisions and groceries` and `sparkling wines, Champagne and sparkling Muscatel`. The age of electrical gadgetry was still to dawn.

 

 

 

10. Soon you will pass, on your right, the 1864 consecrated St.Paul`s Church, designed by London Architect, A. Salvin. The first vicar of the church was the Rev. R.F. Wheeler who was a founder member of the Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade. In his 1957 book `The Buildings of England`, Nikolaus Pevsner thought that this was “not a church of much architectural merit”. Judge for yourself. On your left stands the Fat Ox public house which derived its name from the famous, locally reared animal which, when killed in March 1789, weighed an astounding 216 stones 8lbs. (1375 kg.). A large copperplate engraving of the animal by Thomas Bewick was published the following month. Follow the road as it curves to your left and where it turns sharp left at the traffic lights cross straight ahead into Whitley Road.

 

11. You are now in the centre of the town and you have reached the end of the walk. Before you leave, take time to look around you. The `Whitley Bay Clock` was commissioned from Cumbrian-based artist-blacksmith, Chris Brammall by the town`s Rotary Club to celebrate their 75th anniversary. The work was inspired by the coastal location and reflects, in its materials and structure, the engineering traditions of the area. The clock was installed in October 1998 and was formally presented to the people of the town. Look upwards and see the light coloured façade of the New Coliseum which was opened in 1910 and provided live entertainment until the advent of the `silent movies` in 1919, when the building was extensively altered.  The ABC Company introduced the first `talkies` to the cinema in 1929 and these continued to be shown until the very last film was screened on the 1st May 1971. Not far from this spot, at the top of South Parade, for a short while in the 1960`s the Club A Go-Go reverberated to the music of the day and on the 9th November 1963 a fledgling band played at the club. They were the Rolling Stones and as they say………the rest is history!

 

 

Chris Brammall`s Clock outside the New Coliseum

 

Devised & Written: Geoff Holland 2005 (with minor amendments 2010)

Photographs: Geoff Holland 2005

Previously published in leaflet form. In this respect the assistance of North Tyneside Council, Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade and Town Centres Management is gratefully acknowledged.

 

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Are you enjoying these walks in North Tyneside? Then why not step outside the boundaries and take a walk around some of Newcastle upon Tyne`s historic streets. Just spend a few minutes to check out A CITY OF LOCAL LEGENDS: NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE. It will not be time wasted.