THE WHITLEY BAY DISCOVERY WALK
It`s holiday time- let`s shout about it!
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 Proving unpopular with customers the majority were withdrawn in 1935 but somehow this one escaped the axe.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.
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.
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
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`.
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.
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
NEXT WALK: THE WALLSEND DISCOVERY WALK
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