Alnwick, Family History Society

Spanish City in Whitley Bay
Picture by Jane Coltman
Spanish City in Whitley Bay Picture by Jane Coltman

Barry Mead gave an excellent and enthusiastic talk using old postcards to track the development of popular local resort, Whitley Bay.

Originally called just Whitley, its rapid expansion as a seaside resort in the late 1800s led to more and more confusion with Whitby. This resulted in the body of a resident being sent to the wrong town when he died away from home, so the title of Whitley Bay was chosen.

Another naming confusion was highlighted concerning the well-known and photogenic island bearing a lighthouse just off Whitley Bay.

Now universally known as St Mary’s Island, it once held a chapel with a lamp known as St Katherine’s Light. When the lighthouse was erected it was decided to name it after the holy beacon. Except they used the wrong saint’s name.

The coming of the North Tyne railway in 1882 (now part of the Metro) was the great spur to the growth of visitors.

Facilities such as the popular bathing machines ensured that ladies could enjoy the benefits of sea water while preserving their modesty, with no unseemly flash of ankle.

The town was originally a mining area so postcards show a gradual levelling out of the promenade area. Originally a performing space had windbreaks illustrating scenes of Spanish life.

When a permanent and impressive entertainment complex was built, this became known as the Spanish City, with a dome said to be second only to St Paul’s in London. Once welcoming millions of visitors a year, it is to be hoped that promised regeneration of this pleasure park will lead to a rebirth of a town so popular in its heyday.

There is no meeting in August. The next one is on Tuesday, September 5, at 7.30pm, in Bailiffgate Museum, with a talk on Ballooning Families by Jennifer Dalton. All welcome.