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Here comes Summer...
Time to find your
feet
and get your
skates on!

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Whitley Bay & Tynemouth Guide 2009 Archive

Visit the all new Friends of St Mary's Island website. "The Friends raise funds to promote exhibitions, events and meetings which are designed to improve the whole area as a site of interest both locally and for visitors."
Island of Dreams
by Morag Horseman
Over the years home to smugglers, fishermen and lighthouse keepers, in the early days of Christianity this tidal island was the refuge of holy men. A chapel dedicated to St Helen, used for worship until 1800, was built there by the monks of Tynemouth Priory. They kept a "St Mary's light" in the tower to warn sailors of the dangerous rocks. After they left, the island was known as Bates Island after its new owner, but now we call it by the name of its earliest light, St Mary's.

The island has known its share of violence over the years, in spite of its religious connections. In 1722, a customs officer was found dead there, thought to have been murdered by two villains who were 'running' brandy. Smugglers would hide their 'booty' on the island before taking it to North Shields.

In 1739, Michael Curry, a glass worker from Seaton Sluice, was hanged for murdering a local innkeeper near the island. For some time his body was strung from a gibbet within sight of his crime, on what is today known as Curry's Point.

In 1799, the chapel on the island was used to isolate Russian soldiers who had developed cholera on a voyage south to fight Napoleon. Those who died were buried here.

In 1855, the pantiled cottage was built by innkeeper and fisherman George Ewen from Seaton Sluice. In 1862 he ran it as an inn, The Freemason's Arms, but in 1895 he was evicted and the inn became a temperance hotel kept by John Crisp.

The lighthouse building began in 1897, opening on 31st August 1898. The two lighthouse keepers lived with their families in the cottages. The light was lit by paraffin until 1977 when it was converted to electricity, but the lighthouse was taken out of service by Trinity House in 1984. It was then bought on behalf of the local community by North Tyneside Council.

Now run as a Visitor Centre with public events for adults and children, rooms available for meetings and parties, and a gift shop, St Mary's Island is a unique attraction with something on offer for everyone. Come and climb the lighthouse for the very best views of the coast.
 
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