Of all 10,400 or
so lighthouses in
the world, which
can boast
the loveliest...?


Way back in its
Golden Age,
Whitley Bay was
the Coney Island
of the North...

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Whitley Bay Guide 2008 Archive

Visit Morag's informative Friends of St Mary's Island website, dedicated to safeguarding the future of the lighthouse and its nature reserve, at www.friendsof

Charlie is the author of 'Monkseaton and Hillheads' and 'Inns and Taverns of North Shields', both of which are available at your friendly local bookstore. Visit Charlie's excellent Monkseaton Village website at www.
The History of Whitley Bay
by Morag Horseman and Charlie Steel
Some 2000 years ago, Angles crossed the sea to live on these shores, naming their settlement Whitley, meaning white lea or pasture land. The village has been recorded variously as Witelei, Whitlawe, Whitlathe (according to John Speede's map of 1610), and Wytheleye. By the early 12th Century, it was a tiny hamlet owned by the Prior of Tynemouth. The name of the village may also be attributed to the deWhitley family, local landowners who held a manor house in the area up to 1538.

In 1539 the Crown granted possession of the village to the Percy family (the Dukes of Northumberland remained major landlords right up until the 1950s, hence the naming of various streets Duke, Duchess, Alnwick, Hotspur, etc.). The 'Bay' was added to Whitley in 1902, after considerable confusion with Whitby.

By 1674, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the Priory lands and estate were enclosed and divided up, except for Whitley Links which to this day remains as open land. In the 17th century Whitley had a population of about 750 people whose main sources of employment were farming, coal and ironstone mining, limestone quarrying and lime burning, but after Whitley Colliery closed in 1848, the population dropped to 430.

The straggling village street had a blacksmith's forge at one end, St Paul's Church (built in 1864) at the other, a group of cottages, a dairy farm, a post office and grocery, and three public houses — the Queen Victoria (now the Bedroom), the Ship (now the Townhouse) and the Fat Ox (an animal bred in Whitley, made famous by Thomas Bewick's woodcut).

The Prudhoe Convalescent Homes, on the site of the current Leisure Pool, followed in 1866, and the Northumberland Village Homes on Norham Road, now tastefully converted into a residential close, were opened in 1880. Two prominent builders in the area at this time were Richard Heckels Nesbitt and Alfred Styan, both responsible for laying out many of the streets and much of the housing towards the south side of Whitley.

There were three substantial houses — Whitley House which became The Coliseum Theatre in 1910, and was given a 'marble' frontage in 1924 when it became a cinema, Whitley Hall, demolished in 1902, on the site of the current Police Station, and Whitley Park Hall, replaced by the library on Park Avenue.

In 1862 a railway line from Blyth to Tynemouth was opened, to connect with the line to Newcastle. Whitley's station opened at Hillheads, and there was a sudden rush to build houses, both for visitors and for Newcastle businessmen who could now commute into work. In 1882 the railway was moved nearer to the coast and a station built on the colliery site. Station Road and neighbouring streets were soon established, and by 1900 the population was almost 7,000. There was a mix of both pride and regret at the speed at which the town was growing and, over the following years, the town boundary soon extended north towards Brier Dene, south to Cullercoats, and to the west to encompass Monkseaton Village.

In 1898 St Mary's Lighthouse was built and it became a magnet for the day trippers and holiday makers who poured into the town at the weekends.

In 1904 the Toreadors Concert Party entertained visitors in an open-air theatre in Whitley Park and, as the area was decorated in the Spanish style, it became known as the Spanish City. The Whitley Pleasure Gardens Company Ltd. was formed in 1909 and established a large fairground on the site. In 1910 the famous Dome was built, with the Empress Theatre and Ballroom. The Spanish City became Whitley Bay's main attraction for many years.

To accommodate the increased holiday traffic the present large station was opened in 1910. Hotels, boarding houses and tea-rooms sprang up. The promenades, the splendid Rendezvous Café, and beach chalets were built between 1919 and 1936, and there were bathing machines and pony rides on the sands. Whitley Bay continued to grow and became the principal holiday resort for the workers from Glasgow, reaching the peak of its popularity in the 1950s.

Today Whitley Bay is still a much loved seaside resort and, with its excellent shops, lively nightlife, and miles of curving golden sands, remains a hive of activity all year round.
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