The beaches were full of people. There’s a thing about being in large groups of people, irrespective of the fact that you don’t know them, that everybody’s there enjoying themselves and it’s infectious.
Day at the Seaside project 2012
Interviewee: Alan Hildrew – born in Newcastle 28.01.1945
Well we used to go into the sea obviously and we used to swim, or try to swim and just basically clown around in the water you know, sort of throwing water at each other and running about and we would also make sand castles and bury one another. We used to go on the rock pools and look for crabs and whatever. The first thing we used to do when we would get to the beach would be to hire deck chairs because you could hire the deck chairs on the promenade and, if it was a bit breezy, you could hire a wind break and quite a lot of people got the wind breaks because, although it’s a nice day down there, you’re on the beach, you’re in the sea, you’re in the water and if there’s a bit of a breeze it’s a bit chilly and the wealthier people hired a tent but we never bothered with tents. We would tend to go to Whitley Bay beach.
We used to get ready and go to the beach, but I wanted always to go into the Spanish City, but we’d actually spend quite a long time on the beach first and then go to the Spanish City and the fairground and I loved the fairground and that was what I wanted to do most when I was down there. I went on the rides. They had things in the Spanish City then which wouldn’t be allowed on a fairground today. In fact they aren’t. They had rifles. They had .22 rifles on shooting ranges and you’d fire a live cartridge, but it was a low velocity cartridge and you had a target. We were about five metres away from the target probably and behind the targets was a reinforced wall so that the cartridges couldn’t do any damage and you fired these things. You got so many rounds of cartridges for 6d and then let rip. I used to like things like that.
We’d take packed lunch; we’d take something like bottles of pop, home-made ginger beer, home-made lemonade as well actually. Also you would take a thermos flask full of tea. You would take sandwiches and buns. You would have your egg sandwiches and cheese sandwiches with sand because you inevitably got sand into your cheese sandwiches and your egg sandwiches, you couldn’t really stop it. You had Dunn’s Tea Rooms and you could go across to there and buy a pot of tea and cups. You could actually take your tea (and I’m not talking about tea bags here I’m talking about loose tea) and put it into a container and they would fill it up with hot water. You could buy boiling water and you could make your own tea. So we would take our own food. We never bought food on the sea front. I think that’s to do with money.
I liked the whole experience of being on the seaside. It was a great time. The beaches were full of people. There’s a thing about being in large groups of people, irrespective of the fact that you don’t know them, that everybody’s there enjoying themself and it’s infectious. I think if you’re sitting on an empty beach, if you’re sitting here in your group and 400 yards away is another group you’ll have fun, but I think it’ll not be quite as intense. I don’t know if I’m right about that, but I’ve got a feeling if you’ve got a lot of people on the beach laughing and carrying on it’s great fun.
What’s changed the most? Well, the volume of people on the beach is the main thing. You’re more controlled in the environment by lifeguards. You’re safer in the water. I mean we weren’t aware of that at all but I think you’re probably safer in the water. There were an awful lot of shops along that sea front and in Whitley Bay itself and in Tynemouth. I mean I’m talking about Whitley because that’s where we went, but Tynemouth the Long Sands is a wonderful piece of sand. There were an awful lot of shops around the Spanish City which supported the tourist industry, so they were selling buckets and spades and towels and funny little hats and all kinds of things. They’re not there anymore, but the tourist industry now in Whitley Bay doesn’t exist to any extent at all.
We’ve been talking about when I was very little, when I was small, before I was twelve because my father died when I was that age. We didn’t go to the beach an awful lot after that. When I got into my mid teen years you’re beginning to sort of kick against the traces a little bit and we would go to Whitley Bay to the Spanish City and when you’re 16 you’re looking to meet young lasses. I was a teddy boy. We would dress up in our finery and go down to the seaside, but we were there to meet the opposite sex and we would stand on the waltzer and the dodgem cars with our Woodbine in our mouth because smoking wasn’t an awful thing in those days. Chewing a piece of chewing gum with your Woodbine in your mouth, you thought you were the bee’s knees.