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On the Beach

We must have been fit, running back and forth along the beach all day

On the beach starting on the lower prom near the clock were shops selling bucket and spades etc. There was also a glass-fronted shelter where, if the weather turned cold, windy or it rained, holidaymakers would crowd in. On either side were the Ladies and Gents, each had an attendant who kept everyone in order “No changing in the cubicles!” but they kept them spotless.

There was Dunn’s tearoom which was entered from the beach. At high tide, the customers had to wait until the waves were low and then dash the short distance from the bottom of Gregg’s slope to the outside steps of the café. Further along came the shuggy boats and the roundabout. Along the beach were green canvas bathing tents. There was an attendant in the end one; bathers had to pay 2d to change into or out of their costumes.

The above businesses were owned by the Dunn family and they only employed family. I was a part of the extended family, and as children we were allowed to help but were not (nor expected to be) paid.

Next on the beach were Fry’s boats. They were open boats with an engine and always flying a red flag. A wooden structure was wheeled down in sections to form a boarding stage. For 1/- or sometimes 6d you could sail to St. Mary’s Island and back.  Along from there, a very large red umbrella sheltered the Salvation Army. We used to go there sometimes. There was always a tambourine to bash away on.

There were shuggy boats and a roundabout at Watt’s slope, a cafe and Josh Lawson’s ponies. I can’t remember donkeys being there in the ’30s. In return for running up and down all days with the ponies and small pony and carts, we considered it a great reward, as we did not get paid, to be picked to ride them back to their stables.

At 6 pm each night with Josh, who was a very large man, leading the way, sitting in one of the pony drawn carts, we would return to his ‘Frying Pan Ranch’. All the traffic stopped until the cavalcade had galloped along the seafront. The Ranch was where Whitley Lodge School is now. At the entrance, there was a large board with a frying pan nailed to it with the name burnt into it, probably with a red hot poker.

Looking back, we must have been fit, running back and forth along the beach all day, riding back to the ranch then having to walk home to the town centre. At least we were too tired to get into any mischief.

After Watts’ Slope, there was Uncle Pat at Sunshine Corner. There was a tarpaulin laid on the sands for the children to sit on. Parents and ‘grown-ups’ had to stand on the lower promenade. Uncle Pat was on a small stage with three canvas sides plus a small pedal organ. There was skipping, poetry, singing competitions for small prizes then hymns and prayers.

Every now and then sand competitions were held. I remember winning a Teddy Tails competition. My prize was a Teddy Tails Annual. I was only six years old and I think it was a sympathy prize as I only built a sandcastle.

On the Links, Leon Dodds performed with his Pierrots. He used the Bandstand and a large marquee. We used to crawl under the canvas side to watch. I can’t remember any of us ever being caught, maybe they closed their eyes as we were all local children. The show was very popular. Leon Dodds played Old Mother Riley with his wife as Kitty. There were dancers, singers, comedy, quite a mixed programme. Leon Dodds also played pantomime as a dame.

There was another bandstand in Whitley Park, where at weekends a brass band would play, usually an Army band. On the lawn in front of the Prudhoe Home (where the Leisure Pool is now) a band from a colliery or a shipyard would usually play.

The Panama Dip had a café. Stephen Fry built it from a Cullercoats boat wreck. There was also a glass enclosed stage where a string quartet played on Sundays. There was also a swimming club, café and chalets on the way to St Mary’s Lighthouse

The Crisp family lived on the island. Tea trays were supplied from the cottage and if the tide was high a boat was rowed over with the tea trays.  A deposit was paid and when the trays were returned the deposit was given back.

At the Southern part of Whitley Bay there was the rock pool where we all learned to swim with the table rocks and the paddling pool.

Whitley Bay was a bustling resort side-by-side with a residential part.  There was never a dull moment – and I haven’t mentioned the picture halls (nowadays we watch films, but we went to ‘the pictures’), and there were also tennis courts and bowling greens. The park in front of the Avenue Hotel had a large outdoor draughts game. We children never managed to finish a game as grumpy old men used to chase us away as they insisted they had ‘the right’.

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