You would occasionally hear an announcement “We’ve got a little boy with red hair, 5 years old and he’s lost his mummy. Can you come and collect him?”
Day at the Seaside project August 2012
Interviewee: Tom Fry born in Tynemouth 1942
Throughout the summer we spent more or less all day and every day down on the beach in the sun. We did the usual things, built sandcastles, pot pies. We would spend a lot of time in the sea which seemed a lot warmer then. I think the secret was, on a warm day, to wait until after the tide had come in over the warm sand and the sea wouldn’t be too cold then. I remember thunderstorms. It would suddenly go dark, lightning flashing and everybody would run for cover.
There was the Plaza. They used to have a roller skating rink on the beach, a paved-over area where people could hire roller skates. I vividly remember the funfair they used to have inside there. I spent quite a lot of time there. The House of Fun was a cakewalk with all sorts of novelty things inside that pushed you around and frightened you. And lots of slot machines. A friend of my father’s called Sid Knight had the shuggy boats and a roundabout and, the novelty shop of course. I used to save my pennies up and buy some plaything that you’ve been saving up for weeks for.
You had to be very careful of broken glass on the beach. Tynemouth Council had a big hut at the south end of the beach with tents, first aid and lost children. There was so many people came to the beach in the summer that children could quite easily get separated from their parents. They had tannoys on poles and you would occasionally hear an announcement “We’ve got a little boy with red hair, 5 years old and he’s lost his mummy. Can you come and collect him?” In the 1950s and 1940s, particularly on Bank Holidays, it was phenomenal. You had to literally pick your way amongst the people lying on the beach, it was so crowded. And when the tide came in it was twice as crowded.
We lived in Tynemouth. It was probably about a mile from the beach and we just walked down, and we walked back up again at the end of the day. We didn’t have a car in those days. One of my abiding memories, at the end of a busy day was, there was a bus to Newcastle went from Front Street and the queues for those buses stretched all the way along Front Street. We’d also get fish and chips from the Fish and Chip shop in Front Street. It’s still there it’s called Marshall’s. It’s quite a long thin building and you can queue up inside and, on a typical summer’s day, it used to fill up and the queue used to be out onto the street as well. But for the locals there was a little hatch at the back, and you could go and knock on this hatch and get served.
It wasn’t sunny all of the time, but I remember warm days in a swimming costume all the time, swimming in the sea. The open-air swimming pool was very popular as well. I spent all my summer holidays in my teenage years in that pool, swimming endlessly backwards and forwards but the water was never very warm. But you could stay in for quite a long time and, come out and get a cup of hot Bovril to warm yourself up and, there was proper changing rooms. But people wanted to be able to swim all the year round and they built the indoor pools. Relatively warm water of course and nobody would bother with the open-air swimming pool after that.
I remember at Whitley Bay they used to have lights hung up along the seafront. There were windmills and all sorts of things, like Blackpool but on a smaller scale. That’s long since disappeared. There was a week called Scots week and hordes and hordes of people used to come down from Scotland and stayed for a week in Whitley Bay. They used to put special events on for them, the Empress Ballroom used to have special dances.
I remember you had to be careful when you were paddling, especially at low tide, because there used to be a fish called a weaver fish that used to immerse itself in the sand with just the spines of its dorsal fins sticking up and these spines had a nasty venom. Quite often children used to stand on that and get quite a nasty sting and you had to go for treatment straight away at the first-aid place. You would occasionally get swarms of jellyfish washed up on the beach. I also remember, at times in the summer, you would get shoals and shoals of sand eels, which are tiny fish very slim and, you’d be in the water up to your waist and suddenly you’d be surrounded by these shoals of sand eels swimming around. The mackerel fish would come along and you would see them leaping out of the water eating these sand eels.
There was a fountain called the lion’s head fountain on the beach fed by a spring. It was built by the Victorians. It’s covered by sand now, but it was sculpted in the shape of a lion’s head with its mouth open and this continuous stream of freshwater came out. So when we wanted to make a cup of tea we used to fill the kettle from this fountain.