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Walks in North Shields No. 1

A walk of interest, history, beauty and nostalgia to me, now aged 87.

In my youth, North Shields and Tynemouth areas had several interesting walks, fortunate for lads and lasses of my age as we couldn’t afford to go to picture houses all the time.

Our favourite walk was from where I lived in Upper Reed Street along Tynemouth Road, where the trams ran.  Northumberland Park was on one side and all the other side was billboards.  I remember vividly the adverts for films, featuring Milton Sills, Rudolph Valentino, Tom Mix, Mary Pickford and Pola Negri – oh they were interesting, all the way from Washington Terrace to the top of the Correction House Bank.

The place after which it was named was and is still there, overlooking the park.  It was for dubious boy criminals and other unfortunates from the “Wellesley”, a training ship in the Tyne.  On the same side halfway up the bank was a semi-circle cut into the wall.  This featured a tree and is the mark showing North Shields and Tynemouth boundaries.

At the top of the bank is a very noble building and a statue, the Master Mariners Homes for Retired Mariners.  The statue is that of the then Duke of Northumberland.  Opposite is a little bridge that rises over the rail line.  In my young days this led to Percy Square, a line of lovely old cottages.  Sadly, some fell over the cliffs when erosion set in and eventually all were knocked down and the land used to build Knott’s Flats.  However, at the end of the cottages was a path that led all the way to Collingwood’s Monument, built to commemorate Admiral Collingwood, second in charge to Lord Nelson at Trafalgar.

Also here was the building of the Life Brigade, and past that the path descended into the Haven, a sheltered spot near the pier and the ruin of Tynemouth Castle and Priory.  In the latter is the grave of the soldier who carried the lamp at the burial of Sir John Moore of Coruna, featured in the poem of that name.  Also, about there, but now sadly no more, was the site of the smuggler, Jingling Geordie.  I was probably the last one to see that in 1930 or 1931, as I worked as a gardener in the private park of Percy Gardens, for two years.

One day I was buying a paper in Front Street when the cliffs and part of the castle wall came down, about 5,000 tons, and the open passage used by the smugglers appeared.  Then it was gone, blocked up by rocks and debris.  The place was King Edwards Bay and the road skirted the bay, but I liked the great houses of the crescent of Percy Gardens and its private park.  Queen Maud of Norway was a frequent visitor to someone there and often stayed there.  Also, Selby Davidson and his father lived there, they were of the Lifeboat Committee and also racehorse owners.  Catcheside, a trawler owner lived there too, and he also played rugby for Tynemouth Percy Park.  Across the road at the bottom was Sharpness Point and in 1925 a tank from the First World War was placed there.  I believe it was later removed to South Shields, owing to its precarious position.

Below there was the Bathing Pool, still in evidence but it is now strewn with massive rocks!  Past the Grand Hotel, a top place for top people, and you come to the path to the glorious beach.  In past decades we had the Fol-de-Rols and other stage entertainment and the beach had the Aerial Flight, shuggy-shoos, tea places and ice cream stalls and other entertainment.  Above all this towered the Plaza, built as a dance hall and skating rink and what have you, what each age fancied.  Tynemouth Lake was a lovely area, where model ships and yachts sailed majestically!

We returned home via Percy Park Road, past the statue of Queen Victoria and the Clifford’s Fort, newly built, the old fort lying derelict on the Fish Quay site in North Shields.  Round at the back of the new fort was Tynemouth Railway Station, a wonderful edifice of iron and glass of the Victorian era.  The staff planted all sorts of flowers and climbers to beautify the place and to me it was my lunch place.  I worked the roads there as a window cleaner and had my bait on the seats in the station, or else on the grassy knoll outside.  It was here I first noticed wild gladioli growing, in the allotments at the back of the station.  Gladiolus species had been brought by the Romans 2000 years ago and could still be seen here.  The species were used by hybridisers to eventually mate with the primulinus and grandifloras used by Queen Victoria in the gardens of the Crystal Palace.

A walk of interest, history, beauty and nostalgia to me, now aged 87.

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