After Sophie and I visited Tynemouth Market, we went for a wander to Whitley bay, to see the renovated Spanish City.
It opened in 1910 as a concert hall, restaurant, roof garden and tearoom and was a smaller version of Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach. A ballroom was added in 1920 and later on a permanent funfair. It had a Renaissance-style frontage and became known for its distinctive dome, now a Grade II listed building. There were shops and cafes inside, a roof garden, and the Empress Theatre, with seating for 1,400 on the floor and 400 on the balcony. The Empress Ballroom was added in 1920, and the Rotunda in 1921. In 1979 the Rotunda was converted into the Starlight Rooms for live entertainment. Dire Straits, Sting, and Christopher Cross a few of the notable performers.
In June 2011 ADP Architects won a commission to regenerate the Spanish City with a plan that included a 50-bed, four-star boutique hotel, 20 apartments, a 1950s diner and a pleasure garden. The completion date was announced as 2014, but work was halted in 2013 because of a lack of funds. The project received a grant of £3.7m from theHeritage Lottery Fund in November 2013. The building re-opened in July 2018.
Family-friendly venues, a high-quality steak and seafood restaurant, tearooms, event spaces and a champagne bar take permanent homes inside.
The front of the building actually looks out over the sea, and we went outside to photograph the seafront, but it was bliddy cold and windy so didn’t stay long!
After Sophie and I had lunch at the Food Fair, we decided to go up to St.Mary’s lighthouse at Whitley Bay and have a wander around the nature reserve there.
The history bit
St.Mary’s Island is a very small sandstone island, just off the coast at Whitley Bay. Back in medieval times there was a chapel on the island, and it was dedicated to St.Helen. It’s worth digressing here as St.Helen was an important part of Christian history, being the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who was the main instigator of Christianity throughout Europe. He made his Mum his chief relic hunter and gave her complete access to the imperial treasury in order to finance the finding of any relics. She was the Indiana Jones of her day! Off she went on a Holy Trip to Palestine where she was responsible for the construction or beautification of two churches, the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, and the Church of Eleona on the Mount of Olives, sites of Christ’s birth and ascension, respectively. Then she shot off to Jerusalem which was in the process of being rebuilt after Emperor Titus’s destruction of the place. Now, back in the 130’s, Emperor Hadrian had built a temple over the site of Jesus’s tomb near Calvary, and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. Accounts differ concerning whether the temple was dedicated to Venus or Jupiter but it didn’t matter as Helen had it pulled down, and the site excavated. Well blow me down she only went and hit the jackpot! 3 wooden crosses were unearthed. Helen wanted to make sure that one of them was the “True Cross” so she had a woman who was in the process of dying brought to the site and had her touch each cross. Of course she touched the first one, nothing, the second, niente, de nada, but then! She put her hand on the third one and lo and behold she recovered instantly. Helen declared the cross to be the True Cross of Jesus. On the site of the discovery, Constantine ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
But Helen didn’t stop there, no resting on her laurels for our intrepid relic hunter, she also discovered the nails from the crucifixion- (one of which she stuck in her son’s helmet, and one on his horses bridle,) and the Holy Tunic. Somewhere along the way she also found the rope which tied Jesus to the cross, and that can still be seen in Cyprus, where she also went hunting. Considered to be the only relic of its kind, it has been held at the Stavrovouni Monastery, which was also founded by Helen. As well as relic hunting, Helen was a great cat person and is responsible for the large population of cats in Cyprus. Local tradition holds that she imported hundreds of cats from Egypt or Palestine in the fourth century AD to rid a monastery of snakes. The monastery is today known as “St. Nicholas of the Cats”. What a gal! Helena left Jerusalem and the eastern provinces in 327 to return to Rome, bringing with her large parts of the True Cross and other relics, which were then stored in her palace’s private chapel, where they can be still seen today. Her palace was later converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. This has been maintained by Cistercian monks in the monastery which has been attached to the church for centuries.
Why there was a chapel to her in Whitley Bay is a mystery, I can’t find evidence of her visiting it, but no matter, presumably the chap in charge had heard of her. Inside the chapel was the Lady Light, also known as St. Katherine’s Light. The light was later, wrongly, ascribed to St. Mary and, as a result, the island became known as St. Mary’s Island. It is debatable whether the light was used as a warning to shipping or was purely religious. Next to the chapel was a burial ground where monks and local people were interred. Traces of St. Helen’s Chapel were sadly destroyed when the lighthouse was built in 1898.
During the 19th century there was an inn, known as the ‘Square and Compass’, on the island, run by a Mr. George Ewen. In 1895, after complaints about rowdy customers trespassing on nearby land, the landlord, Lord Hastings, had Mr. Ewen and his family evicted from the island.
Prior to the lighthouse being built, the island was originally owned by a local prominent family, The Bates, and consequently the Island was first named after them and so was called Bates Island, Hartley Bates or Bates Hill. I have no idea why they had three names for it. The island is opposite Curry’s Point on the mainland and is connected to the coast at low tide by a rocky causeway for about 16 hours a day.
Well that’s enough school for the day, lets crack on with some pictures.
The cause way was under the sea when we got there,
so we had a wander up to the cliffs and the nature reserve. A row of memorial benches lines the path up to the cliff top
some of the plaques on the benches are so poignant
we saw a few people walking back the other way
the views from the top are great
All pictures are embiggenable and a full album can be seen HERE
Stay tooned for our next foray into the Universe 😃
I was working in Whitley Bay today, and though the morning started out grey and cloudy, the sun came out this afternoon, so I took Frego to see St.Mary’s lighthouse. The tide was out and there was a chilly wind blowing in from the North Sea, so we didn’t stay long!
You must be logged in to post a comment.