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Roll up, no time to lose... Striking images of Whitley Bay's Spanish City in 1999, shortly before closure. DAVE MORTON recalls the fairground's origins.


SUNSHINE and a day at Whitley Bay's Spanish City - it seems a long way off. Our pictures were taken on September 26, 1999, by photographer Trevor Ermel just before the famous fairground closed. How many holidaymakers and day-trippers visited the notable location over the decades, one wonders? The unmistakable structure of the Spanish City, with its spectacular dome, opened in May, 1910 - days after the death of the popular King Edward VII.

The original pleasure palace had a 1,400-seat concert hall, restaurant, roof garden and tearoom. A ballroom was added in 1920, a decade when Whitley Bay was advertised as the 'Blackpool of the North East'.

The first fairground had operated since 1908, and soon attracted thousands of visitors every day.

Some years ago, Mick Sharp, a graphic designer in Whitley Bay, carried out research into the history of the Spanish City. His work was then used in a special exhibition in 2010 and later put into a book.

He said: "Quite a lot of people don't know how Spanish City got its name. The history behind it is fascinating."

According to his research, a man named Charles Elderton, who ran Hebburn Theatre Royal at the beginning of the 20th Century, first brought his 'Toreadors' concert party to Whitley Bay between 1904 and 1907.

They performed on a temporary stage in what was then the home of Rockcliffe Rugby Club, next to Whitley Park. To protect the audience from the elements, canvas and wood awnings were built and painted to look like a Spanish village, hence the name Spanish City.

Elderton saw that there was Turn to Page 24 From Page 23 demand for more permanent amusements in Whitley Bay, which was a developing seaside town following the building of the railway station in 1882.

He founded Whitley Amusements Ltd and began developing a fairground inside the painted fences. The original Spanish City Fairground, without its landmark Dome, opened on May 30, 1908. The entrance fee was 2d -two old pennies.

Soon after, Whitley Amusements were taken over by the Whitley Pleasure Gardens and they commissioned Newcastle architectural firm Cackett and Burns Dick to design a meeting place and theatre at the Spanish City.

The idea of the Dome was born and the blueprints were drawn up. The structure was then built within 82 days. When it opened, it became the largest dome in the UK after St Paul's Cathedral.

The middle decades of the last century saw the Spanish City's heyday.

For many of us born and bred on Tyneside, it was a must-visit location in our formative years - and beyond. The funfair was the subject of the 1981 Dire Straits song, Tunnel Of Love.

The Corkscrew rollercoaster arrived as a national first in the 1980s, bringing with it a new generation of funseekers.

The complex closed in 1999. But, as we've been reporting, the revamped Spanish City Dome is set for a welcome rebirth.

The exciting project, scheduled to be finished by the summer, will see a new leisure hub with restaurants, cafes and shops.


Spanish City fairground, Whitley Bay, 1999, by Trevor Ermel

Spanish City fairground, Whitley Bay, September 26, 1999, by Trevor Ermel

Trevor Ermel

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 5, 2018
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