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Monday, 24 March 2014

The Spanish City in England

Anyone who has visited Whitley Bay (my home town) on the north-east coast of England will have heard of the Spanish City. I grew up with this fairground as part of my life. On the waltzers, I suffered a split lip when I inadvertently hit the safety bar. I lost money on the penny amusement machines, got my face covered in the sugary cobwebs of candy floss, and believed the people who ran all the rides and games were magical. Little did I know then that I would move to Spain to live!

The Spanish City was founded in 1908 and formally opened in 1910, when a dance hall was added.

The Spanish City, 1910 - Wikipedia commons
The Spanish City earned its name in 1904 when Charles Elderton, who ran Hebburn's Theatre Royal, brought his Toreadors concert party troupe to perform there. The City was formally opened by Robert Mason, chair of the local council, at 7:30pm on Saturday, May 7, 1910, when it was known as The Spanish City and Whitley Pleasure Gardens. The new building housed a 1400-capacity theatre, shops, cafes, and roof gardens.

In 1920, the Spanish City became the Empress Ballroom. In 1979 the Rotunda Ballroom was converted into the starlight rooms for live entertainment.

Its funfair was extremely popular with fairground rides and amusements, including a 'Corkscrew' roller coaster—which has now moved to Flamingoland in Yorkshire—ghost train and the waltzers, the House that Jack Built, and the Fun House.

Its centrepiece was its distinctive dome, now a Grade 2 listed building; when it was built it was believed to be the second largest unsupported concrete dome in the UK. There are towers on either side of the entrance to the fairground, and situated on top of them two half-life-size female lead figures, one carrying a cymbal, the other a tambourine. The building's architects were from a local firm.

The Dome has had a number of uses over the years as a ballroom, amusement arcade, and Laser Quest Laser Tag Arena.

The band Dire Straits immortalized the Spanish City in their 1980 Mark Knopfler song, "Tunnel of Love," and thereafter the song was played every morning when the park opened. Cullercoats and Whitley Bay are also mentioned in the song.

All things considered, it lasted a long time but was mostly demolished in the late 1990s.

[Most facts supplied by Wikipedia, the rest from memory...]


Jan Warburton said...

Fascinating story about Whitley bay, Nik! And I never realised that about Dire Straits recording of Tunnel of Love... always been one of my fav groups, with incredible guitar playing from Mark the lead guitarist.

Nik said...

Thanks, Jan. I never knew your Mark was a lead guitarist? :)