Up until the 1960s, when package holidays to warmer places became more widely affordable, Whitley Bay was a popular British seaside resort. This shaped the development of the town and explains the many guest houses and seafront hotels found there.
Turns out that Whitley Bay used to just be called Whitley. However, it was often confused with the town of Whitby (you've heard of Whitby even if you don't realise you have). It all came to a head when in 1901 after some poor man from Tynemouth died in Scotland. As friends and family gathered for his funeral service in St. Paul's Church of Whitley, the train carried his body on to Whitby instead. (Once the error was realised it was rectified, but the burial had to be conducted by lamplight.) Within a year the town's name was changed to Whitley Bay.
We were following this guide written by Geoff Holland. It was only about a three mile loop, but we managed to make it last about five hours! We met up at the Metro Station (built 1910). Like Tynemouth, Whitley Bay is one of the marvellously grand Victorian structures.
One of the first things the guide pointed out was this remarkable phone box/post box with GR on it. I've passed this phone box many times without noticing the post box on the side. You probably realise the GR stands for George Rex and is the Royal Cipher for George V. It's not terribly old, however it is remarkably unusual because only 50 were installed across the country.
They were unpopular and so withdrawn a few years later, but this one was missed. It became Grade II listed in the 1980s (meaning it's a historical treasure to be protected). I've never seen an automatic dispenser of postage stamps in this country and I'm not sure why these phone/post boxes would be unpopular. The sound of coins dropping into the stamp machine interrupted the phone call in the booth? The caller felt the postman collecting was eavesdropping?
Perhaps the damp weather caused the stamps to be affixed to a surface before they met a letter? When I think about the multiplicity of purpose and supposed convenience represented by this phone/post box, it does strike me as quite amazing in my experience of British living. Just imagine the phone company and the postal service in your area collaborating in this way!
The next place of historic interest was number 18 Station Road, once the studio of professional photographer Gladstone Adams, who invented the windscreen wiper, which he patented in 1911. This studio was later the Spectro Arts Workshop, a "flourishing centre of artistic activity." I have used a photo here from an estate agent website as the location is now occupied by a shop that sells sex toys and in my photo the doorway is occupied by a slightly scary looking man. The story of 18 Station Road pretty much describes the downward spiral of Whitley Bay, actually.
After we'd given this sight its few seconds of due consideration, I was about to read the instructions to the next sight when a gust of wind snatched the guide out of my hand and scooted it along the pavement just out of my reach. Vivien was roaring with laughter as I sprinted along after the damned thing, dashing across the road and circling the parked taxi under which it hid like an unfriendly cat. I crawled on hands and knees to retrieve the pages from under the front wheel, soaking one knee of my jeans just as the Asian taxi driver and his friend returned to the car. I was grateful that Steve's new printer used waterproof ink!
More of our adventures, soon!