Spanish City; a History

Spanish City Whitley Bay Seafront Development North East

In the early 1900’s Charles Elderton created the first part of Spanish City’s rich history when he chose Whitley Bay as the spot for his successful dancing troop, the Toreadors. The group would perform to crowds within a fenced area painted with Spanish scenes, thus providing inspiration for the famous moniker we’re familiar with today.

The spectacle was a huge success and by the 30th May 1908 the original Spanish City fairground was ready to be launched, ‘before a great assembly of the public’ with records stating that thousands eagerly awaited the opening, each paying 2d. for entry. Within the courtyard, a marketplace was erected where customers could buy anything and everything, including Spanish novelties, never before seen in the North-Eastern town.

In the years that immediately followed, various outdoor rides were built alongside the performance area and Elderton’s vision expanded with the revolutionary white dome, then known as Pleasure Gardens, being established in 1912.

The dome was designed by Newcastle-based architectural firm Cackett & Burns Dick, the group behind The Laing Art Gallery, Tyne Bridge Towers and Newcastle University Students’ Union. With such a stunning history and exceptional features, it’s no surprise that the building received the accreditation of becoming Grade II listed in February 1986.

The venue was originally designed to house a concert hall, restaurant, roof garden and tearoom but to keep up with trends of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s the site enjoyed continual redevelopment. The Empress Ball Room, illuminations, full fairground, bingo hall, children’s amusement arcade, Penthouse Lounge Bar, Lazer Quest, BMX track and a nightclub have been highlights of the last 100 years.

With such an exciting past, entrenched in local history, the next chapter of Spanish City’s glorious story is sure to be something special. We look forward to experiencing it with you.

 

Spanish City Whitley Bay History Seafront Entertainment

The Dancing Ladies

Dancing Ladies Whitley Bay North East Robertson Construction Development

For many, the ‘dancing ladies’ who proudly pirouette atop Spanish City, bring back fond memories of gazing at the dome and taking in everything this spectacular building has to offer.

The ladies are located atop their respective towers, with one playing a tambourine and the other playing cymbals. The figures are said to portray ‘half-size terpsichorean females’ clad in animal skins, and are two metres tall. Each statue is made of copper electroforms which have been soldered with lead and painted to create the distinctive green colouring.

Whilst no one is certain who commissioned and created the dancing ladies, they are widely believed to have been dreamed up by famous architect Robert Burns Dick, as they are shown in the drawings he sketched ahead of the building of Spanish City. With most believing they were then made by Ewart & Son of St. Pancras. The same firm who in 1910, made the lantern that sits on top of the Dome. Ewart & Son were also responsible for constructing the roofs of both Buckingham Palace and the Bank of England, leaving the ladies, and this Whitley Bay building, in excellent company.

Following almost 100 years at the mercy of the elements, the fragile dancing ladies were taken to specialist metal conservators, Rupert Harris Ltd of London for essential work in 2009. Rupert Harris Conservation, established in 1982, has built a reputation as the leading conservators of metalwork and sculpture in the UK. As part of this project, the firm carried out careful repairs to the legs, arms and feet and re-coated them in a special green paint chosen to perfectly match the original 1910 colour. They were reinstated to the building in 2010.

However, it was suggested that the ladies were still not in quite the right place. Following a public backlash to the statues being taken down more than four metres and placed upon flat-topped towers in 1972, a decision was made to recreate the attractive cupolas that originally existed. Plans to construct replicas of the domed cupolas of 1910 have been completed ahead of the figures being returned to both their original height and direction.

As Spanish City prepares to open its doors once again, the project’s main contractor, Robertson, has once again carefully removed the ladies using a specialised crane. The figures were then lowered to the ground and carefully packaged up ahead of their train journey to London on 11th September 2017 for some further care. They will eventually be placed in their rightful positions, atop new cupolas, ahead of the 2018 launch where they will hopefully look down on us for another 100 years.

Dancing Ladies Spanish City Whitley Bay
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Dancing Ladies New Statues Spanish City Whitley Bay

Interview: Kyle Mackings

Ahead of the launch of Spanish City we have been speaking with Kyle Mackings, CEO of Kymel Trading, the hospitality group who will be managing the venue after its opening. He brought us up to speed on the group’s plans and what we can expect at the new Spanish City.

 

Who are Kymel?

We established Kymel in 2013 with the acquisition of Trenchers Restaurant in Whitby, Crab Manor hotel and the Crab & Lobster restaurant in Asenby, North Yorkshire. We pride ourselves on being professional hospitality operators with a focus on providing the highest quality in everything we do. Our Directors have over 75 years of business experience so we’re confident in our ability to manage Spanish City. We feel this redevelopment is the perfect addition to our group. It’s an amazing project to be involved in and we know it’s going to make a massive difference to the local area. That has to be one of the greatest things about it. This is a really positive venture.

 

Do you have any memories of the original Spanish City?

My father fondly retells the story of his first holiday; a trip to Whitley Bay, including a visit to Spanish City. He talks about the ferry across to North Shields, travelling to Whitley Bay and being in awe of this magnificent building. There’s an emotive connection that has been with him for decades, and he has that in common with lots of other people too. Everyone I speak to has a tale to tell and each one is filled with happy memories. That’s what we’re looking to recreate when we reopen. A whole new generation making new memories and others rekindling old ones too.

 

What do the redevelopment plans include?

The plans for Spanish City are incredibly exciting. It’s a big project but it’s going to be hugely worthwhile and we feel privileged to be involved. The redevelopment is part of the Council’s Coastal Regeneration Project which will see work going on right along the coastline.

The building will be restored to its former glory and introduce a selection of high-quality food outlets with, we predict, something which appeals to everyone. With that, many of the original features will be refurbished along the way; heritage shop fronts, terrazzo flooring, fixtures and perhaps most excitingly, we will be opening up the dome from floor to ceiling for the first time in over 100 years. We’re very excited to see it in all its glory for the first time. We’d like to think that this project will breathe new life into Whitley Bay and rejuvenate the surrounding area.

 

When do you foresee the venue opening?

The venue will be opening in early Summer 2018, so particularly after Christmas 2017 the countdown will really begin. There’s already a lot of anticipation which is brilliant, we love hearing from the public about their personal expectations.

 

Will any special events be taking place?

Yes, absolutely. The restaurants and shops within Spanish City are permanent fixtures but we will be holding events all year round. We are committed to ensuring there will be lots going on and we want the local community to be involved. We’d like the venue to be a constant hub of activity.

We’re planning a range of events for all ages and interests, from Christmas Fairs and local artist showcases to cinema screenings and tea dances. We’d like the public to make suggestions about what they would like to see happening or what they might want to be involved in themselves. As well as public events, there will be a conference space available for hire privately. We have already had booking enquires and we can’t wait to hear the ideas people have for the space. 

  

Which brands are you particularly excited about having at Spanish City?

We’re excited about welcoming all of the brands. I’d struggle to choose between them because each one offers something special and valuable to the venue. They all bring their own personalities and so offer a wide-ranging appeal. Something every brand has in common with our other venues, the Crab & Lobster and Trenchers in Whitby, is a focus on quality and customer care. We consider that to be essential. We’ll have a family-friendly fish and chip restaurant and takeaway, a waffle and pancake house, a tearoom, a fine dining restaurant, a champagne and oyster bar and incredible sea views!

 

Who do you hope will visit Spanish City?  

We hope Spanish City will be a great location for everyone to visit. We’re hopeful we’ll appeal to local people from within the region and tourists. Because we’re going to be a versatile site with lots going on we’d like to welcome everyone. From a runner or cyclist stopping by for a quick coffee, to a couple on a romantic date. Family celebrations, corporate events, occasion fine dining, a pre-Christmas meal, you name it.

 

If someone was considering booking a wedding at Spanish City, what would you say are the standout features?

The building itself is magnificent. The architecture has always been stunning and the teams involved are working hard to make the most of it and enhance the building. Inside, the décor is beautifully understated with just the right amount of glamour that evokes the glorious era of the dome. Outside there are sea views across to St Mary’s Lighthouse on the left and Tynemouth on the right, it’s incredible. We hope to become a destination venue for weddings with stunning food and drink and top-class customer service.

 

Finally, if you could describe the new Spanish City in three words, what would they be?

Iconic, magnificent, exciting!