"While our friends went off to Butlins or Blackpool, or at the very least on day trips to Whitley Bay or Saltwell Park, the two of us were left facing the big dig."

The boy's complaint here is that the brothers had to dig the overgrown back garden while their friends went off to holiday destinations.

Butlins was the holiday of choice for British working class families who could afford it. the favoured camps for North East families were Ayr, Filey and Skegness.

Here's a Butlins TV ad from the period.

Blackpool, with its Pleasure Beach, Tower and celebrity entertainment was another favourite of the time. These three short period clips show respectively the joys to be had on the beach, at the promenade shows and at the fairground, where the Big Dipper was a popular ride.





Here is a short piece of North East TV that shows Whitley Bay at this period.

Like Newbiggin-by-Sea in the story, Whitley Bay could at that time (before Dr Beeching's savage cuts) be accessed by railway, the trains arriving at Monkseaton Station, just a short walk from Spanish City and the promenade. As well as being popular with the locals as a day trip destination, Whitley Bay was a holiday resort especially for working class families in Scotland, who came in their droves during what was known as the 'Scottish fortnight'.

Whitley Bay showing St Mary's Lighthouse
Creative Commons AttributionWhitley Bay showing St Mary's Lighthouse - Credit: freephoto.com

The Spanish City, now demolished except for its (restored) famous dome over the Empress Ballroom, was a permanent fairground near the promenade at Whitley Bay. It was made even more famous by Mark Knopfler when he wrote the Dire Straits 1980 song 'Tunnel of Love'. The song is set partly in the Spanish City:

Girl it looks so pretty to me

The Spanish City
Creative Commons AttributionThe Spanish City - Credit: Andrew Curtis

Like it always did

Like The Spanish City to me

When we were kids.

Whitley Bay is also mentioned in the song:

Rockaway rockaway

From Cullercoats and Whitley Bay

Out to rockaway

Here is a lovely glimpse of the Spanish City in its heyday.

Listen to Tunnel of Love on Spotify. 

Saltwell Park
Creative Commons AttributionSaltwell Park - Credit: freephoto.com

Another local destination, for day trips and Sunday School trips, was Saltwell Park in Gateshead. As well as the play areas and boating lake there was a museum with Victorian-style shop fronts, Victorian paraphernalia and an aviary. At the centre of the park was (and is) Saltwell Towers, the former home of Victorian industrialist William Wailes who once owned the estate.