Spanish City

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The Spanish City
Photographed in September 2010 by Adam G. Bell
Alternative names Whitley Bay Pleasure Gardens
General information
Status Grade 2 listed building (the dome)
Architectural style "Concrete architecture"[1]
Address Watts Road, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, England
Coordinates 55°02′51″N 1°26′51″W / 55.047616°N 1.44747°W / 55.047616; -1.44747Coordinates: 55°02′51″N 1°26′51″W / 55.047616°N 1.44747°W / 55.047616; -1.44747
Opening 7 May 1910
Renovated 2011–2014
Client Whitley Bay Pleasure Gardens Ltd[2]
Owner North Tyneside Council (June 2011)
Diameter 100 ft long, 275 ft deep [2]
Design and construction
Architecture firm Cackett and Burns Dick[2]
Structural engineer L.G. Mouchel[2]
Main contractor Davidson and Miller[2]
Renovating team
Architect ADP Architects
Renovating firm Robertson, Gateshead
Spanish City, ADP Architects

The Spanish City was a permanent funfair in Whitley Bay, a seaside town in North Tyneside, Tyne & Wear, England. Erected as a smaller version of Blackpool's Pleasure Beach, it opened in 1910 as a concert hall, restaurant, roof garden and tearoom. A ballroom was added in 1920, and later the funfair.[2]

Just yards from the seafront, the Spanish City had a 180 ft-long (54.86m) Renaissance-style frontage,[1] and became known for its distinctive dome, believed to have been the second-largest unsupported concrete dome in the UK when it was built, now a Grade 2 listed building. There are towers on either side of the entrance, each of which carries a half-life-size female bacchanalian figure in lead, one holding cymbals, the other a tambourine. The building's architects were Robert Burns Dick, Charles T. Marshall, and James Cackett.[3]

The band Dire Straits immortalized the Spanish City in their 1980 hit single, "Tunnel of Love," which from then on was played every morning when the park opened.[4] By the late 1990s the building had fallen into disrepair and was closed to the public in the early 2000s.[5] In June 2011 ADP Architects won a commission to regenerate it with a plan that includes a 50-bed, four-star boutique hotel, 20 apartments, a 1950s diner and a pleasure garden. The intended completion date was 2014[4] but as of September 2013 work had halted due to a lack of funds and the council was planning a further application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for financial support.[6]


The resort located in the area before the building was erected became known informally as the Spanish City in 1904, when Charles Elderton, who ran Hebburn's Theatre Royal, brought his Toreadors concert party troupe to perform there.

The new pleasure palace was formally opened by Robert Mason, chair of the local council, on the evening of Saturday, 7 May 1910, and was called The Spanish City and Whitley Bay Pleasure Gardens.[7] The Union Jack was flown at half mast because King Edward VII had died the previous day.[8] The new building housed the 1400-capacity Empress theatre with a seating capacity of 1,400 on the floor and 400 on the balcony.[9] There were also shops, cafes and roof gardens.[7] The Empress Ballroom was added in 1920, and the Rotunda in 1921. In 1979 the Rotunda was converted into the starlight rooms for live entertainment.

The funfair was extremely popular, with fairground rides and amusements, including a "corkscrew" roller coaster – which was at Flamingoland in Yorkshire from 1983 to 2011, and is now in Luna Park in France – ghost train and waltzers, the House that Jack Built, and the Fun House.[7] The Dome also housed an amusement arcade and later a Laser Quest Laser Tag arena. It was used as a classroom for pupils of Whitley Bay High School during a caretakers' strike in the 1980s, and later became a live music venue playing host to several bands, including an appearance by Ash in 2001.

In popular culture[edit]

Dire Straits songwriter Mark Knopfler said in a television interview that the Spanish City held special significance for him as the first place he ever heard loud rock 'n' roll. Dire Straits refer to it in their 1980 song "Tunnel of Love": "Girl it looks so pretty to me / Like it always did / Like the Spanish City to me / When we were kids." For years the song was the unofficial theme song for the fairground, played every morning when the park opened.[4]

Sting (Gordon Sumner), who was born near Newcastle, wrote in his memoir that he whiled away afternoons and evenings in the Spanish City's amusement arcades when he should have been studying for his A levels.[10]

Spanish City (2002) is a novel by Sarah May, set in the fictional north-east town of Setton, home to an amusement park called the Spanish City. Sections of the Spanish City fairground feature in the video that accompanied Tina Cousins's song "Pray" (1998). It also makes a brief appearance in the film The Likely Lads (1976).

Spanish City features in the 2013 film The Cullercoats Fishlass, produced by local film company ACT 2 CAM. In the film, Charles Elderton tries to persuade the owners of Spanish City to let his troupe perform there, in spite of the Sunday licencing laws.


  1. ^ a b Michael Stratton, "Steel and concrete construction in the north of England, 1860–1939", Industrial Archaeology Review, Volumes 19–21, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 20ff.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Robert William Rennison, Civil Engineering Heritage: Northern England, Thomas Telford, 1996, p. 41, citing J.T. Cackett and B. Dick, "Spanish City, Whitley Bay," Ferro Concrete: A Monthly Review, 1911, 2, pp. 168–175.
  3. ^ Paul Usherwood; Jeremy Beach; and Catherine Morris, Public sculpture of North-East England, Liverpool University Press, 2000, pp. 218, 319.
  4. ^ a b c Jonathan Glancey, "Constructive criticism: the week in architecture", The Guardian, 10 June 2011.
  5. ^ "Exhibition marks Whitley Bay's Spanish City centenary", BBC News, 9 September 2010.
  6. ^ Kieran Corcoran (2013-09-11). "Spanish City Dome in Whitley Bay could be left to ruin after funding dries up for restoration". Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  7. ^ a b c "A History of the Spanish City", local history project, YouTube, accessed 1 July 2011.
  8. ^ Sonia Sharma, "Bay on display," Evening Chronicle (Newcastle), 20 April 2010.
  9. ^ "Empress ballroom", North Tyneside Libraries, accessed 2 July 2011.
  10. ^ Sting, Broken Music, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 91.

Further reading[edit]