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 II listed building (the dome)
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
Opened 7 May 1910
Client Whitley Bay Pleasure Gardens Ltd[1]
Owner North Tyneside Council (June 2011)
Diameter 180 ft long, 275 ft deep [1]
Design and construction
Architecture firm Cackett and Burns Dick[1]
Structural engineer L.G. Mouchel[1]
Main contractor Davidson and Miller[1]
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.[1]

Located near the seafront, the Spanish City has a 180 ft-long (54.8 m) Renaissance-style frontage and became known for its distinctive dome, now a Grade II listed building.[2] 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 in the early 2000s it was closed to the public.[5] A regeneration project was announced in 2011.[4]


The Spanish City faces the sea, with a 180 ft-long front and a depth of 275 ft. The dome rises to 75 ft above the foundation and has a diameter of 50 ft, supported on 46-ft-high concrete columns. It is made of a reinforced-concrete shell, five inches thick, which is supported by 12 (10 in x 18 in) internal ribs.[1]

The architects were Robert Burns Dick, Charles T. Marshall, and James Cackett)[3] of Cackett and Burns Dick.[1] J. Coulson was a design consultant and L. G. Mouchel were structural consultants. Davidson and Miller were the contractors.[1]


One of the building's two female figures in lead

Charles Elderton, of Hebburn Theatre Royal, first brought his Toreadors concert party to Whitley Bay in 1907 (other references say 1904). The audience was protected from the elements by awnings painted to look like a Spanish village. Proving extremely popular it returned each summer and Elderton saw that there was demand for more permanent amusements and dance halls. Elderton began Whitley Amusements Ltd and the company steadily built up a fairground inside the painted fences [6] The Whitley Pleasure Gardens Company Ltd. was formed in 1909 and established a large fairground on the site. The dome was erected in 1910.[1]

The building was formally opened by Robert Mason, chair of the local council, on the evening of Saturday, 7 May 1910, as 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] There were shops and cafes inside, a roof garden,[7] and the Empress Theatre, with seating for 1,400 on the floor and 400 on the balcony.[9] 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, then at 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 Ash in 2001.[citation needed]

On Sunday 27 July 2014, Newcastle-based performer, Chris Cross (magician) was officially the last ever performer to perform in the original Spanish City dome, prior to developers entering the building on 28 July 2014 to start building work. Cross performed Magic & Escapology Stunts with support from a Liverpool-based sideshow performer, named Doctor Diablo. Following the performance in the dome, there was a fire show outside on the piazza by a local performer called Charlie Burns. This was the last ever show in the original & iconic Spanish City.[10]

Dire Straits songwriter Mark Knopfler and the musician Sting have talked about their memories of the Spanish City. Knopfler, who was born in Glasgow but grew up in Blyth, Northumberland, a few miles from the Spanish City, said it was the first place he had ever heard really loud rock and roll.[4] Sting, born near Newcastle, spent his afternoons and evenings in the Spanish City when he should have been studying for his A levels.[11]


Tunnel of Love

And now I'm searching through
these carousels and carnival arcades
Searching everywhere
from Steeplechase to Palisades
And any shooting gallery
where promises are made
To Rockaway, Rockaway
Rockaway, Rockaway
From Cullercoats and Whitley Bay
Out to Rockaway.
And girl it looks so pretty to me
Like it always did
Like the Spanish City to me
When we were kids.
Girl it looks so pretty to me
Like it always did
Like the Spanish City to me
When I was a kid.

 — Dire Straits, 1980
(audio, from 05:02 mins)

In June 2011 ADP Architects won a commission to regenerate the Spanish City with a plan that included a 50-bed, four-star boutique hotel, 20 apartments, a 1950s diner and a pleasure garden.[4] The completion date was announced as 2014, but work was halted in 2013 because of a lack of funds. The project received a grant of £3.7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund in November 2013.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

Dire Straits refer to the Spanish City in their 1980 song "Tunnel of Love", which became the fairground's unofficial theme song, played every morning when it opened.[4] The town Cullercoats in the song is a stop on the train along the coast from Whitley Bay. The song refers to other permanent funfairs: Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, New York, open from 1897 to 1964; Palisades Amusement Park in Bergen County, New Jersey, open from 1898 to 1971; and Rockaways' Playland in Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York, open from 1902 to 1982.

Other pop-culture references include Spanish City (2002), a novel by Sarah May, set in the fictional north-east town of Setton, home to an amusement park called the Spanish City. The Spanish City also features in the video that accompanied Tina Cousins' song "Pray" (1998).[13] It makes a brief appearance in the film The Likely Lads (1976), and features in The Cullercoats Fishlass (2013) by local film company ACT 2 CAM, in which Charles Elderton tries to persuade the Spanish City owners to let his troupe perform there, despite the Sunday licensing laws.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j 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.
  2. ^ Michael Stratton, "New Materials for a New Age: Steel and concrete construction in the north of England, 1860–1939," Industrial Archaeology Review, 21, 1999 (pp. 5–24), p. 20ff.

    For Grade II listed, Jeanette Hedley, "Duncan's amusements demolished", North Tyneside Council, 12 May 2006.

  3. ^ a b Paul Usherwood, Jeremy Beach, Catherine Morris, Public sculpture of North-East England, Liverpool University Press, 2000, pp. 218, 319.
  4. ^ a b c d e Jonathan Glancey, "Constructive criticism: the week in architecture", The Guardian, 10 June 2011.

    "Spanish City",Press release, ADP Architects, 8 June 2011.

  5. ^ "Exhibition marks Whitley Bay's Spanish City centenary", BBC News, 9 September 2010.
  6. ^ "A miniature Earl's Court", accessed 22 October 2015.
  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. ^ Chris Cross, [1], ChronicleLive, 25 July 2014.
  11. ^ Sting, Broken Music, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 91.
  12. ^ Dan Warburton, "Whitley Bay's Spanish City saved with £3.7m cash injection", ChronicleLive, 26 November 2013.
  13. ^ Tina Cousins, "Pray", YouTube.

Further reading[edit]