Cafe huts, Holey Rock and ice cream - it's all in a new book on Sunderland's Roker and Seaburn

From cafe huts to ice cream parlours – two historians have compiled a new book which is packed with details on Roker and Seaburn’s past.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 4:55 am

Philip Curtis and Alan Brett have included 250 photos in their newest publication on everything from the formation of Roker Pier to the popularity and demise of Holey Rock.

Alan explained some of the history that avid readers will find in the book from Black Cat Publications.

There is John Richardson who ‘hired out bathing machines and swimming costumes as well as serving tea from his café located in a wooden hut on the beach’.

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The new book on Roker and Seaburn.

He had a ‘lucrative sideline selling sand off the beach which was removed by horse and carts’.

The book also looks at Roker Pier which was opened by the Earl of Durham before a huge crowd on September 23, 1903.

The Cat and Dog Steps is a favourite spot for sunbathers but the construction of the promenade there came at a cost, said Alan.

"A large proportion of the Cannonball Rocks were removed or covered over by the new prom.

A view from the 1890s showing Richardson’s café and bathing machines.

“The Holey Rock – named after the caves that ran through it – was popular with locals and visitors. When rock falls made it unsafe the caves were bricked up and, in 1936, the Holey Rock was demolished.

Nearby, Pierrot troupes and Biddlecombe Jumbles entertained crowds last century. Later, tea dances and refreshment stalls drew visitors.

Both Roker Parks are featured in the book – the football ground and the public park with its tennis courts, bowling greens, pond and bandstand.

The Illuminations are featured such as Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

A sunny summer’s day at the Cat and Dog Steps.

Alan added: “This year’s Festival of Light saw a fun fair on Cliff Park which included an Observation Wheel and roundabouts. A more permanent landmark on Cliff Park is Bede’s Cross, first unveiled in 1904, although it has been taken down and re-erected twice during both the First and Second World Wars.”

Alan added: “ Benedetto Notarianni and Leonello Guidi were the first to open ice cream parlours and cafés in Queen’s Parade at Seaburn in the 1930s. This led the way to the development of Seaburn with hotel, fairground, boating lake and miniature railway following in the footsteps of the two Italian ice cream pioneers.

The Council-owned Seaburn Hall was a popular venue for dancing and it attracted the top bands of the day.

"Apart from when they were off limits during wartime, the beaches of Roker and Seaburn have also attracted visitors in great numbers.

The Cannonball Rocks before the promenade was built.

“Seaside cafés in the past were kept busy even if it was only to sell hot water to customers to make their own tea. At Roker the Bungalow Café has survived (with the name reversed) while its neighbours the North of England Café and Beach Café are long gone.

"At Seaburn the Queen’s Café is still open unlike those belonging to the Guidi, Pompa, Just, Atkinson and Metcalfe families. While Notarianni’s is also now

closed, the Minchella family, who are related to them through marriage, still serve up ice cream and fish and chips in, appropriately, one of Notarianni’s former premises.

Roker and Seaburn is available from Sunderland Museum, Sunderland Antiquarian Society, Fulwell Post Office, Clay’s Garden Centre and Price £4.99.

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Children playing in front of John Richardson’s premises on Roker Bathing Sands.
An illuminated gondola at Roker Park.
Bede’s Cross shortly after it was erected on Cliff Park in 1904.
The front cover of the new book.