Stripping away the myths of smugglers, pirates and ghosts - a Sunderland author's look at Marsden Rock and Grotto

An author has ‘stripped away the myths’ in his look at Marsden Rock and Grotto.

Bill Greenwell pictured at Marsden with his new book.
Bill Greenwell pictured at Marsden with his new book.

Sunderland writer Bill Greenwell has used lockdown to produce a book on the famous attractions and he told how the area has more than 200 years of history.

“A surprising number of accounts survive,” said Bill. “It’s clear from them that, well before 1800, Marsden was a busy place in summer, popular with shooting

enthusiasts, romantic couples and amateur scientists. Marsden Rock also features in a number of novels.”

A view of Marsden Rock.

Bill also aimed to strip away some of the myths that have attached themselves to the Grotto.

“Pirates, smugglers and their ghosts are good fun, but there is little evidence of any of them at Marsden. It’s a pity because the various landlords of the Grotto were fascinating real-life figures.”

They include Peter and Lizzie Allan and their family, all from Whitburn, who kept the seaside business going for almost half a century.

“Although he was a Scot by birth, he moved to Whitburn as a toddler, and it’s clear from the one transcription of his speech that he was a North-Easterner through and through,” said Bill.


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The front cover of Bill Greenwell's new book.

The book charts the complicated and surprising history of land ownership that led to Allan seizing his chance to occupy the cliffs.

Later there was Sidney Hawkes, whose background included providing the weapon for an attempted European assassination, as well as people like ‘Bart’ Carter, who ran the Grotto with his large family in the 1930s.

Much later came the Murphys, who ran the Grotto in the 1990s. About forty landlords are named in the book.


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The book looks at the impact the colliery had on Marsden Bay, and also looks at the many lives lost or saved in the Bay.

Bill Greenwell with his new book.

Bill wrote the 200,000-word book during lockdown. It contains over a hundred illustrations, including an image painted in the 1760s.

Last year Bill wrote a history of two mansions that formerly stood in Roker: Rock Lodge and Peareth. The new book traces the attraction of Marsden Bay from the early 18th Century onwards, using a series of accounts by visitors.


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To order a copy, email [email protected] The book is £22 plus £3 postage – although, if you live in South Shields or Sunderland, Bill will deliver the book for free.

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