Enjoying Sunderland’s beaches in years gone by

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WEARSIDERS do like to be beside the seaside – as these photos show.

The charm of sandcastles, rock pooling and beach picnics saw thousands flock to Seaburn and Roker by foot, train, tram and bus during Victorian times.

Teenagers dancing the conga at Seaburn in July 1974.

Teenagers dancing the conga at Seaburn in July 1974.

Today, more than a century later, the twin resort is still a huge summertime draw – although the helter skelter, boating lake and miniature train are distant memories.

“Sunderland’s seaside started to develop back in the 1840s, at a time when it was fashionable to ‘take the waters’ at beach resorts,” said Echo archivist Susan Swinney.

“The Roker Hotel, designed by architect John Dobson in 1842, was THE place to stay for those with money. Others had to settle for a day trip on foot, by carriage or train.”

As the decades passed, so the seaside became ever more popular – especially with the addition of piers, a promenade, bathing huts and Roker Park by the early 1900s.

The opening of the Monkwearmouth to Roker tram route in April 1879 also helped boost visitor numbers, as did the illuminations – which lit up the sea front from 1937.

“A contest was held to improve the seafront at Roker in the 1890s, with construction workers drafted in from the overflowing local unemployment list,” said Susan.

“Architect Thomas Ridley Milburn won the right to develop the beach area, and his scheme included restaurants, shops, bazaars, a promenade and covered shelters.

“By the 1930s, Seaburn had become a summertime playground for Wearside’s hard-working residents – especially after many won the right to take paid holidays.”

Indeed, the beaches proved so popular that plans for a new hotel, swimming pool, golf course, tennis courts, a garden and paddling pool were drawn up in 1936. But, although the hotel scheme went ahead – with Seaburn Hotel opening the following year – war would put a stop to many of the grander plans for several years.

“The years leading up to World War Two saw thousands and thousands of people flock to the resort. It was in its heyday, really, when war broke out,” said Susan.

“Once war was declared, however, the beaches were barricaded. It wasn’t until 1944 that they opened again – although visitors had to watch out for unexploded bombs!”

The 1950s brought a fresh generation of beach visitors to Roker and Seaburn – lured by a new funfair, boating lake, coconut shies, railway and mechanical elephant rides.

But the arrival of cheap package holidays – complete with guaranteed sun – put a dampener on visitor numbers from the 1970s, although the area remains popular today.

“Most people who grew up in, or around, Sunderland will remember childhood beach visits – and these old photos should help bring back more memories,” said Susan.

•Were you a Wearside beauty queen or coal queen? Share your story with the Echo at: sarah.stoner@jpress.co.uk

Seaside Snippets:

•All 350 tents and 4,800 council-owned deckchairs were rented out to Seaburn and Roker day-trippers on July 17, 1955 – when temperatures hit 77 degrees.

•More than 40 beach visitors needed medical treatment on Good Friday 1946 – after being cut by “glass left by hooligans.”

•Thousands flocked to the seaside in 1944, when the beaches were reopened after five years. Visitors were warned to watch out for unexploded bombs.

•More than 600 people hoping to holiday in Sunderland contacted the Seaside Entertainments Department for brochures in just eight weeks in 1956.

•Roker and Seaburn won coveted Seaside Awards in 1997.

•Sunderland Corporation Floral Exhibition was cancelled in August 1956, after gales caused £1,000-worth of damage to tents at Seaburn Recreation Park.

•Demolition of Holey Rock began in 1935, with workmen using sledgehammers and heavy machinery to tear the rock apart. It was blown up in 1937.

•A £75,000 revamp of Seaburn promenade was announced in 1962.

•The last tram left the Town Hall for Seaburn on October 1, 1954.