End of an era in South Shields as the last of the Hearn brothers behind Crown Bingo dies aged 90

The last of three well-known South Shields brothers – who ran a bingo empire for decades – has died aged 90.

Michael Hearn was one of a trio of siblings who set up and ran the Crown Bingo at Tyne Dock from 1961 to 2014. His brothers Tommy and Billy passed away in 2016 and 2013.

Relative Ann Hearn, daughter of Tommy, spoke to the Gazette to reminisce on a memorable era which all of the hard-working family got involved in.

Hide Ad

"I used to go in on a Saturday or Sunday morning when they were cashing up and my dad had the machine that counted the money. I was fascinated by it,” said Ann.

A tribute to Michael Hearn and his brothers.

"It got packed in those days. People used to go in for the matinee."

Read More
King Charles III Coronation: When will the coronation be, where will it be held ...
Hide Ad

It became a community gathering place for South Shields people. The Crown even opened on Christmas Day in the evenings, because the caring family wanted to provide a meeting spot for people who had spent the rest of December 25 on their own.

Each of the brothers brought their own talent to the team, said Ann.

Hide Ad
The brothers together with Tommy, left, Michael, centre and Billy, right.

Michael was more technical and was adept at handling issues such as company tax matters. Tommy was ‘more of a front of house person’, said Ann.

Hide Ad

And Billy’s skills were a combination of his brothers.

Crown Bingo is still going strong and the building is still owned by the family, although now operated under different management, said Ann.

Hide Ad

It was first opened in 1961 by Tommy and Billy, as well as their cousins George and Raymond, and Michael joined the company later.

Retiring Crown Bingo owners, brothers Tommy and Michael Hearn, right in 2013.
Hide Ad

Ann added: “They were well known in the town, particularly Tyne Dock area, and were the nephews of Hearn Bros who at one time had a number of betting shops throughout the area.

"Their business grew as betting and gaming became legal in the early 60s. A social history view is that women in the 60s and 70s didn't meet their friends in pubs, but would meet at bingo.

Hide Ad

“I am led to believe that their bingo was was one of the oldest and longest running in the country, and with the onset of the national game gave the residents the opportunity to win life changing amounts of money.”

The company expanded, also running bingo halls in Jarrow, Shildon, Ushaw Moor, Bowburn, Chopwell and Haltwhistle, as well as the Crown and the Imperial in South Shields.

Hide Ad
Crown Bingo in 2010.

Ann, who was born just months after the Crown opened as a bingo hall in 1961, said the family gave new life to buildings across the North East.

Hide Ad

She added: “They used to buy little cinemas when they closed down.”

The brothers were used to working well into the evening but were also ‘very family orientated’, she said.

Hide Ad

Who remembers the South Tyneside bingo world in the 1960s when the brothers were first involved? Which was your own favourite bingo hall from the past?

And what do you recall of the bingo social scene back them.

Hide Ad
Tommy Hearn at the Imperial Bingo Hall in 2003.

Tell us more by emailing [email protected]

Hide Ad
Supporting charity in 2003.