An elegant walk along the seafront

PROMENADERS ... 'a pleasant recreation ground when the weather makes the pier unacceptable to many.'
PROMENADERS ... 'a pleasant recreation ground when the weather makes the pier unacceptable to many.'

THE South Promenade at Shields has been a talking point for us recently.

Again, like Gypsies Green – which we were discussing before the weekend – it is one of those places whose origins you never really think about.

But it and the Coast Road didn’t just emerge organically.

It has been interesting to stumble across, in 1885, when what was described as a road “round the eastern base of the ballast hills to the south of the proposed park” was under construction.

The project was conceived as relief work for unemployed men, who were paid 7s 6d (37p) a week for the work – equivalent today to about £19 and even at that time, considered a barely living wage for a man with a family to keep.

The park was the South Marine Park, with the new route passing in close proximity to what’s described as “the sand pond” known as The Dragon– the site of the present Sea Hotel.

The project was to build “a broad handsome promenade” that ran parallel with the beach.

This, it was said, would create “...a pleasant recreation ground when the sturdy weather of the autumn and early spring makes the spray-be-sprinkled pier unacceptable to many.”

Also as interesting, though, is a description of the ballast hill themselves, which were mostly made up of waste from the glass factories near the riverside.

The writer describes women and girls combing the hills for cinders; and also a group standing round a fire – it was December when he was observing them – cleaning dirt off pieces of glass, which could be sold back for re-smelting.

He wrote: “The group had a very picturesque, if not comfortable appearance.”

The things people did to turn a coin....

Whether we would have recognised that early promenade/ road, I don’t know, as most people’s memories will be of the later post-war remnant of this – the prom as it was when it was laid out, with great elegance, in the late 1920s.

This, I think, is its official opening.

This is probably one of my all-time favourite photos of the seafront, if only because I would have loved to have gone for a Whalley’s Tea.