Gandhi’s Temple brought 1920s elegance to South Shields

FINELY TURNED...part of the 1920s promenade between the wars.
FINELY TURNED...part of the 1920s promenade between the wars.

GANDHI’S Temple on the seafront at Shields is earmarked for redevelopment, we’re told.

Well, I certainly know rumours are flying around as to what it’s to be, but I won’t share them just now as, with my luck, they’ll be wrong.

But feel free to ‘chip-in’ anything you may have heard.

As attractive architecturally as it is, the landmark - built originally as a bandstand - has not looked so good in recent years, having pretty much fallen out of use.

It’s a shame but it perhaps reflects altered expectations of the seafront.

It dates from an era when Shields was one of a number of resorts, in the 1920s and 1930s, that sought to capitalise on the improved holiday entitlement and increased mobility of people - made possible by trains, charabancs etc - that allowed them to visit the seaside on a regular basis.

I am of the generation that can still remember features of the by-then broken-down promenade which used to run alone the south foreshore.

Opened in 1927, when it provided much-needed work during the slump that followed the First World War, its carved pillars and balustrades sought to bring elegance to the seafront, where previously there had only been informal huts etc selling refreshments and the like.

Forty years later, war, neglect and the weather had pretty much done for the old prom. Weeds grew through the cracks, and the balustrades lay in bits.

Exotic Gandhi’s Temple - photographed for the first time in the Gazette in 1931, so far as anyone has been able to tell - was left marooned at one end, little more than public lavatories ensconced in a wedding cake.

One interesting thing about it, though, is how the architecture shares some of the features of the impressive bandstand on the front at Scarborough.

I mention this because Shields is supposed to have been known locally, at the time it was built, as Scarborough-on-Tyne.

The authority for this was no less than MP for the town, James Chuter Ede, who in 1930, made the reference during a speech on the Local Authorities (Publicity) Bill.

This was to give local authorities powers to contribute to organisations advertising the merits of the UK, as a holiday destination, abroad.

Chuter Ede supported it, saying it would be a good thing for anyone travelling up the Tyne to Newcastle, to be aware that nearby there was so beautiful a place as South Shields.