Recalling award-winning South Shields lifeguards

Back in October 1967, lifeguards from South Shields were making quite a splash in a national competition.

The photograph of the winning team (left to right, Maureen Blackburn, Penney Bennett, Jennifer Arkle, Jo-Ann Frankie, Anne Leonard, captain, and Brenda Adlington), who won the women’s section of the National Lifeguard Championships, was posted on social media, prompting a number of readers to share their memories.

Gail Metcalfe took to Facebook to say: “I was a junior when this team was together and joined the senior team a couple of years later with Anne Beecroft and Moira?”

Lesley Ball explained how: “I joined the lifeguard club in 1970 and spent over a decade patrolling our beach and competing in competitions with the best bunch of people you could meet.

“We had such happy, fun times, as well as many of us being involved in rescues.”

Brenda Cupryna said: “Can’t recall the name of the girl on the far left but then there is Penney Bennett, Jennifer Arkle, Joanne Frankie, Ann Leonard and myself, Brenda Adlington. That wasn’t our original team.”

David Bullen posted: “I remember summers working as a beach lifeguard on South Shields beach; working with such an amazing team and a great group of friends.”

Meanwhile, you may remember reading in the Gazette recently about South Shields playwright Ed Waugh’s play which tells the story of Victorian singing superstar Joe Wilson, which is due to be performed at the Westovian Theatre in September.

In his day, Joe was stage manager at the 2,000-capacity Royal Alhambra Theatre in South Shields.

Well, Ed has been in touch to tell us more about the historic theatre.

“The Royal Alhambra Music Hall in Coronation Street was a simple wooden building which was built between 1866 and 1868,” says Ed.

“In 1869, Joe became the stage manager of the New Alhambra Music Hall, in Mill Dam, South Shields. Owned by Mr Samuel Broadbent Siddall, it was described as the largest music hall in the North of England.

“The Alhambra staged its opening night on September 20, 1869, and featured an array of ‘monster talent’, including ‘the world-renowned Alberto Troupe, Miss P Eckart, a ‘fascinating serio-comic vocalist’ and ‘comique grotesque’ dancer Mr E Cunnugham, along with Joe Wilson.

“The following day, that opening night received a positive review in the local press with Joe Wilson receiving particular praise.”

The review spoke of: “The favourite Tyneside songster, who always meets with a hearty reception from his many Shields admirers, Joe’s selection of the opening company speaks volumes for his judgement.”

Yet just months later, the Shields Daily Gazette reported that Mr Siddall, of Alma Street, South Shields, was bankrupt.

Ed explains that alcoholic drinks were not sold in the main auditorium, adding “no wonder it went bankrupt!”

In early 1870, Joe announced that he was no longer stage manager of the Alhambra and less than 10 years after it was built, in May 1878, the theatre was destroyed by fire.

A new theatre, built of brick, and complete with a grand entrance, was built on the same site by Mr Siddall and opened in September 1880 to a packed house.

In 1884, Siddall sold the theatre and emigrated to New Zealand.

A display centred around Joe’s life is presently being staged at The Word, in South Shields.