Originally known as Whitley (meaning white lea or pasture land), the whole area in the 12th century was owned by the Prior of Tynemouth. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Priory lands and estate were enclosed and divided up, except for the area now known as Whitley Links, which to this day remains as open land.
During the early 19th century, Whitley Links was strewn with colliery heaps and ironstone workings which had become thickly overgrown with gorse. Most of the work of clearing and levelling the area, resulting ultimately in the current green expanse, was initiated by Whitley Bay Golf Club whose members began using the Links in October 1890.
A document was also drawn up during that year between the Duke of Northumberland and the local Board of Health, allowing stint holders the right to graze cattle on the land between the 13th of May and the 11th of November each year.
The Links takes its name from the original nine hole golf course, which was situated on this narrow strip of land along the coast, with the clubhouse once being positioned opposite the end of Marine Avenue. The course moved on several occasions, eventually finding its present venue at Briardene in 1954.
One of the most prominent features located opposite Whitley Links was the Prudhoe Memorial Convalescent Homes, built in 1867, which will be the subject of a future article.
For a period of time in the 19th century, the northern end of The Links was used as a soldiers’ camp and firing range, and from 1907 the Whitley and Monkseaton Urban District Council began to landscape and lay out various new paths and walkways, including Panama Dip, the Sunken Gardens and the Bandstand, as well as the Empress Gardens.
It is interesting to note that Whitley Links is subject to a restrictive covenant placed upon it in 1929 by Lord Hastings, when it was sold to the then Whitley Bay Town Council. This effectively restricts any form of development work from taking place on the land, as well as outlining further limits on its use. A widely held view is that the Links is a treasured and unique resource, tranquil, beautiful, and completely unsuitable for any building development.
One of the peculiar restrictions and by-laws dating from 1899 actually bans all wheeled vehicles from the Links, with offenders facing a penalty of £2 or the option of a public flogging. Fortunately the regulation is not actively enforced, so wheelchair users, parents with prams or children on pushbikes are safe from prosecution – and, of course, the council grass-cutters can carry on work as normal!
by Charlie Steel © 2016
Further reading for many of Charlie’s articles can be found in his books: ‘Monkseaton Village’ (Vol. 1 & 2), ‘North Shields Public Houses, Inns & Taverns’ (Part 1 & 2), ‘Tynemouth Remembered’ and ’Whitley Bay Remembered’ (Part 1 & 2) , all published by Summerhill Books.