A suitable site was secured at the south eastern edge of West Park, Hillheads, and with a building cost of over £100,000, the rink first opened its doors to the public the following year in May 1955 and has remained under the ownership of the Smith family ever since.
Originally designed with a seating capacity of between 5,000 to 6,000 persons, the rink now has an actual capacity of 3,200.
The area of ice measures 56 metres x 24 metres and it is laid down through a series of pipes which throw out a fine spray that is frozen in thin layers. This goes on until the ice reaches the required thickness, which can take up to 2 days of continuous work. Once this has been achieved, an ice resurfacing machine is run over the rink, shaving off a fine layer of surface ice and replacing it with a film of water which freezes to create a flat surface, making the ice suitable for skating. As the ice becomes scored with constant use, the ice resurfacer is used to level the surface and keep it safe for skaters.
The first ice hockey match at the Hillheads rink was played on December 1st 1956. Back then there were no local trained players, so with the rink being owned by the same family that ran the Durham rink, the more established Durham Wasps played games north of the Tyne under the title of Whitley Wasps. In 1964 however, the Whitley Warriors were born and took to the ice for the first time at Hillheads against a team from the Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The rink continues to be the home venue for this very successful ice hockey team.
In the 1960s part of the building was modified to incorporate a ten pin bowling alley which became known as the ‘Ice Bowl’. This area also included pool tables, a snack bar and clubroom, but a decline in demand saw the bowling alley close in 2007.
Several more modifications and alterations over the years brought the building up to modern day environmental and safety standards, which included significant soundproofing – necessary when the rink became a popular indoor venue for pop concerts which were held from the 1970s to the mid 1990s, with many famous national and international artistes performing here. Additionally, over the years, many famous skaters have also visited Whitley Bay Ice Rink to perform their routines, and during 2005 the building was used as a film set by the BBC.
by Charlie Steel © 2012
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, local historian Charlie Steel has lived almost all of his life in Monkseaton. His books “Monkseaton and Hillheads” and “Inns and Taverns of North Shields” are published by Tempus and are available in all good book shops.
All Charlie’s articles which are featured in Roundabout Monkseaton can also be found on his website www.monkseaton.info. Charlie also writes articles for Roundabout Tynemouth.
If you have any old pictures or photographs of Monkseaton that you would like to share then please e-mail Charlie at firstname.lastname@example.org.