Seaside Shields: Marsden Beach

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Photograph by Robyn Orr, 2015. Laughing Sailor vintage arcade machine from ‘Seaside Shields’ exhibition.

Hello again! Following my previous post exploring the postcards, photographs and history of Sandhaven and Littlehaven beaches, this post will focus upon Marsden Beach, the Marsden Rock, and the Grotto pub. Marsden beach is situated around 2.5 miles directly to the south (towards Sunderland) of the main South Shields coastline. It is famous for the distinctive section of cliff, known as the Marsden Rock, which has detached over thousands of years to become a standalone island. In 1996, the archway that was within the rock itself collapsed from eventual sea erosion and weakened structure. During the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, visitors could climb the wooden staircase attached to the side of the rock to sit upon the top and take in the sea views. In 1903, a choir even climbed to the top to give a performance! Considering this is a modern-day health and safety nightmare, the stairs no longer exist and the island is now a private home to various types of sea birds, such as gulls and kittiwakes.

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TWCMS : 1998.116.16. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. Marsden rock before the collapse of archway.

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TWCMS : 2007.234. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. Marsden Rock after the collapse of the archway.

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TWCMS : 1994.850. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. 1960’s view of the beach.

The bay itself has a long history of housing smugglers, as the high cliff faces provided excellent coverage to moor boats full of illegal supplies. The current restaurant in the cliff face (one of few in Europe), Marsden Grotto, was first home to Jack the Blaster who worked in the quarry nearby (1782). He used some explosives to create an opening in the cliff face to integrate his home; he and his wife Jessie would provide refreshments for a small fee to smugglers who would hide their wares in the dwelling. It is also said to be haunted, as a smuggler nicknamed John the Jibber was lowered down the lift shaft in a bucket and left to starve to death; his crime was ratting out his smuggler friends to HM customs. Infact, at the Flower Show held in Bents Park, the board game ‘Grotto Ghost’ sold 300 units in 3 days (1977). Up to 1999, one of the resident landlords would leave a tankard full of ale out every night for Jack, and in the morning it would be gone. When local DJ, radio presenter, and ghost enthusiast Alan Robson drank from the tankard, reports of unexplained activity increased dramatically. Needless to say, the landlord left soon afterwards, and the tankard is no longer filled up.

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TWCMS : 1998.116.17. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. The Grotto pub with a very unstable looking lift shaft; possibly the 30’s?

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TWCMS : 2007.5759. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. Interior of the Grotto.

The photographs and postcards show a similar scene to those of the beaches further down the coastline. In the earlier twentieth century, hiring ‘velvet beds’ from Carter’s would allow visitors to relax in style on the beach (below). The tents would allow privacy to change into bathing suits, or simply eat without the risk of sand carried by wind coating their picnic. These days, Marsden beach is generally used by dog walkers and rock climbers rather than sunbathers, due to the rocky terrain.

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STH0000809. Copyright South Tyneside Images. Carter’s velvet bed hire shop on Marsden Beach, situated where the disused first aid building is today.

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Photograph by Robyn Orr, 2015.

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STH0000806. Copyright South Tyneside Images. 1950’s view of the beach during the height of summer.

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TWCMS 1998.116.10. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. View of Marsden Beach from the south.

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TWCMS : 1998.116.15. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. View from the south.

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TWCMS : 1998.116.4. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. View from the north.

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TWCMS: G8478. Photograph from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. A 1908 visit to the Marsden beach.

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TWCMS : G10480. Postcard from the collections at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. A early twentieth-century postcard of the Marsden Beach.

Thanks for reading! Please leave any comments below – I’d love to hear your own seaside South Shields stories. My next post will be about the Fairground, Pier and Promenade.

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