Memorial Park and the Campaigns and Projects which ‘reversed’ the social and environmental decline of Newbiggin by the Sea.
In the 1970’s Memorial Park was shabby and rundown. It was built in the 1920’s, after World War one and paid for by public subscription when Newbiggin by the Sea was enjoying relative prosperity.
Its demise began in 1939 when the decorative steel railings that were embedded into the surrounding stone wall were removed to support the war effort. Most of the railings that stood on the garden walls that line the pavements on Front Street, were also removed at the same time. The stumps of the vertical supports for the railings can still be seen. Steel was in great demand to support the war effort and it was converted into guns and ships and other weapons. It could be said that there is a great ‘irony’ that the railings that decorated the memory of those who perished in the Great War were used to fight the Second World War.
One of my first campaigns, when I returned to Newbiggin by the Sea in 1975, was to bring about the restoration of Memorial Park. In 1978, with the help of a local Journalist called Tommy Chape, several articles were published in the Ashington Post, a popular local newspaper, and at the same time leaflets arguing for improvement were distributed throughout the community. The campaign went on throughout the 1990’s. In those days and throughout the 1980’s Remembrance Sunday attracted less than a dozen people. Each year the Memorial Service was conducted by Jack Smith, a preacher with the then Apostolic Church.
Each year after that the Memorial Services were better attended and after the Falklands War in 1982 the attendance quadrupled then about 1995 Keith Laws, Michael Rutter, and other Veterans members re-established the service at the Colliery Memorial and the parade from the Colliery monument to Memorial Park. Within a few years, the service was attended by several hundred and it has remained at that level prior to the Covid pandemic. Well done Newbiggin by the Sea.
In 2005 a grant from the National Lottery paid for the refurbishment of Memorial Park and a ceremony took place presided over by the Duke of Kent. The refurbishment involved the removal of a shabby bus shelter located next to the magnificent gates, the replacement of the railings and the restoration of the stonework. More recently the Veterans have installed stone panels in the centre of the park and three flagpoles. The stone panels carry the names of people from Newbiggin by the Sea who paid the supreme sacrifice on our behalf.
Few communities can boast a symbol of solace, and remembrance as dignified and tasteful as Newbiggin by the Sea’s Memorial Park. May future generations continue to campaign for its wellbeing.