Halloween – Marsden – Rock, Grotto & Ghosts

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My husband, knows that I love surprises, not the normal surprise of roses and chocolates, although they are nice…… no, it has to be a visit somewhere that I have never been to before.  One that I have not planned, a lovely total surprise visit…… and he came up trumps back in 2011.  We had travelled up to Newcastle from Norfolk for a work related visit, but we always try to fit a trip somewhere on the way back.  On this occasion I hadn’t had time to find somewhere to go, but husband said he had some where in mind……mmm this will interesting, he has different ideas than me, but they always seem to be ok.  My husband comes from up North and I come from down South, so there are places that he knows about…..that I have never heard of.

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We had a lovely drive along the coast down from North Shields, when he suddenly pulled off the road on to a large car park and indicated that we were to get out of the car.  Well all I could see was this small entrance to ‘Marsden Grotto’, oh well lets have a look…. oh dear, what he hadn’t told me about, was the lift.  The way to the grotto once through the entrance is by lift, I am not really happy in lifts and this one scared the hell out of me.  I was very brave and held my breath until we got out, thinking I have to go back in this.  I was still not quite sure what I was going to find at the bottom, because husband was still not letting on.

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When the lift doors open, we walked outside the building and I realised how far we had come down to a beautiful beach, which apart from the small amount in front of the building, is held by the National Trust. Looking out to sea, you see the amazing Marston Rock.

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I found some old pictures of the rock and the Victorians actually climbed the rock by way of a wooden staircase and stood on the top, not sure you are allow to do that nowadays.

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 The rock had a large arch attaching two stacks together, but the main arch collapsed in 1996, splitting the rock into two separate stacks. 1997 saw the smaller stack declared unsafe and was demolished in the interests of public safety.

(c) South Shields Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
South Shields Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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After sitting having a drink on the terrace and studying the rock, husband said are you ready to see the rest, he surprised me as I had really thought it was the rock he had brought me to see.  We had not really been inside, as a waitress served us when we sat down outside.  So we walked back in and then walked through to the most amazing sight, caves built into the cliff.  I have copied some history of the Grotto, just incase you are interested, I was.

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The history of Marsden Grotto
Edited extract from Wikipedia

The Grotto, is a public house located on the coast at Marsden in South Shields. The pub is unique in being the only ‘cave bar’ in Europe.  Retired quarry man, Jack, and his wife set up home in a cave near Marsden Rock. The dwelling was accessed by stairs down the cliff, thought to be built by Jack. Jack and his wife would sell refreshments to visitors to the beach.  Peter Allan bought the Marsden Grotto with money left to him by his father. Peter extended the caves to include a ballroom and kitchen, turning Jack’s house into an inn.  In 1848 John Clay bought The Leas and claimed that the land gave him rights to The Grotto. Allan battled with Clay in court and was forced to pay £50 costs and £10 annual rent for 20 years. Allan sunk into depression and died in 1849 leaving his wife and eight children.

After Allan’s death his family continued to run The Grotto and many improvements were made, along with further excavations implemented by Allan’s children. A catastrophic cliff fall in 1865 almost destroyed the inn. Large retaining walls were built to protect the internal structure.  The Harton Coal Company acquired The Grotto in the latter half of the 19th century. It had substantial success during this period, but it was also allowed to fall into disrepair.  Vaux took over The Grotto in 1898. In 1938 Vaux purchased The Grotto and buildings joined on to the caves were rebuilt to a high standard. A lift was also added to the surface. In 1999 Vaux couldn’t find a buyer for Marsden Grotto and it closed down.  The Sunderland restaurant firm, Tavistock, purchased the Grotto. The premises were totally refurbished and the grotto opened.  The Grotto was sold to London Inns & Restaurants in 2003 and later passed to Oxford Hotels and Inns Management Ltd.

In September 2007, South Tyneside Council, who are responsible for the stairs, closed them off due to a damaged step, pending repair. Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service ordered the pub be temporally closed to the public until the stairs reopen as they are the only means of safe evacuation from the pub, especially at high tide. The Grotto reopened on 21 March 2008.

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Now for the ghosty bits……..

The pub was an instant success with all walks of life, but especially smugglers and contraband runners. Stories are rife of smugglers tales including a smuggler being tortured and hanged where the stairs lead upto ground level. But the most famous story is of a young contrabander in the mid 1840’s who was befriended by an undercover excise officer. The officer used his friendship to find out all about the young man’s work and one evening arrested him. A scuffle broke out and the contrabander was shot dead on the beach below. Peter Allen, witnessing the whole event took the young man’s tankard and emptied it on the floor and proclaimed,  “Let no man drink from this tankard from this day forth, lest he be cursed.” He then nailed the tankard to the wall. Unfortunately, the tankard has been lost in recent times but a replica still hangs behind the bar.

There is a legend concerning a smuggler known as John the ‘Jibber’ who is said to haunt the Grotto. John was a smuggler who was said to have sold information about his fellow tradesmen to HM Customs. The other smugglers murdered him. They left him to starve hung in a barrel dangling into one of the caves, possibly near the current lift shaft. Reported activity has reputedly included ashtrays inexplicably flying into and smashing against walls.

Reports have been made of a man spotted at the bottom of the stairs leading down the cliff face and his blood curdling screams can be heard late at night. This is believed to be smuggler who was tortured and murdered by his own kind.  Cracks of gun shot have been reported on the beach when no-one is around. This is thought to be linked to the story above.

There are those who say a poltergeist haunts the toilets.  Well I can quite believe that after my encounter at Tantallon Castle on the East Coast of Scotland, in the outside loos there 🙂

I think that the grotto has changed hands since our visit in 2011, so it could be somewhat different.  The interior photos were taken with my old iPhone, which didn’t seem to like to take interior shots, but they give you the overall look of the caves.  Not my normal choice of a visit, but it turned out to be a very unusual visit, but I’m not sure that I would want to spend the night in the grotto, as the only way for a quick escape would be the lift…….

Happy Halloween 2015

9 Replies to “Halloween – Marsden – Rock, Grotto & Ghosts”

  1. What a great surprise, and a fascinating place. Thanks for looking up that story, Lynne. Looks like a nice beach, too. I have to agree with you on the overnight stay. I’ve never met a ghost and I kind of like it that way. 😉

    1. Yes it was a surprise, very different from what I normally visit, but it was a lovely surprise. The beach is beautiful and it was empty apart from a couple of people. As to ghosts… its best to keep away from them if you can, they can give you the fright of life when they want to 🙂

  2. I know the area well as my wife’s family are from Whitburn and we’re up there regularly. A really nice bit of coast between Sunderland and Shields isn’t it? Did you see the Souter lighthouse which is just south of the Grotto?

    1. Yes its a beautiful coastline, I never get tired of that trip, Yes I have a photo of the lighthouse to put on, its only a miniature lighthouse in the distance, but I quite like it 🙂 I really want to take the motorhome up there and travel about a bit, the area seems to be full of history.

  3. Very interesting, Lynne, although I wouldn’t have been entirely comfortable in that grotto! I love the sea stacks and the old stories about them. Never even heard of this place! That was certainly a surprise for you! 🙂

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