Then and Now: The once-bustling Silksworth Row

Silksworth Row Railway April 1952. Old ref number 18-2101

Silksworth Row Railway April 1952. Old ref number 18-2101

TODAY we return to our Then and Now series focusing on Wearside’s past and present – as seen through the lens of photographer John Brantingham.

WEARSIDERS once had to run the gauntlet of trams, carts, omnibuses and even trains if they wanted to cross one of the town’s busiest streets.

Today the old railway which criss-crossed the top of Silksworth Row is long gone, but memories of the little track live on through vintage photographs.

“The old picture here is from the Sunderland Echo,” said local historian and photographer John Brantingham. “It was taken in 1952 and a lot has changed since then.

“The new scene was quite tricky to photograph. I wanted to take it from exactly the same position as the Echo all those years ago. I ended up having to stand in the middle of a roundabout to do it.”

John was inspired to start taking pictures as a youngster by his father, who hailed from a family of photographers and took a keen interest in the ever-changing streets of Sunderland.

The Thorney Close snapper, a volunteer at the historic Donnison School in the East End, has since collaborated on several photographic projects and local history displays.

“My latest project is a Then and Now book, documenting the changing face of Sunderland. Nothing ever stays the same. Roads, buildings and places are always changing, and I want to show that,” he said.

“Sunderland is almost unrecognisable to people of my generation. So many things have gone, like Roker Park and the town hall. Whole streets have disappeared, too, as well as shops and trams.”

The railway track featured here, which divided Silksworth Row from Hylton Road, was once a busy line. By the 1970s, however, it lay derelict and councillors agreed to turn it into a footpath.

“Silksworth Row dates back about 200 years and was built around the same time as Farringdon Row. Shops, businesses and offices once lined the street,” said John.

“Both Silksworth and Farringdon rows, as well as Johnson Street and Hopper Street, were connected to William Johnson and Hendry Hopper, who had estates in the Silksworth and Farringdon areas.

“Silksworth Row and Farringdon Row were named after the main estates in Silksworth and Farringdon, while Johnson Street and Hopper Street were named after the men who owned the estates at various times.”

Silksworth Row was certainly thriving in the early 19th century. Indeed, trade directories from 1827 reveal scores of businesses including a shoemaker, clothes broker, grocers, joiner, butcher and baker.

Several pubs jostled for space too, as well as an excise office, while Bernard Ogden owned four flour mills at the top of Silksworth Row. His two windmills helped give the area of Millfield its name.

The latter part of the century saw the development the Isis pub, now Grade II-listed, as well as Greenhill House – accessed from stairs in the street – which in 1891 housed seven households with 30 people.

As the 20th century rolled around, the street attracted traders such as fish merchant William Guthrie in 1923, butcher A. Harrison in 1930 and popular ice-cream makers Notarianni Bros in 1925.

“To be honest, I can’t really remember the area that well – although I hope people like the pictures,” said John. “I lived in Farringdon when I was young, so Millfield wasn’t a place I visited very often.

“I did get a second-hand bike in Silksworth Row once, though, when I was about 13. It was a ton weight and, as I hadn’t yet learned to ride a bike, I had to push the thing all the way back to Farringdon.”

l Do you have old pictures of Sunderland you are willing to share with John? He can be contacted on 0796 0861605. Look out for more Then and Now photos in Wearside Echoes soon.

From Silksworth Row to knitting stardom

MAURICE Newble – known as the man who got Wearside knitting – launched his hugely successful business from Silksworth Row in 1947.

A derelict pub – the old Hetton Arms – was chosen by Maurice as the site of his first draper’s shop. A great deal of hard graft went in to transforming the wreck and making it a success.

“Life was very different back then,” said Maurice’s son, Clive. “My father used a large pram to collect wood from bomb sites, which he then made into shelves. We all slept at the back of the shop.”

Maurice was determined to make his new business work and, after getting hold of a couple of suitcases, he often spent his free time selling his wares door to door around the colliery areas too.

“Post-war clothes rationing was still in place, which made things extremely tough,” said Clive. “But he managed to sell his goods, and met some very nice people along the way too.

“He ended up with shops all around those areas, like Ryhope, Silksworth and Seaham, very often employing the people who had fed him on his rounds. He never forgot their kindness.”

Glass act

SMETHWICK brothers James and John Hartley brought jobs and prosperity to Silksworth Row in the early 19th century.

It was on land north of Hylton Road, close to the top of Silksworth Row, that the pair started a glass manufacturing business in 1837 – patenting a new process for rolled plate glass ten years later.

“This plate glass was used in the Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and was largely responsible for the success of the company,” according to the book Street Names of Sunderland.

“By the 1860s they employed 700 men and supplied most of the plate glass in the country. The factory closed in 1894 and the site was dismantled in 1896, to allow the land to be developed for housing.”




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