Remembering fun summers from years gone by

TRANQUIL SCENE: Sunderland Parish Church in June 1960. The church will host a service this Saturday at 3pmto commemorate Trinity Sunday. Visitors will be able to have a look round the church afterwards.

TRANQUIL SCENE: Sunderland Parish Church in June 1960. The church will host a service this Saturday at 3pmto commemorate Trinity Sunday. Visitors will be able to have a look round the church afterwards.

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An old-fashioned get-together is to be held in the East End this Saturday - echoing the fun and games which once entertained the community in bygone summers.

Sunderland Parish Church will throw open its doors to commemorate Trinity Sunday with a service at 3pm, followed by the chance to look round the building.

DONNISON SCHOOL: A community get-together will be held at the former Church Walk school, now home to Living History North East, this Saturday.

DONNISON SCHOOL: A community get-together will be held at the former Church Walk school, now home to Living History North East, this Saturday.

“Everyone will then be welcome to join us at the Donnison School for refreshments - another 18th century city treasure,” said local historian Sharon Vincent.

East End summers were once a time for get-togethers, games and activities. Residents didn’t need an excuse to enjoy themselves - and they certainly had fun.

“In 1824 Sunderland’s first cricket club was established,” said Sharon. “Men wearing white trousers and stovepipe hats made their way there over the Town Moor.

“In later years, after the Moor had been carved up by industry, the boys and girls of the East End were left with just a small green space to play their games.”

Bowling was another popular pastime, but not like today. Men would find a rock and, using a hammer, chip away at it until it was round and smooth enough to use.

Competitors then took it in turn to bowl their stone balls along the edge of the Moor; the one who took the least number of throws to get around was the winner.

“On a summer’s evening, many groups of bowlers could be seen playing their way round the Moor’s perimeter - no doubt trying to avoid cricketers!” said Sharon.

Another source of traditional entertainment was the fair - which started out as a hiring event for servants, as well as a market - but later attracted sideshows.

“The fair’s origins date to the 17th century, when fruit, vegetables, cattle and other goods were traded - with tax going to the Bishop of Durham,” said Sharon.

“But the fair also attracted entertainment of every kind. From Sans Street down to the Town End - both sides of the street would be lined with booths.

“All things weird and wonderful could be found, from menageries and bearded ladies, to giants and dwarfs - all shouting and ringing bells to grab your attention.

“Several barrel organs, each playing a different tune, added to the racket - as did the cries of vendors. Fair time was a hectic, bustling, noisy occasion.”

Indeed, when clown and conjurer Billy Purvis visited in the 1820s, he built a platform across the street leading directly to his lodgings near the Barracks.

Here he would perform his shows to the enthusiastic audience beneath - ably supported by a strongwoman who used her hair to carry a blacksmith’s anvil.

“The fair was eventually abolished under an Act of Parliament in 1868 - largely due, it was said, to councillors having problems regulating it,” said Sharon.

“It was also claimed that it attracted too many ‘cheap jacks’, who put Sunderland shopkeepers out of business by selling their wares at discount prices.”

The East End Carnival eventually arrived as a replacement for the fair in 1911 and, in the decades before that, the church helped organised summer events.

“In 1881 some 150 soldiers from the 1st Durham (Sunderland) Artillery Volunteers marched from Bishopwearmouth down Lawrence Street to the church,” said Sharon.

“The weather was glorious and thousands lined the streets. After a service in the church, the soldiers marched back along High Street and into Fawcett Street.”

Other events saw 100 parishioners enjoy a trip to Chester-le-Street in August 1884, while in July 1886 over 1,000 children enjoyed tea at the Gray Schools.

Even the elderly residents of Trafalgar Square and Assembly Garth could look forward to an annual tea in the Flag Lane Mission Room during Victorian times.

“Despite the hardship of the times, there was always something to enjoy in the East End - and the church was often at the centre of this social life,” said Sharon.