THE grounds of an historic County Durham rectory were opened to the public in 1949.
More than 500 civic dignitaries, clergymen, business officials and residents gathered for the official opening of Houghton’s first public park on April 9.
Councillor W.H. Dinsley, chairman of Houghton Urban Council, told guests: “The opening of this park is a great day in the history of Houghton.”
Houghton Rectory was built around a fortified Pele tower more than 700 years ago and, in 1483, the house was “embattled with a wall of lime and stone” to keep marauding armies at bay.
It fell into disrepair, however, during the 1500s and, when George Davenport became rector in 1664, he was forced to rebuild the house – adding a chapel to the west and other features.
Davenport’s chapel was not to last. As a succession of rectors took charge of the rectory over the next 400 years, so the chapel and a tower were demolished and an arch and gatehouse built.
But the biggest change came in the 1940s, when the site was bought by Houghton Urban District Council for £10,000 and the rounds opened as a public park.
“The first park keeper was Charles Barrat. Charles had been badly injured during the First World War and lost an arm – but he didn’t let this stop him,” said local historian Paul Lanagan.
“He was a popular park keeper, particularly with children during conker time. He was described as a ‘lovely person’ and was there until around 1955/56.”
It was not only Charles who proved popular. Houghton’s first public park proved a huge draw for townsfolk too, who enjoyed taking leisurely strolls in the historic gardens.
“When the council learned the ancient rectory and grounds were to be vacated, we immediately opened negotiations for their purchase,” Coun Dinsley told the Echo at the time.
“The outcome is a park natural in its ancient beauty and vastly superior to anything which could have been created artificially.”
* On April 26, 1950, the Rectory became a Grade II* listed building and on December 22, 1951, Houghton Urban Council made the historic building their new home.
TRADERS were left counting the cost in 1949 after being targeted by crooks.
Shopkeepers within a 200-yard radius of Vine Place were left struggling for survival after a series of thefts and burglaries over a 12-month period.
One Vine Street grocer, whose shop was left badly damaged by raiders, told the Echo: “My safe was hauled to within five yards of the back lane before it was broken open.
“Grocers, stationers, gunsmiths, chemists, ironmongers, outfitters, hatters, florists and other shops have all been broken into. It seems the thieves are working on a rota now.”
A Vine Street stationer told the Echo his store had been burgled twice within five weeks, with thieves stealing £90-worth of fountain pens among other items.
“I foiled attempts to force entry at the rear of the premises by wiring the back windows, but now they come in through the front windows instead,” he said. “This is a series of systematic break-ins.”
THE laying of the foundation stone for Thorney Close Primary School was hailed as “an occasion in the history of the town” on April 21, 1949.
Councillor Carr Humphreys, chairman of Sunderland Education Committee, added: “It is the fourth foundation stone to be laid for schools within six months.
“I am certain that Sunderland never had so many schools in such a short time. I doubt whether any town in this country can claim such a record as this.”
Councillors splashed out almost £500,000 to create the five schools, which included an infants in Springwell, to “eliminate the long distance travelled by children to school.”
A WAVE of vandalism was “sweeping the East End” of Sunderland in 1949.
The Rev R.S. Troop, rector of Sunderland Parish Church, told parishioners at the annual parochial church meeting that “there have even been attempts to rifle vaults in the churchyard.”
He added: “Someone remarked that it was all due to a spirit of adventure, but I cannot see much adventure in breaking open a vault. This vandalism is proving very costly.”
SUNDERLAND taxi drivers were ordered to install meters before new licences were issued in June 1949.
“This step is at last possible because supplies are believed to be available in sufficiently large quantities to equip the town’s taxi fleet,” reported the Echo.
“For years the watch Committee has been trying to secure a source of supply for meters, but all efforts up to the present time have been unsuccessful.
“The committee will now enforce the stipulation that taxis must carry them before licences are re-issued.”
A FORMER Horden Colliery miner was celebrating the publication of his 13th sacred cantata in 1949 – ten years after his last composition of sacred music was published.
Joseph Elliott, of Northumberland Street, Horden, started composing in 1917, at the age of 30, and by 1949 had completed 30 anthems and more than 200 songs in addition to the cantatas.
“Ten years ago I put my pen down, having achieved the ambition of my earlier musical days and completed my 12th cantata,” the former miner told the Echo.
“I had decided it was my last composition but, to my surprise, ten years later I received a letter from my publishers asking if I could write a new work on the life of Christ.
“It may have been the ‘break’ of the years in between, but to my own surprise I had completed the new work in nine weeks.”
A NEW coat-of-arms for Sunderland was unveiled in April 1949.
The design, featuring two lions holding a shield with a ship balanced in top, was approved by “the majority of members” on Sunderland Town Council.
“It is one of two prepared by a specialist in heraldry engaged by the Corporation,” reported the Echo. “The remaining two contenders were submitted by the College of Arms.”
Designers hoping to create the new coast-of-arms were asked to emphasize the ecclesiastical importance of the Borough through its connection with Benedict Biscop and Bede.
Blaze: Four hundred beach tents, which had been stacked in a promenade shelter ready for Easter holidaymakers, went up in flames just after midnight on Good Friday. Foul play was not suspected.