Retro: Trail of devastation

The deserted seafront at Seaburn today,  with super optimistic attendants waitng by the deck chairs for customers.
The deserted seafront at Seaburn today, with super optimistic attendants waitng by the deck chairs for customers.
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THE “Great Gale” of 1954 left a trail of devastation. The 80-mile-an-hour winds – the first to hit the North East from the West “in many years” – tore down gable ends, chimneys and fences in January.

“Many families had to be evacuated and there were few roads in the town free from bricks, chimney pots, slates and branches,” reported the Echo.

The gale hit Sunderland on the morning of January 15, with initial gusts estimated at 50mph. By the afternoon, however, wind speeds had increased to 70mph and, during the night, they hit 80mph.

“A westerly gale is most unusual in this area,” a spokesman for Sunderland’s coastguard told the Echo. “It is many years since we have had one as fierce as this blowing in this direction.”

Sunderland firefighters reported their busiest period for almost a year after being called out to scores of crumbling buildings, as well as 11 chimney fires and a grass fire near Burnham Road, Fulwell.

“The most serious of these was where a chimney stack collapsed and crashed through roofs,” reported the Echo. “Firemen were also called upon to fix shop signs swinging dangerously over pavements.”

Part of the roof of Fordfield Road Community Centre was torn off while a whist drive was in progress, showering glass over the entrance. One of the doors was also blown off, but no-one was injured.

Other damage included the demolition of a wall in Salem Hill, the collapse of a gable end in Wilson Street West, a garage blown down at Clarendon Street and advertising hoardings ripped from walls at Roker Avenue and Hylton Road.

A 40ft chimney stack in Rothsay Street also crashed into a backyard, the roof of a cow shed at Yellow Leas Farm at East Boldon was torn off and a chimney was blown through the roof of a house in Back Brougham Street.

Wearside couple Mr and Mrs John Farrow had a narrow escape, too, when a stack crashed through the roof of their Old Chester Road home, bricking down more than 100 bricks as it fell.

Mrs Farrow, 74, was taken to hospital suffering from shock and cuts to her head, but was released after treatment at the Royal Infirmary.

“We were preparing to go to bed when the roof suddenly came in. About a dozen bricks hit the chair where my wife had previously been sitting,” Mr Farrow told the Echo.

Another casualty of the gale was 78-year-old Mary Nelson, of Kimberley Street, who was admitted to Ryhope General Hospital with head injuries after being blown off the pavement into the path of a car.

Several other accidents involving the wind were also reported, including a head injury sustained by Marjorie Sanderson, of Newlands Avenue, who needed hospital treatment when the window of a Fawcett Street store blew out.

“Sunderland Echo reporters who toured Sunderland today estimated that damage ran in to many hundreds of pounds,” reported the Echo on January 16.