THERE was just one place to buy the perfect pet for generations of Wearsiders – the Yellow Bird Shop.
The triple-fronted store on Silksworth Row was packed to the rafters with dog baskets, bird cages, rabbit hutches and pet food such as Vim and Spiller’s Shapes.
But it wasn’t, of course, the baskets and hutches which made Yellow Bird such a popular destination for young shoppers – it was the huge range of creatures on offer.
“It was painted a bright yellow and stood between the Museum Vaults and the Isis,” said retired photographer John Brantingham, who supplied these old and new photos.
“Kids used to come from all over to buy mice, birds and rabbits. I got a tortoise there for five shillings.
“That was a lot of money and I had to save up for ages to buy it. But it turned out to be a roamer. Almost every night, I had to search all the gardens round about to find it. I sold it back after about three years – for half-a-crown!”
Wearsiders had to run the gauntlet of trams, omnibuses and trains when crossing Silksworth Row to visit Yellow Bird – as it was one of the busiest streets in the town.
Built during the Georgian era, at around the same time as Farringdon Row, shops such as Crozier’s and Salmon’s Newsagents once lined the bustling thoroughfare.
“Silksworth and Farringdon rows were connected to William Johnson and Hendry Hopper, who had estates in the Silksworth and Farringdon areas,” said John.
“The two rows were named after the main estates, while nearby Johnson Street and Hopper Street were named after the men who owned the estates at various times.”
Trade directories from the early 1800s reveal butchers, publicans, bakers, joiners, grocers, clothes brokers and shoemakers all plied their trade in Silksworth Row.
The dawn of the 20th century found the street equally busy – with traders such as fish merchant William Guthrie, butcher A. Harrison and ice-cream makers Notarianni.
But, by the beginning of the 21st century, most of the once-popular names had disappeared.
Indeed, today there is an empty space where Yellow Bird used to stand.
“I have lots of happy childhood memories of Yellow Bird, as I’m sure many people do,” said John, a keen local historian who hails from a family of photographers.
“I bought a pair of white mice from there once, although I lost one before I got home!
“I had to keep the remaining one in the washouse because mam was so scared of it.
“My dad built a cage, with steps and a perspex front, and I ended up going back to buy more mice. It was always a fascinating place, stuffed full of birds and animals.
“It had a very distinctive smell, a combination of animals and feed, and there were all sorts of things to see – from rabbits to pigeons, parrots, budgies and baby chickens.”
John, a volunteer at the historic Donnison School in the East End, was inspired to document the changing face of Yellow Bird due to his fond memories and added: “It was the only pet shop in Sunderland that I knew about, and everyone went there.
“I’m sure the photos will bring back nice memories for a lot of Echo readers.
“The old North Moor Pub near Durham Road, where McDonald’s is now, was once known as the Yellow Bird too, perhaps because it used to be painted bright yellow.
“But that has gone now too, as have so many of Sunderland’s buildings and streets.
The town today is almost unrecognisable to people of my generation.”
l Do you have old pictures of Sunderland you are willing to share with John?
You can contact him on 0796 0861605.
Keep an eye out for more Then and Now photos in Wearside Echoes soon.