They’re gonna need a bigger boat... snapshots of Wearside life in new book

FISHY: Three salmon fishermen got more than they baragained for in 1929 - after they landed sharks rather than salmon.
FISHY: Three salmon fishermen got more than they baragained for in 1929 - after they landed sharks rather than salmon.
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A SNAPSHOT of life over the decades is the focus of Wearside historian Alan Brett’s latest book.

Nostalgic tales by the dozen are featured in the fourth volume of Sunderland At Work & Play – from sporting triumphs and sharks, to wartime heroism and world champions.

PARK LIFE: Nannies and children pictured in Mowbray park, just in front of the Winter gardens, in the 1890s.

PARK LIFE: Nannies and children pictured in Mowbray park, just in front of the Winter gardens, in the 1890s.

Hundreds of vintage illustrations, including archive photos and old adverts, are featured too – alongside newspaper clippings, cartoons and sketches.

“I’ve tried to include a little bit of everything. There is something to appeal to all readers, whatever their interests, from sport to entertainment and much more,” said Alan.

“If I was writing it for myself, I’d probably include a lot more football, but I try to balance the subjects, so that it has something for everyone – not just football fans!”

Articles on Jobling’s Glassmakers, Wearside shop models, workhouse woes, soup kitchens, pawn brokers and wartime heroes are all included in the book.

AT WORK: The Twiggs pram factory at pallion in 1947 - where the output was needed to meet the post-war baby boom.

AT WORK: The Twiggs pram factory at pallion in 1947 - where the output was needed to meet the post-war baby boom.

There are also sporty yarns about SAFC and school teams, as well as then and now photos, shops of yesteryear and the amazing tale of tennis world champion Helen Aitchison.

Tales of deadly diseases, bygone pubs, lost firms, famous Wearsiders and even a “habitual drunkard” blacklisted by every pub in Edwardian times jostle for space too.

And, with each page featuring at least one fresh subject the variety of topics is wide-ranging – from ship launches, to Penny Farthing bikes and politics.

“Each of my books take about a year to research and write and involve a lot of trips to the library,” said Alan, owner of publishing firm Black Cat Publications.

FILL HER UP: Sutton's Garage at the Wheatsheaf in 1959.

FILL HER UP: Sutton's Garage at the Wheatsheaf in 1959.

“Often the starting point for a story is a photo. I start by looking into the background of the picture, which usually leads to other things. Research is something that never really ends.

“Over the years you pick up all sorts of ideas and stories, and I try to make sure I use new information in each book. It always amazes me the stories you can find in the archives.

Alan, the author and co-author of more than a dozen local history books, published his first volume of Work and Play in 2011. It proved an immediate hit with nostalgia enthusiasts.

Indeed, the fact-filled book received such an enthusiastic reaction that it prompted Alan to come out of writing retirement. He now pens one book a year – always to great acclaim.

“The challenge is to keep finding new things to write about,” he said. “If I’ve touched on a topic before, I’ll only go back to it if I find new information. That’s what keeps it interesting.

“I like unusual stories best – such as the woman blacklisted from Sunderland’s pubs for being a habitual drunkard. What happened wasn’t nice, but it was the norm back then.

“I’m also very interested in how Sunderland’s poor survived back in Victorian times, as well as old shops and quirky tales like the time fishermen landed an unwelcome catch – sharks!

“The shark story is an example of how I use photos as a starting point for research. I came across the picture one day and that was it. I had to find out the story behind the image.”

Alan’s historical investigations, however, are never-ending. Indeed, although he has only just published Volume Four, he is already deep into his research for his next book.

“I find the changing face of Sunderland fascinating. There are always new stories to find, and old photos to research – that’s why I keep on writing the books.”

• Sunderland At Work And Play Volume Four is available now from Waterstone’s, Sunderland Museum and Sunderland Antiquarian Society, priced £9.99.

Snippets from the book:

• SAFC players toured America in 1955, becoming regulars at a cafe just off Broadway. The players were left star-struck after finding out Marilyn Monroe was also a regular.

• The first Red Cross charity shop opened in Vine Place in 1941. By the time it closed in 1945 it had received 30,000 gifts and raised £8,599 – the equivalent of £500,000 today.

• Isabella Rutter appeared at Sunderland Police Court on December 23, 1908, charged with using bad language in the East End. She was jailed for 14 days.

• Private Pat Cain, of Hendon, was responsible for looking after the rooms of delegates such as Winston Churchill, Truman and Stalin during the Potsdam Conference in 1945.

• Isabella Hazard, 12, was one of the first to die in the 1831-32 cholera epidemic in Sunderland. Another victim was sailor Jack Crawford – hero of the Battle of Camperdown.

• Bosses at Bartram’s shipyard turned to making motor caravans during the Great Depression, due to a lack of ship orders. A fourth-berth Bartram’s caravan cost £135.

• Winners match company left Wearsiders annoyed in 1973 – after the firm produced boxes which mistakenly called the 1973 FA Cup-winning team the “Geordie Giantkillers”.

• Helen Aitchison, a member of Ashbrooke Sports Club, won the World Covered Lawn Tennis Championships in 1913 – after winning a Silver in the Olympics the year before.

• The men of Jackie Crown’s shipyard tried to phycially push HMS Coronation into the water in December 1937, after frozen tallow left the 230-ton tanker stuck on the slipway, pictured above.

• Andrew Gourley was sent to prison for a month after being arrested for sleeping in a stable at Harris Lane in February 1906 – despite being disabled with just one leg.

• Workhouse residents William Cottie, John Cloughton and Cuthbert Burkett were jailed for 14 days after refusing to work on New Year’s Day 1885 – claiming it was a holiday.

• Thomas Forster Naisby had clocked up 64 years at Doxford’s shipyard before retiring – aged 78 – in 1954. Sadly, he died just six months later.