Wearside Echo: Victorian Wearsiders at play

SUMMER FUN: A gymnastics display in 1946.
SUMMER FUN: A gymnastics display in 1946.
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A FORGOTTEN chapter in the life of a Wearside club has been unearthed.

A hand-written book documenting the development of sport in Victorian Sunderland came to light during a recent search of the archives at Ashbrooke Sports’ Club.

“We have discovered a real gem – and this in a year that sees both the Olympics and the 125th anniversary of the club’s time at Ashbrooke,” said local historian Keith Gregson.

“It is a huge book, all hand-written, and covers the annual Whit Sports from 1893 – 1904. This really is an exciting discovery, due to the depth of information provided.”

Details contained within the book include the names and addresses of all cyclists and athletes who took part in Whit Sports over the 12-year period – an average of more than 200 annually.

“This was a time when the Victorians and Edwardians were keen on exercise and both running clubs and cycling clubs sprang up all across the region,” said Keith, official archivist for Ashbrooke.

“Other information enables us to work out which races they entered, their clubs, colours and the handicaps they carried. We can thus discover who were average – and who were the real ‘cracks!’

“Some competitors came back year after year but, as a rough guess, there must have been well over 1,000 involved over those years. I can recognise many popular North East surnames in there!”

Keith, author of several history and genealogy books, has spent the past few weeks tracking down personal details of those who competed in the 1901 games – including ages and occupations.

He has so far uncovered information on around 80 percent on the cyclists and athletes, thanks to research on The Genealogist website, and hasn’t give up hope of discovering more.

“Among the scratch athletes I’ve found mentioned is a man who gained international fame as a hurdler, as well a top cyclist and others who represented their country,” said Keith.

“But there are dozens of local sportsmen listed too, such as James Carter, from Beauclere Terrace, who worked at his father’s paint works. He entered the ½ mile bike race off a handicap of 75 yards.

“Also mentioned is Stapleton Morley, of Elmwood Street, a draughtsman who belonged to the wonderfully named Idlers’ Cycle Club. He was a teenager when he entered the ½ mile bike race.

“And then there was another teenager, David Pinkney, who represented Ashbrooke in the 1893 Whit meeting. He lived at times in the Grove and Cresswell Villas and was later involved in shipping.”

Keith is planning to publish his findings as part of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations this year, although the discovery of the book has thrown up a mystery – which he hopes readers might solve.

“An internet search on the history of Sunderland Harriers shows the club as being formed in 1897 and reformed in 1905, but that seems to be at odds with what is written in the old book,” he said.

“A number of athletes living in Sunderland in 1893 were recorded in the book as being members of ‘S/land Harriers’ or S/land H when entering the Whit Sports – can anyone shine a light on this?

“As to the rest of my findings, well I’m hoping they’ll lead to many proud descendants coming out of the woodwork from Blyth to Eston and from Pelton Fell to Whitburn. Watch this space!”

* Keith can be contacted at keith.gregson.t21@btinternet.com or via his web site www.keithgregson.com.

Sidebar: History time

THE third annual Sunderland History Fair is set to be the biggest and best yet.

Over 60 groups have already signed up to take part in the event, organised by Sunderland Heritage Forum, which will be held at the Seaburn Centre in June.

“One theme this year will be to involve people in looking at their own family history and roots,” said a spokesman.

“Households throughout the region will have forgotten documents, photographs, memorabilia and even, at the back of the cupboard, some old 8mm films.

“We hope that, whatever it is, people will bring them along for advice on how to conserve them and for them to be recorded.”

Organisations taking part will include Sunderland Antiquarian Society and Living History North East, whose members have volunteered to help preserve any archive material donated by visitors.

Sunderland Museum will be showcasing some of its Royal memorabilia during the fair too, while the North East Restoration Club will bring along their 1912 Humber to the venue.

“Monkwearmouth School will also be taking part, as they are celebrating 50 years on their Torver Crescent site,” said the spokesman.

“In the upstairs studio we will once again be working with Northern Region Film and Television Archives, based at University of Teesside, showing archive film footage of the area.

“And some Romans, a classic bus and a fairground organ will be there to welcome visitors as well. Many memories will be recalled both for exhibitors and visitors, I’m sure.”

** Sunderland History Fair will be held from 10am to 4pm at the Seaburn Centre on June 2.