Wearside Echoes: A royal look at Sunderland

BEACON OF HOPE: Members of Seaham and District Scout Association with their Jubilee Beacon in 1977. Built from old railway sleepers, it stood over 20ft high and the flames could be seen for miles. Among those pictured are: David Baker, John Graham, Alf Dow, John Burns, Matty Knowles and Stephen Henry.
BEACON OF HOPE: Members of Seaham and District Scout Association with their Jubilee Beacon in 1977. Built from old railway sleepers, it stood over 20ft high and the flames could be seen for miles. Among those pictured are: David Baker, John Graham, Alf Dow, John Burns, Matty Knowles and Stephen Henry.
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THE Queen is planning to visit Sunderland later this year to mark her Diamond Jubilee. Here we take a look at Royal visits of the past.

A SIX-MILE throng of Wearsiders greeted a smiling Princess Elizabeth – heiress to the throne – when she visited Sunderland for the first time in 1946.

The skies may have been leaden, and there was a heavy drizzle of rain, but townsfolk refused to let the weather dampen their high spirits on April 30.

“The reception given by the crowds lining the procession route gave no doubt about the kindly loyalty of Wearsiders and their affection for the young Princess,” reported the Echo.

The visit – which saw 20-year-old Elizabeth open the new Eye Infirmary and launch a tanker at Laing’s shipyard – was to spark an enduring love for Royalty across Wearside.

Indeed, the town went “Coronation Crazy” just a few years later, according to the Echo, when the Princess was crowned Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953.

“Parties were the order of the day, only ranking second in importance to the Coronation ceremony itself,” reported the paper.

“Groups of neighbours huddled around TV sets early this morning, anxious not to miss a moment of the day’s events. Everyone entered wholeheartedly into the celebrations.”

The past seven decades have seen tens of thousands of Wearsiders take to the streets to welcome Her Royal Highness during return trips to the region, while still more have enjoyed parties in her honour.

One such event was the building of a beacon by Seaham scouts for the 1977 Silver Jubilee – which involved dragging dozens of old railway sleepers down to the beach.

“We wanted to let people know that we were celebrating with the Queen,” said Elizabeth Armes, scout leader with Dawdon Second Seaham Scouts. “It was a wonderful day.

“We also did the same for the Coronation in 1953, and would like to build another for the Diamond Jubilee. Sadly, there are many more health and safety rules these days, which are causing a problem.”

Other Royal occasions enjoyed by Wearsiders over the years have included visits by Princess Anne, Prince Edward and the Queen Mother – who had family connections with Dalton-le-Dale.

But it was the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana which seemed to re-ignite the patriotic spirits of Sunderland folk – who cleared shop shelves across the town of all things Royal-related.

“Sunderland erupted in a blaze of colour, music, singing and dancing as more than 150 Royal Wedding street parties got under way this afternoon,” reported the Echo on July 29, 1981.

“Earlier, the area had the appearance of a ghost town as streets were deserted, with friends and neighbours settled down before their television sets to watch the ceremony.”

The Roker Roar rang out across Wearside four years later too – as “a radiant” Princess Diana made her first visit to Sunderland in the company of husband Charles.

“The Prince and Princess of Wales won’t forget the warmth of their Wearside welcome in a hurry,” reported the Echo on May 22, 1985.

“Despite the chilly weather, there was a carnival atmosphere as young and old alike thronged the route – cheering, waving and pushing with excitement to see their Royal favourites.”

The Diamond Jubilee also promises to be a memorable event for Royalty enthusiasts, with the Queen – now 85 – scheduling a visit to Sunderland in July to mark the special occasion.

Thousands of people are expected to welcome Her Royal Highness once again to the city – and the Echo will be publishing a special Retro magazine filled with Royal events of the past to mark the occasion.

“I have just started searching through the hundreds of pictures our photographers have taken of the Queen and the Royal family over the years,” said Susan Swinney, photographic archivist for the Echo.

“But, although we will be using lots of Royal visit photos, we are also planning to use dozens of street party ones too. They really do sum up the great affection people in Sunderland have for the Queen.”

n The Royal Retro magazine will be published on July 7. If you have photographs or memories you would like to see included, email them to: sarah.stoner@northeast-press.co.uk