Wearside Echoes: Logging on to ancient history

Washington Miners Welfare Hall

Washington Miners Welfare Hall

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HISTORY enthusiasts from around the world are invited to dig deep into the rich heritage of a former Wearside mining community.

A website featuring historical snippets and vintage photographs - www.washingtonhistorysociety.org - has just been relaunched by members of Washington History Society.

“Washington is a mix of old and new. It has a long and interesting history, and people are proud of their roots,” said spokesman Dave Walmsley.

“It is our aim to preserve this history for future generations. Relaunching the website allows ex-pats worldwide to enjoy our collection.

“Over the years the Society has acquired a considerable archive of books, documents, maps, photographs and other sources of local history.”

Washington History Society was founded in 2007 and held its first meeting in Washington Library. Since then, it has grown from strength to strength.

“We are an informal group, working together to keep the history of Washington alive,” said former firefighter Dave, who is originally from Usworth.

“We collect and preserve photos, documents and memorabilia, as well as raise awareness of the town’s heritage through talks and exhibitions.

“Our group has continued to expand its collection since 2007 and remains the only society devoted to the history of the district and its community.”

The history of the Washington area dates back more than 800 years. Over time it has changed from a rural farming community to a centre of industry.

“One of our best-known historic gems is Washington Old Hall, the ancestral home of George Washington – the first President of the United States,” said Dave.

“But there was also RAF Usworth, which played a key role in the Battle of Britain, as well as our rich mining heritage and industrial successes like Nissan.”

The Society has enjoyed some major successes of its own since 2007 too, including instigating the first Washington Heritage Festival three years ago.

Members also spearheaded a campaign for a memorial to Sir Harold Jeffreys, a Washington scientist who studied the earth’s tectonic plates and crust formation.

And, just recently, the Society lent its support to a major refurbishment of the War Memorial at Fatfield, when a Celtic cross was installed at the site.

“The next big thing for us will be the 50th anniversary of the New Town in 2014,” said Dave. “We are now looking at a variety of ways in which to celebrate.”

Also among the Society’s successes is the relaunch of its website. Although still a ‘work in progress’ members plan to update the content regularly.

Historical stories, anecdotes and documents will be uploaded over the next few months, together with a collection of photographs taken by George Eaton.

“Mr Eaton was a professional photographer who lived in Western Terrace in the 1940s and 50s. He took pictures of local people and places,” said Dave.

“We were delighted to receive his collection of glass slides and negatives from Mr and Mrs Don Williams, who were the executors of the late Mr Eaton’s daughter.

“Mr Eaton captured some wonderful images of the area, such as visit by HRH the Prince of Wales to Washington and Usworth Unemployed Centre in December 1934.”

Society members are hoping Echo readers and website visitors will come forward with contributions too, with the aim of building a comprehensive archive for the future.

“We are looking at adding a guest book to the website, where people can share memories and photos, and we would urge anyone with memorabilia to get in touch,” said Dave. “We are interested in any artefacts or information relating to the town. It would be wonderful if people could help us to preserve and share the history of Washington.”

** Washington History Society holds meetings at the Millennium Centre, The Oval, Concord, on the first Thursday of the month from 2-4pm. New members welcome. Contact 07821 084 316 for further details or email: twfire@hotmail.co.uk For more information log on to www.washingtonhistorysociety.org