Wearside Echoes: On the buses for Sunderland history

Cranes being loaded at Sunderland Docks.
Cranes being loaded at Sunderland Docks.
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A VINTAGE bus will be journeying into the past this weekend. Today we find out more.

WEARSIDERS are being offered a ticket to ride back in time.

Southwick History and Preservation Society has joined forces with Sunderland Maritime Heritage Society to organise a free vintage bus tour of the city’s riverside past this weekend.

“Sunderland was once the largest shipbuilding town in the world, and the river echoed with the shouts and sounds of men hard at work. Today it is so very quiet,” said local historian Pam Tate.

“The idea of the bus trip is to show people the history on their own doorstep, before it disappears. Sadly, there is almost as much builders’ rubble along the river now as there are historical artefacts.”

A double-decker London bus will transport up to 50 people on a three-hour tour of Sunderland’s historic riverside areas on Sunday, starting at Maritime Heritage’s base in Church Street East.

Among the highlights of the event will be visits to the former sites of Austin and Pickersgill, Ford Paper Mill, Forster’s Forge and George Clark’s, as well as Timber Beach, Hylton and Sheepfolds.

Views of the Fish Quay, Steel’s Bank, Doxford’s and East End Orphanage are also included in the itinerary, together with a rare chance to tour the docks and old Laing’s site – now Liebherr.

“We are very lucky to have been given permission to visit the docks, as they not usually open to the public. We want to say a big thank you to them – and everyone else – for supporting us,” said Pam.

“This bus trip is a chance for former shipyard workers to see their old yards again, or for people to find out more about their local history and see where so many of the world’s ships were ‘born.’

“Although Sunderland has a rich and varied heritage, evidence of our history is disappearing fast. We want to show people that evidence, which I find absolutely fascinating, before it is all gone.”

Dozens of old photos will be on show during the tour, which is supported by the council’s Community Chest fund, and a commentary focussing on local riverside history is planned as well.

“We are hoping visitors will also share their memories as we go from site to site. The more stories they share, the more we can learn about an amazing part of Sunderland’s proud history,” said Pam.

** Tickets for the bus tour on July 1 are free, but must be booked. Contact Pam on 567 2438 or 07833 787481 to confirm your place.

Sidebar: Tour itinerary

9.30am: Meet at Sunderland Maritime Heritage Society in Church Street East. An exhibition on Sunderland’s maritime heritage, featuring the Alf Rodenby shipbuilding collection, will be on show.

10am: Bus tour will start, with ports of call including the Fish Quay, Austin’s Dry Dock, Sheepfolds, Low Southwick, South Hylton ferry landing, Timber Beach and Alexandra Bridge.

Also on the itinerary will be visits to the sites of:

** Austin and Pickersgill: Formed in 1954 by the merger of two shipyards – S.P. Austin and Son Ltd (founded c1826) and William Pickersgill and Sons Ltd (founded c1838). Closed in 1988.

** George Clark’s: Established as a general engineering firm by George Clark in 1848, it diversified into marine engines in 1854 and merged with North Eastern Marine in 1938. It closed in 1982.

** William Doxford and Sons: Established by William Doxford in 1840 and managed by his four sons following his death in 1882. Merged with A&P in 1986 and closed two years later.

** Cole’s Cranes: The Cole’s Cranes firm took over Sunderland-based Steel & Co in 1939, working almost exclusively for the military during the war. Factory closed with the loss of 670 jobs in 1998.

** Ford Paper Mill: Built by Vint Hutton & Co in 1836, it opened in August 1838 and made paper from rags on a 70-inch deckle machine. The mill closed in June 1971 due to financial problems.

** East End Orphanage: Built in 1861 on the Town Moor. Orphans – many of whom had lost their fathers at sea – were trained as sailors, and a half-size fully rigged frigate was built in the grounds.

1pm: Tour ends at Maritime Heritage Society.


A T-SHIRT celebrating famous Wearsiders has been produced by local historian Pam Tate.

The Venerable Bede, Dave Stewart, Free Born John Lilburne, Gertrude Bell, William Mills, Earnest Vaux, Bobby Thompson, Sir Henry Havelock and even the Lambton Worm all feature in the design.

“I was inspired to start work on the t-shirt after a trip to a museum in Newcastle, where I found a ‘Famous Geordie’ t-shirt on sale which actually featured several Makem notables,” said Pam.

“I just felt it was a shame there was no tribute to the Makem side available, so decided to investigate possible names. I’ve chosen people either born here, or with strong links to Sunderland.”

Other people featured include Jack Crawford, Raich Carter, Bobby Knoxhall, diver Harry Watts, Bob Stokoe and Jimmy Montgomery. Even wartime double agent Eddie Chapman is mentioned.

“I thoroughly enjoyed finding out about these people and their links to our city, and no doubt there are many more than I have used. I’ll just have to keep on looking and researching,” said Pam.

** Pam’s design can be printed on any t-shirt for around £6. Contact her at the number above for further details.