When the Prince of Wales’ visit lifted Great Depression gloom in Sunderland

The Prince of Wales inspecting a Guard of Honour outside the Town Hall in 1934.
The Prince of Wales inspecting a Guard of Honour outside the Town Hall in 1934.
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A very special visitor helped lift the gloom of the Great Depression on December 6, 1934, when the Prince of Wales toured Wearside’s unemployment blackspots.

His Royal Highness arrived at Sunderland Station just before 10am, alighting from the sleeping car of the Royal train to be met by Mayor Ditchburn.

Wearsiders cheer of the Prince of Wales during a visit in December 1934.

Wearsiders cheer of the Prince of Wales during a visit in December 1934.

“It’s a terrible day,” Prince Edward remarked, as rain poured down his bowler hat and overcoat.

“But I have had a very comfortable journey. We slept very well.”

A Guard of Honour featuring British Legion members stood to attention as the Royal visitor left the station – including Victoria Cross winner Edward Cooper.

The Stockton-born Lieutenant had been awarded the medal for gallantry at Langemarck, during the Battle of Passchendaele, and HRH exchanged a few words with him.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this all-too-short visit. I am very pleased to see all that is being done for the unemployed.

Edward, Prince of Wales.

“It is very good of you to come on parade on a day like this,” added the Prince.

Thousands lined the Royal route from Athenaeum Street to Coronation Street – “cheering themselves hoarse” as Edward visited an open-air nursery at George Street.

“The shrill cheers of children mingled with those of the rest of the crowd as the King’s son and heir made his way through the drab East End,” reported the Echo.

Not everyone, however, was wowed by the Prince. Indeed five-year-old Jessie Reed, who had been tasked with giving him a red rose, seemed less than impressed.

Rain and fog made photographic conditions difficult as Echo snappers struggled to get a picture of the Guard of Honour at Sunderland Station during the Prince's visit in 1934.

Rain and fog made photographic conditions difficult as Echo snappers struggled to get a picture of the Guard of Honour at Sunderland Station during the Prince's visit in 1934.

“She wants to give it to you,” laughed Edward to the Mayor, whose bright gold chain of office had attracted Jessie’s interest. “You’d better have it!”

Next on the Prince’s whistle-stop tour was a visit to the Unemployment Social Centre in Roker Avenue – where he met Sir John Priestman and other officials.

A tour of the centre followed, with HRH “so interested” in the work being carried out that he was “loathe to leave” and stayed for much longer than planned.

Two prize-winning fly-weight boxers, Wally Knightley and Jack Brannigan, particularly took the Prince’s eye – and he “watched them closely” for several minutes.

The Prince of Wales inspects a Guard of Honour, featuring members of the British Legion, outside Sunderland Station in 1934.

The Prince of Wales inspects a Guard of Honour, featuring members of the British Legion, outside Sunderland Station in 1934.

“The progress that has been made here to help the unemployed is remarkable,” he said.

“The centre is excellent and I am sure its work is much appreciated.”

A trip to New Washington and Usworth Social Centre – a former school now teaching skills to the jobless – marked the final stop on the Prince’s Wearside tour.

After chatting to several “students” including Mr J. Ross, who served with the Prince on HMS Renown, the Royal was reluctant to leave the “friendly” place.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed this all-too-short visit,” he said. “I am very pleased to see all that is being done for the unemployed.”

As the Prince headed off to engagements in Birtley and Durham, so a team of Echo snappers headed back to the Bridge Street office to develop their Royal photos.

Rainswept but resilient - the Prince during his 1934 visit to Wearside.

Rainswept but resilient - the Prince during his 1934 visit to Wearside.

“These are just a few of the dozens taken of the visit,” said photographic archivist Susan Swinney.

The Prince of Wales (left) chats with Mr W. Brewis, vice-president of Washington British Legion in 1934.

The Prince of Wales (left) chats with Mr W. Brewis, vice-president of Washington British Legion in 1934.

The Prince's visit to Wearside was anything but a washout - despite the rain.

The Prince's visit to Wearside was anything but a washout - despite the rain.

Inspecting the Guard of Honour at Sunderland Station.

Inspecting the Guard of Honour at Sunderland Station.

A lone policeman stands guard during the Prine of Wales's visit to Wearside.

A lone policeman stands guard during the Prine of Wales's visit to Wearside.

The Prince arriving at the Occupational Centre on Roker Avenue with the Mayor of Sunderland.

The Prince arriving at the Occupational Centre on Roker Avenue with the Mayor of Sunderland.