COUNCIL houses have offered Wearsiders a home-from-home for more than a century – and one “little palace” could scoop the chance of becoming a star turn.
Plans for a 1950s Town attraction are now being drawn up for Beamish Museum, and Sunderland folk are being urged to nominate their semi as a potential tourist attraction.
“We’re extremely excited to be offering people this unique chance for their home to become part of history, by being recreated at Beamish,” said director Richard Evans.
“Our 1950s Town will tell stories of the North East’s communities during a decade of change. What better way to do this than by recreating the real homes of real people.
“If you live, or used to live, in a semi-detached house built between 1950 and 1959, and originally constructed as social housing, you can nominate it to be replicated at Beamish.”
Business was booming when councillors drew up plans for Sunderland’s first authority-built housing at the turn of the 19th century – Harrison’s Building in the East End.
And, as the century progressed, the council became the largest landlord in Sunderland – creating new homes across the city, including Pennywell, Farringdon and Thorney Close.
“The passing of the Houses of the Working Classes Act in 1890 gave councils the powers to build social housing,” said local historian Bill Hawkins, of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.
“Sunderland was one of the few councils in the country to take up the offer, but even then the construction of the first houses proved a long and drawn-out affair.”
The industrial revolution of Victorian times had seen thousands of job-seekers flock to Sunderland, with many setting up home in the slums and shabby tenements of the East End.
Hat Case and Fitter’s Row were two of the poorest, and most dilapidated, areas at the time, with families forced to live in appalling conditions without light, heat or proper sanitation.
Indeed, a Royal Commission report in 1845 revealed: “At No. 10 Hat Case there is a most offensive midden, rented to a man for 9d per week and to all appearances never entirely emptied.
“Stinking stagnant water has no outlet from this row in which human ordure and other disgusting objects are so thickly deposited that one can hardly step clear of them.”
Eventually, following the passing of the Working Classes Act, Sunderland’s councillors were prompted to step in and tackle the worst of the overcrowding and slum problems.
Hat Case and its malodorous midden were pulled down, Fitter’s Row became Rickaby Street, and Harrison’s Building – named after Alderman Harrison – was built in 1903.
“Further housing legislation followed, giving local authorities the power to clear slums and build new housing. Hundreds were built over the next few years,” said Bill.
“Indeed, a report by the Borough Engineer’s Department in 1933 revealed the council cared for 2,900 properties – with the average yearly cost of repairs per house running to £3.
Among the most expensive built were 83 post-World War One homes at Pallion, at an average of £7 18shillings, while 51 homes in Cooper Street and Flag Lane cost just £2 16s.
Sadly, however, the air raids of World War Two destroyed more than 1,000 houses, and left 90 percent of local homes with some form of damage. Something more now had to be done.
“Many prefab bungalows were erected, but a large scale building programme of permanent houses was also launched,” said Bill, who spent much of his childhood at Thorney Close.
“The Mayor of Sunderland, Joshua Ritson, opened the first permanent council house on Springwell Estate on May 28, 1946 – built by the firm of Lane Fox Ltd.”
Within just three years after the end of the war, councillors had provided 2,013 traditional houses and 958 temporary bungalows – with hundreds more homes being built in the 1950s.
Indeed, farmland quickly gave way to several post-war estates - with the first tenants of Hylton Red House moving in during 1951, followed by Hylton Castle two years later.
“The aim of the post-war council estates was to make them self-contained communities, with shops, schools, pubs, churches and houses for doctors and police,” said Bill.
“It was like a village, really, at Thorney. Everyone knew everyone and we had a bakers, grocers and fishmonger, as well as other shops. Two police officers also lived on the estate.
“It’s a great idea to recreate a 1950s council house at Beamish, and I hope a Sunderland one is chosen. The post-war houses were like little palaces - with real luxuries like inside toilets!”
In addition to recreating a post-war council house, Beamish staff are planning to include a parade of shops, police house, cafe and cinema as part of the new 1950s Town project.
An appeal for people to come forward with memories of that era - from school to work and leisure tales - has also been launched, with the information to be included within the exhibit.
“We would like as many nominations as possible from across the North East,” said Geraldine Straker, community engagement co-ordinator for Beamish.
“The house will be picked by public vote and, if yours is chosen, you’ll get the chance to enjoy a short stay in the completed exhibit at the museum.”
l For more information on Nominate Your House, visit www.beamish.org.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Geraldine Straker on 0191 370 4060.
Recreating the spirit of the 50s
BEAMISH is bringing the 1950s to Wearside this weekend - to highlight the search for a post-war home to feature at the museum.
Staff dressed in 50s clothes will set up a 1950s living room in the Bridges shopping centre this Saturday, January 24, to encourage people to find out more about the project.
“People can nominate the 1950s semi they live in now, or perhaps their childhood home, even if it’s since been knocked down,” said Geraldine Straker.
“We’re inviting people to visit us in the Bridges and find out more. We’re also keen to hear people’s memories of life in the 1950s – so come along and see us!”
•Beamish staff will be at The Bridges from 9am until 5.30pm on Saturday. The closing date for entries is 9am on March 5.