HISTORY came alive when the great-great granddaughter of the man who built Roker Pier visited the Sunderland landmark for the very first time.
Carmen Higgs travelled from Queensland, Australia, with dad Geoff to visit the site where engineer Henry Hay Wake carved the initials of his son – Carmen’s great-grandfather – Mervyn 123 years ago.
Henry Hay Wake had the initials of at least three of his children carved into the walls of the tunnel to mark their visits to the pier over a seven year period between 1891 and 1898. It is hoped that as work progresses, more names will be uncovered.
Carmen had been researching the family history when Sunderland City Council contacted her about the connection to the pier.
The 29-year-old was given a guided tour of the tunnel and lighthouse yesterday, and also got to see the recently-restored lantern house. She also met up with other members of Henry Hay Wake’s extended family who still live in the region.
Henry’s great granddaughter Marilyn Stalton, originally of Roker, was also there to see a plaque dedicated to her grandmother Enid.
Geoff, 66, said: “It definitely feels worth the trip to come and see the pier.
“We knew about it because my mum used to tell us about it – she had an etching on the wall that we used to ask about – but we didn’t realise the extent of it really until Carmen started researching it.”
Carmen added: “It feels like an important piece of history when you see it.”
Marilyn, 68, who now lives in Prudhoe, said she was proud to be part of the history. “It’s really interesting,” she said. “It’s part of Sunderland’s heritage; without the pier, shipbuilding around the area would never have happened. I’m extremely proud.”
Marilyn, who was a teacher then worked in accounting for the Post Office, only discovered the importance of her ancestor’s involvement in building Roker Pier after finding artefacts belonging to her late mother.
She will hand them over to Sunderland City Council to support its bid for Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF) to restore the lighthouse and tunnel.
The council is part-way through a £1.35 million restoration to the 129-year-old pier. In November it completed work to the lantern house, and will commence resurfacing the pier in June.
Coun Harry Trueman, deputy leader of the city council, who joined Henry Hay Wake’s relatives on the tunnel tour, said: “Additional funding from the HLF would help us restore the tunnel and lighthouse, open up access to the pier and develop a range of resources to make the most of its heritage.
“Being able to tell the story of the pier is a really important part of the bid. A lot of families pass down stories, photos and other memorabilia through the generations and we’re very keen to hear from anyone who can help us tell the story of the pier through its 129-year history.”
Anyone wanting to send memorabilia can write to the Address Planning Implementation, Civic Centre, Po Box 102 SR2 7DN, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 561 8776.