Wearside Echoes: “His greatest love was shipbuilding”

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THE serious young schoolboys of Redby School stand stiffly to attention as their photograph is taken at the turn of the 20th century.

Among the smartly-dressed youngsters in their suits and starched collars was James Bell, the Sunderland-born son of railway policeman Thomas and his wife, Margaret.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson

“I was left a box of family photos by an aunt, and this was amongst the pictures,” said Carol Fish, a Wearside expat who now lives in Northumberland.

“James was my grandfather. His birth certificate shows he was born in 1894, at what looks like Abbi Cottages, but I have never been able to trace the address. Maybe it could be Abbs?

“He moved from there when he was young, though, to a house at Fulwell Road. I believe the photo must have been taken around 1900, judging by the date of his birth.”

It is believed James attended Redby until the age of 13 or 14, when he joined the staff of Monkwearmouth Station as a general porter.

“The photo of James at Monkwearmouth Station came from my aunt as well. My grandfather is second from right on the top row, wearing his railway uniform,” said Carol.

“I thought people might find the picture interesting. Maybe they will be able to find their own fathers and grandfathers among the station staff, or in the photo of the Redby pupils.”

James joined the Army not long after the station photo was taken, serving as a sergeant during World War One.

He married his sweetheart, Jane, after returning from battle.

“They had two boys, including my dad, and two girls. Very sadly one of the girls died at the age of about 15 with TB. I think it was quite common then,” said Carol.

“Following the death of James’ father, he moved the family to London. They ran a guest house at Finsbury Park, which I still remember visiting as a child.”

Carol’s father, Ronald, later returned to Sunderland, where he married and secured a job at the ropery in Roker Avenue.

“I once took a course on Sunderland’s history, which was fascinating, but it hasn’t helped with the Abbi Cottages problem,” said Carol. “Maybe a reader will be able to help?”

The other two pictures on this page, featuring scenes from Sunderland’s shipbuilding past, were provided by Echo reader Angela Buxton.

The photographs show her father, Bob Johnson, during his time at Laing’s shipyard, where he worked as a welder.

Bob was 15 when he signed up as a shipyard apprentice, and Carol recalls: “He started work in 1946 and worked in shipbuilding most of his life.

“He did leave temporarily in 1963, due to a shortage of work, and emigrated to South Africa with five children.

“The family had quite an adventure, but longed for home. We returned to Sunderland in late 1964 and dad managed to get a job with Laing’s.

“Unfortunately I lost my dad on December 8, 2010, but his greatest love was shipbuilding, and anything to do with the sea. These pictures show him in the ‘happy times.’”

l Can you help Carol solve the Abbi/Abbs Cottages puzzle?

 Contact her by e-mail at: carolannfish@sky.com. Do you have old photos you would like to see in the Echo? E-mail them to sarah.stoner@northeast-press.co.uk