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Blue plaque honours heroic Sunderland sailor who helped save more than 160 lives

Lauren Daglish-Smith, project co-ordinator for Sunderland Heritage Quarter and Coun Julia Jackson of St Peter's Ward alongside the Blue Plaque to diver Harry Watts at the marina RNLI HQ.

Lauren Daglish-Smith, project co-ordinator for Sunderland Heritage Quarter and Coun Julia Jackson of St Peter's Ward alongside the Blue Plaque to diver Harry Watts at the marina RNLI HQ.

A BLUE plaque commemorating the bravery of a forgotten hero has been unveiled in Sunderland marina on the 100th anniversary of his death.

The plaque, which has pride of place on the wall of the RNLI building, describes sailor and diver Harry Watts as a “true hero”.

Fearless Watts is known to have rescued more than 40 people from drowning and assisted in the rescue of a further 120.

Born into poverty in Sunderland’s East End in 1826, the Watts’ family home in Silver Street is no-longer there, hence the placement of the plaque on the side of the lifeboat station.

Watts signed up as a sailor at the aged of 14, and saved many lives on his voyages around the world. Returning to Wearside, he worked as a rigger in the shipyards. He continued to save lives and later signed up as a diver.

Having received little recognition for his efforts, American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie referred to Watts as a hero who should never be forgotten.

And following a campaign involving Sunderland Heritage Quarter and other interested parties, it is hoped that his memory will live on.

The group received a £400 community chest grant from Sunderland City Council’s North Area Committee, which paid for the plaque.

Project co-ordinator, Lauren Daglish-Smith, said: “Until last year, Harry was an unsung hero of the city.

“Now thanks to the efforts of local people, he can be remembered.

“A blue plaque is a great way to mark his bravery, and the location of it by the river will hopefully resonate with everyone that passes it.”

Coun Julia Jackson has been supporting the project since the Heritage Quarter contacted her when applying for money.

She said: “I’m very pleased that the group’s efforts have led to this acknowledgement of a heroic local man.

“The plaque will attract visitors to the marina.

“I think it’s vitally important so that people are aware of their heritage, how important the river was as part of Sunderland’s development, and it’s good to acknowledge individuals who played such a big part in this area. Hopefully it will generate some interest for future generations.

“We are looking at another plaque for Brunel because of his involvement with the north dock.”

 

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