Remembering the day USA president Jimmy Carter visited Sunderland's glass-makers and Washington Old Hall as America celebrates Independence Day on July 4

It’s not often that one of the world’s most powerful people visits your neighbourhood.

Monday, 4th July 2022, 4:55 am

But it happened on Wearside in 1977 when US President Jimmy Carter came to town.

In fact, he came to two towns and drew big crowds all along the way.

Peple had waited hours to see the presidential party which visited the Corning factory in Sunderland where Pyrex glass products were made.

Jimmy Carter on his visit to Wearside.

President Carter stepped out of his limousine, waved and smiled at the crowd, and told them: “It is nice to be here. I am so happy.”

Inside the factory, workers gathered at the windows to try and get a view of what was happening outside.

It was a big day for some local people too. Andrew Thompson, 28, a leading British craftsman, presented the President with a glass sculpture of St George and the Dragon.

President Carter then went on a tour of the factory which employed 5,000 people at the time.

The Echo said at the time: “He was given enthusiastic cheers wherever he went.”

He was on a strict timetable which gave him exactly one hour and five minutes at Corning’s and it was adhered to.

In that time, he fitted in handshakes with the Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Charles Slater, and company executives. He enjoyed light refreshments in the boardroom and a walk round the factory.

He spoke to workers at all levels of the company and got to watch glass blowers as they went about their business.

He took time to speak to Vera Jobling, a process operator who was about to retire after 30 years with the company.

And he enjoyed a light-hearted moment with brothers Jim and Norman Davidson who were both long-serving workers.

Norman said: “He seemed like a really nice chap” while Jim said: “He wanted to know how we had the strength to blow the glass. I told him it was because we were well looked after at home and he laughed.”

Soon it was time to move on, but before he got back in to his limousine, he took time to shake the hands of several members of the crowd which had grown to several hundred outside the factory.

Later the same day, he went to Washington and the reception was just as tumultuous.

The Echo report at the time said: “It must have seemed like home from home.

“The children waved their Stars and Stripes, and the bands played a continuous selection of American favourites.”

The report added: “For the folk of Washington, Tyne and Wear, it was their big day. Thousands turned out to show him a little of their own brand of Northern comforts for the man from the Southern states.”

He was there to see the ancestral home of the forefathers of America’s first President and he posed for photographs on the lawn of the Old Hall.

He received another gift when 12-year-old Ian McAree presented him with an old miner’s lamp. In return, the President gave Ian an oil painting of Mount Vernon.

On the back, it said: “To Ian from Jimmy Carter 6/5/77.”

Ian was the youngest member of the village’s miners band where he played the cornet. Speaking about his big day, he said he was nervous but ‘dead chuffed’.

The President then went walkabout on the village green but had enough time to pause in front of the miners band.

He asked the conductor George Rowells to play the miners hymn Gresford, and the band obliged.

The Echo report added: “Vantage points were at a premium in the village and people clambered into trees and on to walls and garage roofs to get a good view.

“But for many, the President was no more than a fleeting glimpse because of the large number of security men surrounding him.”

President Carter helped to plant a small tulip tree on the village green and there were more handshakes, this time with some of the crowd stood behind barriers.

And then it was all over. The President left for Newcastle Airport, on to London and a flight home to ‘affairs of State’.

Were you one of the people who turned out to see the VIP visitor, or perhaps even got to meet him?

Get in touch and tell us about the occasion. What was the highlight of it for you?