From the Bear Pit cafe at Binns to Louis' milk bar - a new Sunderland book remembers it all

From Liverpool House to Binns Bear Pit – a new book takes a look at it all.

Sunday, 21st November 2021, 11:00 am

The latest book from Black Cat Publications is called ‘Sunderland Shops, Cafés & Motor Dealers’ and has been written by Alan Brett and Philip Curtis.

It is packed with more than 300 photos and looks at everything from department stores to fish shops.

Philip said: “Fish and chips have long been a favourite with Wearsiders – in the 1930s there were over 100 fried fish shops in town.

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The new book from Alan Brett and Philip Curtis.

They were a cheap meal for families but in 1976 a potato shortage resulted in a sharp price rise.

"The humble potato cost five times what it had the previous year. Thieves saw this as a valuable commodity and in a raid on Huntley’s fish shop in Silksworth they made off with 17 four-stone bags of potatoes (428 kgs in total).”

For those who wanted to sit down for a meal or drink there were plenty of cafés, snack bars, restaurants, coffee bars and even the occasional milk bar.

Philip added: “The older generation might remember Meng’s in Fawcett Street. Meng’s served morning coffee, luncheon and afternoon tea as well as holding dinner dances, society meetings and works’ parties in the evenings.”

Santa at Liverpool House in 1964.

Louis’ Milk Bar in Crowtree Road was endorsed by Sunderland footballers like Bobby Gurney in 1936.

"When redevelopment in Crowtree Road forced them to move they relocated to premises in Park Lane. Louis’ finally closed in 2018 and the building is to be converted into student apartments.

“The town’s department stores also had their own restaurants and caféterias. The Bear Pit was Binns’ modern take on the restaurant in the 1960s. Diners could watch their meal being cooked by the chef. Scampi with tartare sauce and chips was on the menu for six shillings.

“Today all the famous department stores – Binns, Joplings, Blacketts, Liverpool House and Kennedy’s – have gone. No more Christmas Grottos or presents for children from the stores’ Santa Claus.”

Sinclair’s fish and chip shop on the corner of Gosforth Street in Monkwearmouth.

The book also looks at car dealers from the past and Philip said: “Turvey’s of Holmeside were selling imported motor cars in the 1890s and were still selling the latest models in 1961 when a Mini Cooper could be bought for just under £680.”

In the past a business could trade from the same location for decades but today a shop might have the same owners for only a few years.

"Alex Prosser had a hat shop on the corner of Bedford Street and High Street West at the end of the 19th century until it was taken over by the Caslaw Brothers in 1926 for their tailoring business,” said Philip. “In recent years a sports bar has occupied the premises but now the ‘For Sale’ signs are back up.

“Silksworth Row was at one time a busy shopping area with hairdressers, cafés, drapers and butchers. Shoppers could take a break in one of half a dozen public houses that once stood there. One of only two which has survived is the Museum Vaults.”

A three-wheel bubble car available on hire purchase from Cowies in 1960.

Sunderland Shops, Cafés & Motor Dealers is available from Sunderland Museum, Sunderland Antiquarian Society, Fulwell Post Office, Clay’s Garden Centre and priced at £4.99.

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The Theatre Garage in Low Row – open 24 hours a day.
The shop belonging to Alex Prosser ‘The Hatter’ on the corner of Bedford Street and High Street West.
The Museum Vaults in Silksworth Row.
Cook, Garraway and Nicholson’s drapers shop in Fawcett Street early in the last century. The proprietors advertised themselves as Coo-Gar-Nic.
The front cover of the new book.
An advert for the Bear Pit at Binns from 1962.