Remembering Joseph's, the Sunderland toy store which was a festive hit - until the year it closed at Christmas

It was a firm festive favourite for decades.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 4:55 am

But was Joseph’s your preferred stopping point for Christmas gifts in Sunderland back in the day?

Philip Curtis, from Sunderland Antiquarian Society, joined us to take a look at the history of the store which played a part in so many Wearside lives.

The constantly altering face of inner-city shopping has brought many changes to Sunderland. The main one perhaps being the massive decline of the city’s family-owned shops and businesses.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Taking a look at Joseph's.

One of the most popular was the sports shop in Union Street run by the Joseph family.

Joseph’s was founded by Benjamin Joseph Olshowski, the son of Joseph Olshowski, a Jewish immigrant who had arrived on Wearside from Poland in the mid-nineteenth century.

The first shop was opened in 1881 in South Street near the Central Station.

At first, they made and sold horse harnesses and portmanteau, with Benjamin having completed his apprenticeship with a local company of saddlers and harness makers.

Josephs in Holmeside in 1997.

In 1904 Joseph’s moved into larger premises in Union Street in order to have more room for additional lines of goods.

At that time there was a growing clamour for sporting goods as people were beginning to travel more and sporting activities such as football and cricket were becoming increasingly popular as spectator sports.

As a result there was an upsurge in business in the town and the firm prospered.

Ben’s son, Montague, joined his father towards the end of the First World War and, having learned the trade from him, also became expert in the art of tennis racquet making and stringing.

Another view of Josephs store.

In 1928, extensive alterations were made to the Union Street premises and in 1939 further extensions were planned and adjoining properties were in the process of being acquired but then came the Second World War.

On September 5, 1940 Joseph’s had the dubious honour of displaying in their front window a railway truck which, during an air raid, had been blown from the station into their premises.

Sporting equipment and travel goods were strictly rationed during the war period but the firm kept going until the end of hostilities when there was a great upsurge in sporting activities of every description.

Montague’s sons, David and Michael, eventually both joined the business in 1950 and 1953 respectively and the business continued to thrive.

Josephs toy store in November 1976.

In 1960 Joseph’s relocated to larger premises in Holmeside and there began selling toys as well as its large range of sports equipment. Eventually the sports department moved a few doors up Holmeside into premises vacated by Milburn’s.

This shop closed in 1990 but trading carried on in the other premises until Christmas 1997 when Joseph’s closed its doors for the final time after serving Wearside for well over a century.

For those who can not get to its centre in Douro Terrace, the Antiquarian Society also has a fact-filled website with lots of interesting information on the history of Sunderland including a members area with features and photographs.

The Antiquarian Society, which was founded in 1900, holds extensive archives which was amassed and donated by the people of Sunderland.

To find out more, interested people should visit the Antiquarian Society’s Facebook page or website at

And to apply to become a member, email [email protected]

An early view of Joseph's.

Read More

Read More
From the Bear Pit cafe at Binns to Louis' milk bar - a new Sunderland book remem...

Support your Echo and become a subscriber today.

Enjoy unlimited access to all of our news and sport, see fewer ads, experience faster load times, test your brain with daily puzzles and get access to exclusive newsletters.

Your support for our journalism means we can continue telling Sunderland’s stories for generations to come. Click here to subscribe - and click here to get a snapshot of the Echo’s news and sport to your inbox through our email newsletters.

Back to the 60s.
Montague Joseph surveys the train carriage which was blown into the window of his shop during a Second World War air raid.