New book 'The Elephant Tea Family' reveals the history of a Sunderland dynasty

The history of a Sunderland family – which made a difference to Wearside life for 150 years – has been published in a new book.
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Sunderland writer Bill Greenwell’s new study is about the Grimshaw family and he created the 200-page publication during lockdown.

The Elephant Tea Family looks at the Grimshaws who were Quakers and whose members came to Sunderland from Yorkshire in 1790.

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One of the first to arrive was John Grimshaw was responsible for the first mechanised ropery, which ended the age-old method of ‘rope-walks’. He also repaired the bridge in 1805, when it was found to be in imminent danger of collapse.

The new book by Bill Greenwell.The new book by Bill Greenwell.
The new book by Bill Greenwell.

John’s brother William Grimshaw took over a grocery in old Sunderland, which his son, another William, inherited.

Its fourth premises were on the corner of High Street and Fawcett Street, and the ‘Hindoo Gothic’ building William Jr commissioned still stands - the Elephant Tea Rooms.

The original business lasted 130 years.

William Jr. also had a cement works in North Hylton, a candle-making factory, a farm, and a carriage works in Union Street.

The Grimshaws in 1870.The Grimshaws in 1870.
The Grimshaws in 1870.
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William’s son Charles Wood Grimshaw took over the businesses, and Charles’s son Alfred later developed Grimshaw, Leather – one of only two firms in Sunderland to sell cars in Edwardian times.

The book explains the connection between these four generations and includes many never-published illustrations. Some of these were discovered in the USA. It also tries to set straight some errors which have crept into the Grimshaw story.

“It was a challenge but also good fun to identify the individuals in the many photographs the Grimshaws took,” said Bill.

Charles Wood Grimshaw’s daughter Marion married the businessman Samuel Tyzack Jr, the first proper treasurer of Sunderland football club, and who persuaded many Scots players to join the team. Tyzack’s story is included in the book.

Charles Wood Grimshaw at 90.Charles Wood Grimshaw at 90.
Charles Wood Grimshaw at 90.
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The book also looks at the lives of all the people who were William Grimshaw’s neighbours in The Cedars between 1865 and 1900, when he died.

To order a copy, contact Bill Greenwell at [email protected]. The book is £12.50 plus £3 postage – although Bill can deliver for free to people who live in Sunderland.

People can also buy the book at Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery’s shop, and from the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

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£350,000 scheme to revamp Sunderland's historic Elephant Tea Rooms
William Grimshaw Junior in 1860.William Grimshaw Junior in 1860.
William Grimshaw Junior in 1860.

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