A hard life for drunkards in Sunderland’s past

OLD SCENE: Spring Garden Lane - at around the time Minnie Grey was a resident.
OLD SCENE: Spring Garden Lane - at around the time Minnie Grey was a resident.
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AS Wearsiders prepare to toast the festive season we today raise a glass to the tough stance taken by Edwardians on alcohol-related crime.

TOASTING the festive season with a tipple or two might be a Yuletide tradition – but woe betide any Wearsiders who stepped out of line back in Edwardian times.

Indeed, a blacklist of those dubbed “Habitual Drunkards” was circulated to licensees at pubs across the town - complete with photographs and detailed descriptions.

Anyone caught trying to buy “intoxicating liquor” after being named and shamed was immediately reported to the police. A hefty fine or jail term usually followed.

“Minnie Grey, of Spring Garden Lane, was one of the first to be blacklisted,” said historian Alan Brett, author of new book Sunderland at Work & Play Volume Four.

“She was no stranger to Sunderland Police Court, as her conviction on March 5, 1903, for being drunk and disorderly, was her 40th appearance before magistrates.

“She was fined 10 shillings plus costs and, as this was her third offence in a year, she went on the blacklist. Her details were then sent to her nearby pub, the Albion.”

It is believed Minnie must have endured a hard life, as the description on her Habitual Drunkard record includes a scar over her right eye and burns to her cheek and jaw.

But, she was also a tough woman. Indeed, she smashed the snug window of the Nelson Hotel in Nile Street with her fist after the manager tried to throw her out.

Her drunken act of vandalism landed Minnie in court yet again - where she claimed the drink had gone to her head after spending a month drying out in Durham Gaol...

“The new Licensing Act, which introduced blacklists for habitual drunkards, came into force at the beginning of 1903,” said Alan, author of several local history books.

“By May 1903, Minnie Grey was one of 11 people on the Sunderland blacklist - eight women and three men - but this did not stop those on the list from obtaining drink.

“Several of the blacklisters were soon before the magistrates yet again for drunkenness and their punishment was the same - fines or imprisonment.”

It was not, however, just drinkers who could fall foul of the law. Licensees - such as Fred Larkin - found themselves in trouble if they sold liquor to a ‘drunken person’.

At around 5pm on December 10, 1908, a man known as Robinson staggered into Minnie’s nearby pub, the Albion - where PC McLelland spotted him drinking stout at the bar.

The landlord, Frederick Larkin, was taken to court over the matter - despite the fact it had been his sister-in-law who served Robinson - and he ended up with a 20s fine.

“William Bell, who was defending Larkin, admitted Mrs Larkin had made a mistake, but claimed the pub was very well run and drunkards were never served,” said Alan.

“Bell believed a conviction should not be recorded, and instead a sum should be put in the Poor Box as a penalty. But the magistrates disagreed, and a fine was imposed.”

Not only was there a blacklist for drunkards, but a blacklist of public houses was also drawn up - and used by police chiefs to cut the number of alcohol trouble spots.

“There were so many pubs in Sunderland at the time, especially around the High Street area, that the police were continually trying to reduce the number,” said Alan.

“Every year, when licences came up for renewal, the police drew up a list of pubs they objected to and wanted closed. Any convictions were used to support their case.”

Just a few years after Fred Larkin’s 1908 brush with the law, he was dragged before the courts again - along with the Albion’s manager - for supplying beer out of hours.

It was, perhaps, this case which sealed the fate of the pub. In February 1923, at the Annual Licensing Meeting (Brewer Sessions), the tavern was condemned to closure.

“The sum of £85 was paid out from the compensation scheme to Peter McKie, who had not long taken over as licensee from Frederick Larkin at the Albion,” said Alan.

“But the main beneficiary was the owner, J.W. Cameron, of Sunderland, who received £1,535 - worth up to £400,000 in today’s money.”

n Details taken from Alan Brett’s new book Sunderland at Work & Play Volume Four, published by Black Cat Publications at £9.99, and on sale now.

Pub snippets

n Vaux Breweries applied for permission for the Three Horse Shoes and Toll Bar to sell ice cream in 1955. The request was denied by Sunderland Rural District Council.

n Former Sunderland player Johnny Campbell managed the Turf Hotel, at the corner of Bedford Street and West Wear Street, until his death from a liver complaint at just 36 in 1906.

n Veterinary surgeon renamed the Borough Tavern in Coronation Street as the Nutwith Tavern after taking over in the 1840s - the name of a horse which won the St Leger in 1843.

nThe Pow Wow in Olive Street was Sunderland’s only licenced restaurant in the 1950s. Drinks were only served with meals - and only up until 11pm.

n The Atlas Inn in High Street East dated from the late 18th century. Owner James Crisp advertised a “splendid glass of ale” in 1869.

nIn the days before betting shops were legalised, the Mason’s Arms in Dunning Street was THE place to gamble - with bookies setting up stalls outside the pub.

nThe original refreshment rooms owned by North Eastern Railways at Sunderland’s central train station were known as The Bricklayer’s Arms. A buffet bar opened after 1965.

n Landlord Matthew Robson bought in 50 newspapers a week for the reading room at his pub - the Albion - in the 1850s.

n Drinking landmark the Rose and Crown, at the corner of Gill Bridge Avenue and High Street West, had to be demolished in 1969 to make way for a new ring road.

n The name of the Fighting Cock Inn, next to Fighting Cock Lane, harked back to 18th century cock fights. The name was later changed to the Grey Horse.