A sad goodbye but Sunderland group will be fondly remembered

The munitions factory at Bonners Field Monkwearmouth in 1924.
The munitions factory at Bonners Field Monkwearmouth in 1924.
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In its near 30-year journey, a history group amassed a huge array of Sunderland memories.

From photographs to written accounts, the Monkwearmouth Local History Group compiled all sorts of reminders of times gone by.

The staff at Macs Crisps in Monkwearmouth in the 1950s.

The staff at Macs Crisps in Monkwearmouth in the 1950s.

But as changes happened, the group had to close for the last time.

The good news, however, is the rich heritage which was recorded gy group members has been preserved and handed to Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

Antiquarian Philip Curtis takes up the story.

One of the city’s most popular history societies, The Monkwearmouth Local History Group, has sadly closed its doors for the final time.

The popularity and interest in the history of the area grew to such an extent that regular exhibitions of photos of the ‘Barbary Coast’ were regularly held in the library as well as the local schools.

Philip Curtis

The group was well known for documenting the heritage of Sunderland’s old ‘Barbary Coast’ area.

Just take a look at some of these photographs. They are a wonderful example of the area’s past, whether it was the photos of the workers in the munitions factory, or staff at Macs Crisps,

It met fortnightly in Monkwearmouth Library but, with the closure of the premises, it was forced to find an alternative venue.

With no suitable premises available locally the group met briefly in Roker Methodist Church but the movement from home in Monkwearmouth was not successful and as a result it was reluctantly agreed to close.

But let’s look back at 28 years of highlights.

The group was formed in March 1988 following a visit to the library a few months earlier of a local man.

Paddy Tench had taken in two aerial photographs of the area and they were an absolute hit. These created such a great deal of interest that the idea of a small exhibition grew.

This was held in January 1989 and helped to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the library in Church Street.

From the interest which was created, a meeting was held in March 1989 and the Monkwearmouth Local History Group was formed.

It was pretty much an instant success, as Philip explains.

Almost immediately, donations of old photographs as well as written accounts of memories from Barbary Coasters began to pour in and an archive quickly began to develop.

The group produced its first publication, which was Monkwearmouth Memories, in 1989.

This proved so popular that a further three volumes eventually followed.

The popularity and interest in the history of the area grew massively.

In fact, it increased to such an extent that regular exhibitions of photos of the ‘Barbary Coast’ were held,

They took place in the library, local schools, and were supplemented by lectures and slide shows led by members, Frank Dembry and Archie Donaldson.

Such tireless work led to generous donations to local charities including the RNLI and Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust.

In September 1992, the group published the story of Monkwearmouth Ropery. It was titled Angels With Dirty Faces, written by founder members Maxwell Deas.

The group became involved in a project to help retain some of the heritage of the area.

It helped persaude the local authority to include some of the original street names in the new housing in North Sands.

The group also funded the erection of a monument on the riverside outside the National Glass Centre to illustrate the sites of the old shipyards on the river.

On closure, the group agreed that its funds should be distributed between five Sunderland charities with each receiving £1000.

Over its twenty eight years the society built up a substantial archive of Monkwearmouth and its people.

This has now been transferred to the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

By doing this, the Antiquarian Society is able to ensure the history and heritage of old Monkwearmouth is kept alive and available to future generations of Wearsiders.