Amazing discovery reveals a tragic part of Sunderland’s past

Naomi and Sharon Vincent, from Sunderland Antiquarian Society, inspect the ledgers.
Naomi and Sharon Vincent, from Sunderland Antiquarian Society, inspect the ledgers.
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A treasure trove for historians has been revealed in a Sunderland store room.

Ledgers and records were discovered when Carter and Son’s Funeral Directors closed its doors for the last time earlier this year.

The former Highfield Institute and Workhouse.

The former Highfield Institute and Workhouse.

It brought an end to more than 100 years of service to the people of Hendon and Grangetown.

Norman Kirtlan, from Sunderland Antiquarian Society, takes up the story.

Carter’s employee Naomi Joan Corvin was the person who came upon the store room.

Naomi had stumbled upon the original ledgers covering the years from 1922, when Carter’s opened on Gray Road in Hendon, up until its amalgamation with the Co-op.

One widow begs Mr Carter for more time to pay for her husband’s funeral. She tells of being foot sore trying to find money and offers ten shillings a week. The bill was eventually settled, so the poor soul must have eventually managed to ease her conscience

Norman Kirtlan

Carter were taken over by the Co-op Funeral Service some years ago,

Carter also had premises in Rowlandson Terrace as well as others which were found in Mainsforth Terrace where in the 1890s, James Septimus Carter was a funeral furnisher. It was a career that developed from his skills as a joiner.

Naomi’s discovery led to numerous artefacts being found.

Norman told Wearside Echoes: “There are records showing the burials of those Hendon men and women who were killed during German air raids in the Second World War.

A letterhead from 'Carter's.

A letterhead from 'Carter's.

“An unknown Polish airman is also recorded.”

Norman added: “Of particular interest are those entries relating to Highfield Institute – the former workhouse which would later become the Sunderland Royal Hospital, and which still has ‘Cottage Home’ buildings once occupied by orphaned and destitute children.

“Carter had a contract with the Matron, Mrs Everdell, who worked at the Institute during the years before and during the War.

“The deaths are recorded of many poor children and elderly adults who died during their stay at the Workhouse.”

Another tragic aspect of the records has also been revealed and Norman explained more.

“Further examination of the earlier ledgers highlighted the days before compulsory registration of stillborn babies, which came into being in 1927.

“Funerals carried out by Carter between 1922 and 1927 may be the only record available of sad and sometimes tragic events in a family’s past.

“One entry, in 1922, records the death of triplets born to a family in Mordey Street, Hendon. The children tragically died within a few days of each other.”

Evidence of families struggling with finances also emerged in the fascinating find.

Tragically, some people found it really hard to raise the money to bury a loved one.

Norman said: “Among the ledgers are many letters and bills, some of them reflecting difficult times when customers could not afford to pay costs for their relatives’ burials.

“One widow begs Mr Carter for more time to pay for her husband’s funeral.

“She tells of being foot sore trying to find money and offers ten shillings a week. The bill was eventually settled, so the poor soul must have eventually managed to ease her conscience.”

After receiving permission to pass on the ledgers, Naomi contacted Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

Norman said the society’s members were “delighted to add them to their incredible archive of Sunderland’s history.

“The ledgers will be available to visitors to the Douro Terrace Heritage Centre and will of special interest to those researching their family history.

“Each ledger contains an index of names at the front, followed by entries showing the name of the family concerned and details of funeral arrangements and place of burial.”

The intricately detailed records show entries which mostly relate to the Hendon and Grangetown areas.

But Norman added: “All areas of the city are covered; the records even showing funerals carried out in Weardale, such was Carter’s popularity.”

Sunderland Antiquarian Society was founded on November 21, 1899, and held its first meeting on February 1, 1900.

It is based at 6 Douro Terrace and open on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 9.30am and noon. Find out more at www.sunderland-antiquarians.org