Capturing the past for the future

RICH HERITAGE: Three of the city's famous industries, from brewery workers, below, glassmakers and miners. Bottom, Harry Collinson at work on his beloved clocks and watches in the 1980s.
RICH HERITAGE: Three of the city's famous industries, from brewery workers, below, glassmakers and miners. Bottom, Harry Collinson at work on his beloved clocks and watches in the 1980s.
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Can you help build a snapshot of life in bygone Sunderland? Feature writer Sarah Stoner takes a look at a new nostalgia project.

AN appeal was today launched to help capture Wearside’s rich industrial past for the future.

 Photographer Marie Gardiner is hoping to document the changing face of Sunderland through a website project focussing on post-war careers.

 But first she needs the help of Wearside Echoes readers – to come forward with tales of life in the city’s shipyards, mines, factories and breweries over the decades.

 “I am hoping to interview the Mackems who played a major part in the success of Sunderland from the 1950s onwards,” said Marie, of Wheels of Joy Photography.

 “Whether that was through the heavy industries of shipbuilding and mining, or by educating and entertaining the masses – I’m interested in everyone’s stories.”

 Sunderland was once hailed as the largest shipbuilding town in the world, with thousands of wood, iron and steel ships built on the River Wear from at least 1346.

 Indeed, during World War Two the yards launched 245 merchant ships – winning Royal and political praise for keeping Britain supplied with food and essential items.

 But competition from overseas saw orders for Wear-built ships starting to tumble in the post-war era. The last shipyard in Sunderland closed on December 7, 1988.

 Wearside’s coal-mining heritage also dates back centuries and, at its peak in the 1920s, almost 200,000 miners were employed within the County Durham coalfield.

EARLY YEARS: Harry Collinson at work on his beloved clocks and watches in the 1980s.

EARLY YEARS: Harry Collinson at work on his beloved clocks and watches in the 1980s.

 Yet again, however, demand dipped in the post-war years and mines started closing. The last shift left Wearmouth on December 10, 1993 – ending 160 years of history there.

 Other industries lost since the war include Vaux Beweries and all of the city’s glass manufacturers – including the Pyrex site, which finally closed in 2007.

 Today the banks of the River Wear no longer ring with the sounds of shipbuilders and dockyard workers – but memories of that time will live on through Marie’s website.

 “The aim of The People Who Mackem project is to document local post-war careers, using interviews and photos to record how the city has evolved over time,” she said.

 “As a ‘born and bred’ Mackem, I have strong links to Sunderland and feel able to tell the stories of the area with a deep understanding of what it means to be a Wearsider.”

 Marie is planning to record the experiences of at least ten Wearsiders for the project, with the interviews to be featured in a special section on the Wheels of Joy’s website.

 Then and now photos of the interviewees will also be included, together with pictures highlighting the rapid changes in the city’s heavy industries since the end of the war.

 “I will be working closely with Sunderland Antiquarian Society and other local heritage groups to produce detailed, but accessible, accounts of post-war life,” said Marie.

 “This is a project I feel very passionate about, because Sunderland is my home town and I want to make sure that the area’s amazing industrial heritage is never forgotten.”

* Marie can be contacted by phone on 07580 291 488 or by email at marie@wheelsofjoy.co.uk. Her website addres is: www.wheelsofjoy.co.uk

Marie’s hit-list

MARIE has drawn up a hit-list of her 10 most wanted occupations for the project. Do you have a background in any of these – and can you help out?

* Miner

* Shipyard worker/docker

* Pottery/glass worker

* Office worker

* Police officer

* Nurse

* Shop worker

* Brewery worker

* Footballer

* Teacher

The story of the city’s own Time Lord ...

WEARSIDE clock and watch expert Harry Collinson has wound back time to recall his career highlights for The People Who Mackem project.

 Harry, who grew up in Chester Road, was offered three jobs when he left Southmoor Technical College in the 1960s – galvaniser, office boy or apprentice watch maker.

 “I thought office work would be all old men and cobwebs and creaking drawers,” recalls the 62-year-old.

 “But I didn’t fancy being a galvaniser though, as they don’t tend to live very long, so I sort of fell into watch making.”

 After a seven-year apprenticeship, including two years working for catalogue firm Brian Mills, Harry decided to seek his fortune in London.

 But Sunderland proved to be “in his blood” and, after just four years, he returned to his home town in the late 1970s.

 “I worked at Binns when I first came back, as their watch and clock maker. I used to set up all the grandfather clocks. Binns was a special store back then,” he said. When the opportunity to rent premises in Blandford Street came up in 1981, however, Harry decided to take a risk and become his own boss.

 Trade work was his priority at first but, when that didn’t pay the way, he decided to open his doors to regular customers as well.

 “I’m now on the fourth generation of a lot of families as customers. People come in and say, ‘I remember coming in with my mam or granddad’,” he said.

 “I used to fix all the pitman’s watches and pigeon clocks. And so their sons have come in and they’ve had families and then they come in. It’s all about trust.”

 Harry is now instructing his own apprentice in the delicate art of watch mending – using donations of old watches and spare parts provided by customers for the training.

 “Pitmen used to tinker with watches and clocks and, when they pass on, their families kindly donate bits and pieces. You couldn’t go out and buy these bits,” he said.

 “You can buy a watch for 99p, but there’s still a generation out there who need repairs and time keeping.

 “When they come in and ask if it’s worth doing, I say ‘You’re just looking after this and then the next generation will take care of it.’ They’ll be there forever, unlike us.”