A TREASURE trove of telegrams from the 1930s has been unearthed at a Wearside house – built by the person who received the messages.
Now an appeal has been launched to pass on the historic memories – which include tributes from Royalty and civic leaders – to the family of the Victorian businessman.
“Most of the telegrams were sent to Joseph Milner Gibbons and his wife Elizabeth to mark their diamond wedding in 1938,” said Ian Gibbons, of Gibbons International.
“They were discovered during a house clearance at 29 Rowlandson Terrace, and the new owner passed them over to me – believing Joseph could be one of my ancestors.
“But I’ve checked my family tree and there doesn’t seem to be any direct links.
“So I’m hoping Echo readers can help track down the real owners of the telegrams instead.”
Joseph Milner Gibbons, son of carpenter William Gibbons and his Elizabeth, was born at 22 Northumberland Place in 1853 and grew up in long-gone Page Street.
After leaving school, Joseph trained as a bricklayer – later progressing to master mason.
On July 18, 1878 he married his sweetheart Elizabeth Davie and moved to 18 Addison Street.
The couple’s oldest child, Mary Elizabeth, was born a year later, followed by only son Thomas Davie in 1883, Gladys in 1893 and Hilda – the baby of the family – in 1894.
“Joseph is listed in Kelly’s Directory as running a building business from Addison Street in 1883. I believe he was a well respected businessman in the town,” said Ian.
“The Gibbons then moved several times, perhaps as business boomed. For example, they were living at 2 Canon Cockin Street in 1901 – where the firm was also based.
“By the time of the 1911 census, the family were in Seaton Deleval – but they returned shortly after to move into 29 Rowlandson Terrace, which Joseph built for them.
“The house then remained in the family, passing down the generations, until being sold. The telegrams must have been left behind when the last descendent moved out.”
The decades at Rowlandson Terrace brought both happiness and tragedy for the Gibbons – especially as the storm clouds of war were now gathering over Europe.
Indeed, Joseph’s bricklayer son Thomas signed up to fight for King and Country in 1915, serving with both the Royal Engineers and Labour Corps on the battlefields.
“Thomas, then of 125 Canon Cockin Street, was married when war broke out,” said Ian. “He left behind his wife Mary and children Elsie and Thomas to go off to fight.
“He served as a sapper during his time overseas and suffered a gunshot wound to the head in 1917. He survived to return home, but died just a few years later – in 1932.
“By then Thomas was living at 44 Corporation Road and was only 49. He left £1,043 in his will to wife Mary and his father – the equivalent of up to £391,000 today.” Thomas’s baby sister Hilda also died young, passing away in 1922 aged just 28.
Gladys, however, lived until 1968 and Mary was 94 when she died at Rowlandson Terrace in 1974.
The remaining members of the family enjoyed a celebration to remember in July 1938 when Joseph and Elizabeth marked their diamond wedding anniversary.
Telegrams arrived at 29 Rowlandson Terrace from around the world, including one from the King and Queen – who wished the happy couple “hearty congratulations”.
Another was sent from the ship SS Italian Prince – which sank just a few weeks later – and others to pay tribute included the town’s Mayor and Sunderland Yacht Club.
Staff at the firm originally set up by Joseph – by now called T.D. Gibbons and Son – also sent a message of congratulations to the happy couple.
“It shows just how well respected Joseph was,” said Ian.
“After the celebrations were over, the telegrams were pasted into a book – which is what still survives today.
“It is a marvellous collection of family history, and I’m sure it would be treasured by surviving relatives of Joseph and Elizabeth. I’m just glad it didn’t get thrown away.”
Joseph died – aged 87 – at his beloved home at Rowlandson Terrace just two years after the 60th anniversary celebrations. Elizabeth survived until 1944, also dying at home.
A tribute to Joseph in the Echo following his death revealed he had “built much of Hendon district” and only retired from business at the age of 75.
“Joseph left £11,193 in his will – the equivalent of up to £2.4million today,” said Ian. “Among the beneficiaries was Mary Elizabeth Taylor, wife of Hugh Wyld Taylor.
“I would presume this Mary Elizabeth was Joseph’s oldest daughter. I’ve been told that her descendents lived in the house for decades, only selling up a few years ago.
“Builder and contractor Thomas Oliver Gibbons – Joseph’s grandson – also benefited from the will, as did a Norman Thwaites, who was listed as a gas company consultant.”
A search of the ancestry.co.uk website reveals there are likely to be “a handful” of direct descendents of Joseph still alive – mainly great-granchildren of Mary Elizabeth and Thomas.
“It would be marvellous to pass on this book of telegrams to them. It is such a lovely memento of times past,” added Ian.
l If you believe Joseph Milner Gibbons was your ancestor and you would like to claim the book, contact Sarah Stoner via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org