Flooding, AT-ATs, and the demise of Doxford Engine Works

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A WORLD-FAMOUS Wearside engine firm ground to a halt in 1980. Doxford Engine Works – hailed as “one of the greatest of all great names in marine engineering” – finally closed its doors after 102 years.

The decision was described as “scandalous” by Bill Porter, of the General and Municipal Workers Union, who added: “I am disgusted.”

VISIT: Margaret Thatcher visits Pawson's clothing factory, Pallion, in 1980 - and watches Alice Allen, of Houghton, at work.

VISIT: Margaret Thatcher visits Pawson's clothing factory, Pallion, in 1980 - and watches Alice Allen, of Houghton, at work.

Engines produced by Doxford helped power many of Britain’s merchant ships in World War Two – with other milestones including the Seahorse and 58JS3 engines.

“This is one of the blackest days Sunderland has ever experienced,” said Mr Porter. “I believe the Doxford engine is still one of the most efficient in the world.”

Other Wearside news in 1980 included the closure of Bursgreen Ltd at Fencehouses, and the introduction of concessionary travel passes for bus passengers.

“There were angry scenes in Sunderland and Washington, two of the four distribution points, with many people having to queue for hours for a pass,” reported the Echo.

“The switch-over to a new type of bus pass, requiring photographs to be taken of up to 45,000 travellers, has been described as a necessary, but “massive”, operation.”

Staff at Sunderland’s Public Works Department built a house in record time in March 1980, as a direct challenge to Michael Heseltine, Secretary of State for Environment. Workmen developed the property, within the grounds of Thorney Close School, in just 10 working days – with school caretaker John Collins the delighted new tenant.

“Heseltine’s constant criticism of direct labour organisations being inefficient prompted us to complete the job quickly,” said Public Works chairman Joe Bartley.

Bosses at Sunderland Football Club applied to turn a half-mile stretch of land behind Roker Park into an extensive training ground in this year too – without success.

And Houghton’s main subway was closed due to flooding in August. The subway, linking the bus station and shopping area, had to be pumped out by council staff.

The year 1980 also saw the old coal staiths at Seaham Docks demolished, while Whitburn Hall – a 16th century landmark – was bulldozed to ‘make way for progress.’

“It was once the stately home of the Williamson family, but was sold to a private developer in 1961, who planned to pull it down and build flats,” reported the Echo.

“The hall fell into disrepair, however, after villagers protested against the plans and it became a magnet for thieves and vandals. As repair bills soared, it was demolished.”

Plans to close the Domtar paper-making mill in Hendon were announced in 1980 too, with almost 400 staff affected by the decision – described as “a shock to everyone.”

And angry fishermen blockaded Sunderland’s harbour entrance on August 21, to protest against “unfair fishing laws” following the seizure of nets by water officials.


FANS celebrating the centenary of Sunderland AFC had just one wish during the 1979/80 season – a return to the top flight.

And two superb goals by Kevin Arnott and Stan Cummins against West Ham on May 12 finally sent Sunderland roaring back.

“Sunderland are back in the First Division after three seasons in the soccer wilderness,” wrote Echo sports pundit Geoff Storey.

SAFC’s managerial team of Ken Knighton and his assistant Frank Clark immediately pledged to make sure there were no slip-ups.

“I will make sure we stay there,” said Knighton. “The sky is the limit and we must build on what we have achieved.

“I have brought in better players than what we had to win promotion, and if it means buying again to stay up, then I will do.”

It was widely believed that Sunderland were already “better equipped for success” than when they won the Second Division in 1976. Fans just hoped to see an end to a crippling run of injuries which had battered the team – including the loss of skipper Mick Docherty.

•Sunderland were to enjoy five seasons in the top flight after winning promotion, with Gary Rowell the top scorer for three seasons.

Film and TV

A FUTURE Wearside TV star was celebrating in 1980 – after winning a place at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Melanie Hill, 18, of Wearmouth Drive, battled it out against 1,600 young hopefuls for one of just 21 places available at the country’s top drama school.

The Monkwearmouth Comprehensive schoolgirl went on to win the Vanburgh award at RADA – and then made her name playing Aveline in the BBC sitcom Bread.

Also in this year the British record for a TV audience for a film was set, when James Bond offering Live and Let Die attracted 23.5million viewers for ITV.

The first episode of the political sitcom Yes Minister was screened this year too, and Violet Carson made her last appearance as Ena Sharples in Coronation Street as well.

Other TV highlights included the launch of Children in Need, the 20th anniversary of the first episode of Coronation Street and the unveiling of plans for breakfast TV.

Several new shows hit our screens too, including Hi-de-Hi, Juliet Bravo, Newsnight, Family Fortunes, Play Your Cards Right, Take the High Road and The Gentle Touch.

Over on the big screen, the Star Wars space opera saga was back with a vengeance in 1980 with the second in the series – The Empire Strikes Back – released.

The film received mixed reviews from critics initially, but went on to earn more than $538million worldwide – sending it straight to the top of the box office hit list.

Today the film – now known as Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – is considered by critics to be the best film in the franchise.

British films also enjoyed global popularity, including The Awakening, Babylon, The Elephant Man, Dogs of War, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and The Monster Club.

Oscars: Best Picture – Ordinary People. Best Actor – Robert De Niro, Raging Bull. Best Actress – Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter.