Gamblers caves, fussy horses and fruit fights - all in old Sunderland

A postcard sent to Monkwearmouth from a soldier in 1914.
A postcard sent to Monkwearmouth from a soldier in 1914.

In the week before Christmas 1914 a soldier sent a postcard home to Monkwearmouth.

It let his loved ones know that he was still alive and kicking.

The front cover of the book.

The front cover of the book.

The card showed the tent he was sleeping in during a recent snowstorm. He described how it was terribly cold but warm enough once he got dug in.

It’s a real flavour of old Wearside and it is contained in the latest book from Black Cat Publications. It is called Glimpses of Old Sunderland by Billy Dent.

Chris Cordner reports.

Billy Dent has a massive collection of photographs and illustrations.

This was an era when the town had the Old Arcade, Blacketts, Hills bookshop and the shops lining Fawcett Street, Holmeside, Hylton Road, High Street East and High Street West were thrivin

Billy Dent

More than 200 of them have been used in his new book which is a real insight into Sunderland times gone by.

Using these fascinating snapshots, the book takes readers on a journey around everything from Edwardian era bathing machines which spared ladies’ blushes, to the horse from Craven Dairies which only stopped at houses that gave him a treat.

Billy told us: “These glimpses into the past reveal a Sunderland that has radically changed and in parts gone forever.

“The shipyards, potteries, breweries, laundries and paper mills are just a few of the industries that are featured. “Doxford’s, JL Thompson’s, Bartram’s, Laing’s and Robert Thompson’s all have a story to tell.

Halls leather shop in Hendon Road.

Halls leather shop in Hendon Road.

“Logan’s bought in rags, woollens and any kind of metal at their scrapyard in Sheepfolds as well as selling timber from their sawmills at Portobello Lane. Vaux Breweries provided their retailers with special self-addressed postcards for when they ran short of stock before their normal delivery day.”

Continuing on the card theme, a promotional card produced by Drury and Son in 1905 advertised their hardwearing clothing line. The company said that their shop occupied Drury’s Corner which is better known as Mackies Corner.

Sunderland was certainly not short of options on the shopping scene.

Billy added: “This was an era when the town had the Old Arcade, Blacketts, Hills bookshop and the shops lining Fawcett Street, Holmeside, Hylton Road, High Street East and High Street West were thriving.”

At one time Hendon Road was one of the busiest shopping areas in Sunderland. With almost everything available on their doorstep there was hardly a need for locals to venture into the town centre.

The old road had tripe preparers, haberdashers, butchers, hairdressers, clothes dealers, fish shops, dairies, bakeries, china and earthenware merchants.

There were leather stores and post offices and grocers by the dozen. For those needing a rest from shopping there was always the Hendon Hotel, New Shades, Salutation Hotel, White House and Queen’s Hotel, all in Hendon Road.

There was entertainment to be had at Roker and Seaburn such as the Pierrot troupes which gave performances beside Holey Rock.

Until it was demolished in the 1930s, Holey Rock’s caves were used by gambling schools to avoid detection by the police. Seaburn had the Fun Fair with the Big Dipper, dodgems, ghost train and waltzer.

Seaburn Hall held dances, during the summer whole families moved into Seaburn Camp and in the 1950s the resort had its own roller skating rink.

The Savoy Electric Theatre was a pioneer of early moving pictures and later children’s cinema clubs at the Regent, ABC and Odeon had boys and girls going ‘along each Saturday morning greeting everybody with a smile’.

Entertainment also came from bands and troupes which gave regular performances. They included the Sunderland Rescue Minstrel Troupe, Millfield Salvation Army Songsters, Lucas’ Roker Park Orchestral Band and Joe Arrowsmith’s East End Ragtime Band.

Some of the more unusual stories in the book include the Hush-Hush locomotive that travelled through Sunderland in the 1930s, a Navy pulpit donated by officers and crew of a flotilla, and the day the fruit flew when Tynesiders tried to muscle in on the ‘Barra Boys’ in Union Street.

Glimpses of Old Sunderland is available from Waterstone’s, Sunderland Museum, Sunderland Antiquarian Society and www.summerhillbooks.co.uk. It is priced at £4.99.