How 1960 spelled the end of the line for the ‘world’s oldest railway’

End of Hetton railway line in November 1960.
End of Hetton railway line in November 1960.
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Nostalgia writer Sarah Stoner today looks at life on Wearside in 1960.

IT was the end of the line for a historic railway in 1960 – when Hetton Colliery mineral line “ceased to exist”.

Shoppers in Fawcett Street December 1960.

Shoppers in Fawcett Street December 1960.

The last 90 feet of track, between Hetton and North Moor, was lifted by a team of workmen on November 15 – putting an end to the “oldest railway in the world.”

A small section of line, ‘at the Sunderland end’, remained in used until June 20, 1972 – allowing coal wagons to reach a Railway Row coal depot from the South Docks.

The year 1960 also saw Wearsiders clear the shelves of copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – after book firm Penguin finally won the right to publish the full story.

D.H. Lawrence’s sexually explicit novel had first been printed in Italy in 1928, then Paris the next year. Only a censored version, however, was available in the UK.

Sunderland Parish Churchyard  June 1960.

Sunderland Parish Churchyard June 1960.

“In Sunderland there were no mass displays of the book, and it was only supplied to people who ordered it in advance,” reported the Echo on November 10.

“Inquiries made of booksellers in Sunderland showed that between 400 and 500 orders had already been placed, but supplies are expected to be scarce for weeks.”

Other news in 1960 included a strike at Pallion-based Hepworth Tailors, with staff walking out in support of a sacked sock cutter who lost his job over union activities.

A mystery explosion left Wearside shaken in August, although no cause was found, and Durham’s Big Meeting was condemned as a “disgraceful orgy of drunkenness”.

The claims, made by Rev G.J.C. Marchant, vicar of St Nicholas’s Church in Durham, were featured in his parish magazine.

The angry vicar even added: “From our vantage point in the city we can see a happy, gay morning quickly tun into a grim afternoon and evening.”

“When the banners and many of the miners have departed, the rest of the day is left to other elements of society to abuse the permissions traditionally given to workers.”

It was the end of Ayre’s Quay Mission in Depford this year too, and Sunderland’s last remaining farm – Thornhill – was auctioned off, with the land earmarked for housing.

But shipyard workers made history, after four ships – Thistleroy, Canterbury Star, the Flying Witch and the Flying Wizard – were launched within 48 hours in June.

And the biggest ship then to have been built on the Wear, the 18,105-ton ore carrier Longstone, was launched at Austin and Pickersgill on August 24.

Sadly, the year ended on a tragic note, when hundreds of animals across Sunderland had to be slaughtered in November – after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.