It was plane exciting during this Sunderland era of change

Schooldays in the Edwardian era.
Schooldays in the Edwardian era.

It was an era when the people of Sunderland saw aeroplanes for the first time.

When cars started appearing on the streets of Wearside, a new bridge and pier was built and people started collecting the old age pension for the first time.

Children at work in Sunderland.

Children at work in Sunderland.

And while it all seems well into the distant past, it was the history which shaped our modern-day city.

Author and historian Trevor Thorne explains more about his new book.

Sunderland Football Club had not long since moved to Roker Park.

It had sold its Scottish international star Andy McCombie to arch rivals Newcastle in a then world record fee of £700.

This was a period when Wearsiders saw an aeroplane fly for the first time, cars were appearing on the town’s streets, a new bridge was built and a new pier completed

Trevor Thorne

It was a time when working class families expected their children to do errands and chores from the age of five – because it trained them for a job in later life.

And the adults? They no longer had to work seven days a week. They could have half a day off.

In other words, it was a time when life on Wearside was anything but dull.

All this and more is contained in a new book by Trevor Thorne, titled Sunderland and the Edwardians.

The Queen Alexandra Bridge under construction.

The Queen Alexandra Bridge under construction.

Trevor explained: “The Edwardian era is often seen as a quiet interlude following Queen Victoria’s death and the start of the Great War.

“It has often been portrayed with images of a long missing pastoral England. It is easy to conjure-up images of ladies wearing elegant white dresses with their long hair piled-up on their heads attending sumptuous dinner or shooting parties.

“In fact, there was arguably as much social and political change during the Edwardian period as took place with the better known post 1945 Atlee Government.”

Trevor’s new book looks closer at events nationally and in our own area during the Edwardian times.

He explained: “It is generally accepted that the era extends from 1901 to 1914, despite Edward VII’s own death in 1910. It is a convenient description for a period in history lodged between the death of the old queen and the declaration of war in August 1914.”

He added: “This was a period when Wearsiders saw an aeroplane fly for the first time, cars were appearing on the town’s streets, a new bridge was built and a new pier completed.

“The old age pension was paid for the first time by a mildly reforming Liberal government.

“Victoria’s death coincided with several groups having the confidence to test the status quo. These included the Suffragettes, Boers and Irish activists.”

Trevor explained why he spotlighted the era for a new publication.

He added: “I wanted to add the Edwardian era to the previous World War One and Twenties and Thirties books so that between them they cover events from 1901 through to 1939.”

On the social side of life, most workers had secured a weekly half-day holiday by the 1890s, and it was usually taken on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon.

But what could they do with that time. There were no televisions or radios.

But Sunderland had plenty of shops selling pianos and other musical instruments.

Card-playing, sewing and reading books such as Sherlock Holmes Adventures were all popular pastimes.

And by the early 1900s, there was the start of a brand new form of entertainment. The wind-up gramophone had arrived.

For others, visiting the pubs of Wearside was a “major pastime of the day”, said Trevor’s book.

This was “evidenced by the 412 drinking establishments of various types which were trading in the town by 1914”.

But the same trend also manifested itself in other ways such as the Sunderland woman who appeared before magistrates for her 163rd conviction of being drunk and disorderly.

On a better note, shops were doing a roaring trade such as the Marks and Spencer’s Penny Bazaar, the Co-operative movement, and the various markets across town.

The early 1900s also saw the appearance of the brand new Queen Alexandra Bridge and the Roker Pier.

Sunderland and the Edwardians is available to buy at Waterstones, Sunderland Antiquarian Society, Clays Nursery in Washington and Haswells Farm Shop at Pittingdon and it is priced £9.99.