Lost diary of countryside life in Sunderland

BYGONE AGE: East Herrington at the time Harry was a roadman.'
BYGONE AGE: East Herrington at the time Harry was a roadman.'
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A CHANCE discovery has shed new light on countryside life across Wearside at the turn of the 20th century.

Fragments of a diary penned by Harry Shickle, a Herrington roadman for more than 30 years, were recently discovered trapped behind a piece of old furniture.

Now Herrington Heritage Group has published the 17 surviving pages in a booklet – together with additional notes and information by chairman Douglas Smith.

“It is a glimpse, however brief, into village events and local inhabitants, which Harry recorded as he traversed the roads of the four Herrington villages,” he said.

“Some of the names will still be recognised today, but the picture presented in the diary is one that would have been known to our grandparents and great-grandparents.

“It was a time when local happenings had more impact on villagers than those in the outside world. Some events may appear trivial, but this was theirs – and his – world.”

Harry, the second oldest son of dock coal trimmer John Shickle and his wife Frances, was born in Sunderland in 1875 and spent his childhood at 19 Duke Street, Millfield.

At the age of 23 he married his sweetheart Mary Alice Everett, who hailed from Ryhope, and by 1901 the couple were living in East Herrington with two daughters.

“Harry began writing his diary a few years before, in July 1897, when he revealed that he had just started work as a Rural District Council roadman,” said Douglas.

“In the early days of local councils there was much discussion on matters concerning the highways, including street lighting (gas, of course), ashpits and road repairs.

“Harry was to spend his entire working life on road maintenance and such matters and, in his spare time, he jotted down events of local interest as he came across them.

“His diary, although it contains only brief entries, presents a fascinating glimpse into his world – and causes one to muse upon our forebears and the passage of time.”

Harry added to both his diary and family as the years passed, with the 1911 census revealing he and Mary shared their tiny Roseburn Cottage home with six children.

Their eldest child, Violet, had been born in Catchgate in 1899, while second daughter Esther – later a maid at Thorney Close Hall – was born at Bell Farm in 1900.

But, following a move to East Herrington at the turn of the century, their third daughter – Mary Alice – was born at Roseburn, as were Lily, Rose, James, George and Alfred.

“In the 1911 census Harry is described as a roadman and asphalter, but there was so much more to his job than that. Although small, he was a hard worker,” said Douglas.

“From trimming verges at Stoneygate, Catchside and all the Herringtons, to filling in pot holes, sweeping streets, painting white lines and lifting tram rails. He did it all.

“In addition, he also found time – and perhaps extra income – to help out on farms with threshing machines. His HQ was a green cabin opposite where Tesco is now.” Harry continued to write his diary throughout the early decades of the 20th century, although the bloody conflict of the First World War appears to have had little impact on him.

Sadly, his entry of October 12, 1936 – “Started to pull down big house at East Herrington” – is the last legible one. After that, the diary becomes faded and impossible to read.

“It seems strange he doesn’t really mention the Great War, but the only national events he records are the Boer War and the death of Queen Alexandra,” said Douglas.

“His, then, was a small, restricted world – where local happenings had much more impact upon his life than the outside world. I imagine it was like that for many.

“We know there is much more to his diary, but sadly we don’t have those pages. Perhaps someone out there has more fragments. It would be wonderful to hear from them.”

The Second World War certainly had more impact on Harry than the First – although there are no diary entries for this – as two of his sons were killed in the conflict.

The eldest, James, became a leading aircraftman in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, but was tragically torpedoed in 1944. He is buried at Ostend.

Younger brother Alfred left his job in the stables at Silksworth House to join the RAF too – waving farewell to his Wingate-born wife to become a 1st Class aircraftman.

By 1943, however, he was in the hands of the Japanese and died later that year in Singapore. Harry’s final son, George, survived the war – and lived until 1989.

“Harry also enjoyed a long life, finally passing away in 1963,” said Douglas. “He endured tough times and sad times, but his memory will live on through our book.

“If anyone out there has old family diaries from the past, I would appeal to them to let us borrow them. They really can help shed a unique light on our local history.”

•Copies of Harry’s diary – which also includes an account written by James Allen of a “Sentimental Journey through the Herringtons” cost £3 plus £1.50 postage. Contact 522 0517 for further details.

Shock at brutal murder

HARRY Shickle’s diary entry of July 12, 1902, was blunt and to the point – “Wood sent to death”.

These four words did little, however, to describe the tide of emotion which had swept Sunderland after labourer Ernest Wood cut his wife’s throat then tried to kill himself.

The drama unfolded at Fence Houses earlier in that year, when Wood – who worked for Lambton Coal Company Brickworks – had been lodging at 4 Railway Terrace.

“One morning he left the house to go to work as usual, but returned home early and went straight to his wife and accused her of planning to desert him,” said Douglas.

“If they were to part, death alone would be their divider,” Wood declared – before attacking the woman with a large carving knife, cutting her throat from ear to ear.

“Wood then turned his attention to his landlady, Mrs Bruce, who had arrived at the scene after hearing the terrible screams of the victim,” said Douglas.

“He lunged at her with the carving knife, but she put up her arms to save herself, so he only inflicted a small wound on the side of her neck.

“Then he turned the knife on himself, inflicting a severe throat wound and almost severing his windpipe. The commotion alerted a neighbour, Mrs Norman.

“Running into the house, she found Wood in a pool of blood, lying over the prostate body of his wife. He was quite conscious and ready to admit his actions.”

Indeed, in an interview with the Echo, Mrs Norman recalled how Wood had revealed that his father-in-law had persuaded his wife to return to the family home in Penshaw.

This left Wood fuming and he readily admitted to cutting his wife’s throat, adding that he had “done it” because he was determined that death alone would part them.

Within minutes of the attack, Sergeant Scott arrived at the house – quickly sending for Dr Crosthwaite and Dr Foreman. Nothing, sadly, could be done for Mrs Wood.

Wood was dragged before the courts and sentenced to death for the killing but, on July 28, 1902, the punishment was withdrawn – leaving him in prison, but alive.

“Wood received the news of his death sentence reprieve with “evident pleasure” – a move thought to be due to recent repulsive scenes at the scaffold,” said Douglas.

“A botched hanging at Durham Gaol had been widely reported, and the gruesome event led to questions being asked in newspapers about such barbarity.”

Milk cart tragedy

THE tragic death of a Herrington publican in 1906 made headline news in the Echo – but attracted just three words in Harry’s diary “W. Cairns killed.”

Harry obviously cared enough, however, to note the date of poor William’s funeral, but he wrote nothing about his thoughts on the sad incident of October 26.

“William Cairns, the 50-year-old publican of the Board Inn, was killed when riding in a milk cart – after his horse shied when a traction engine passed by,” said Douglas. “The pony accidentally backed the milk cart into the engine, before bolting forward. Mr Cairns was thrown out – and the pony ran over him, as did one cart wheel.”

An inquest into William’s death revealed the landlord had been hitching a lift into town with Messrs Brown Bros milkboy Robert Spoors – who was driving the cart.

As the E.C. Robson and Son traction engine approached, however, the pony appeared frightened. William tried to seize the reigns – only managing to slacken them instead.

The publican suffered a fractured spine during his fall from the cart. He right leg was also shattered, his left foot practically severed and his lower body “badly torn.”

Passer-by John Ferry – grandfather of singer Bryan Ferry – single-handedly lifted the milk cart high enough for poor William to be dragged free of the wreckage.

Sadly, however, he died before arriving at hospital and a verdict of accidental death was returned by the coroner – who stated no-one was to blame for the accident.

Snippets from the diary

June 18, 1909: “W. Bulkeley died.” Colonel HWC Bulkeley, of Thorney Close Hall, served in India with the 106th Regiment Bombay Infantry.

May 7, 1915: “Lusitania. Sunk.” Harry’s first mention of the Great War – the sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania, following a torpedo strike by a German U-boat.

Dec 9, 1917: “Charlton Banks died of wounds.” Bombardier Charlton Banks, a member of the 317th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was from East Herrington.

Nov 11, 1919: “W.A. Weightman buried.” Alderman Weightman, a JP from Hall Farm, was buried in an oak coffin. A huge crowd attended the service.

Jan 2, 1921: “Mr Brown, farmer, died.” Thomas Brown, of Holmelea Farm, died aged 67. He was a noted breeder of beasts and exhibited at many shows.

Sep 9, 1922: “T. Sheriff buried.” West Herrington lad Thomas Sheriff, aged just 19, was killed on the railway at Herrington after being crushed by trucks.

Jan 2, 1924: “Lizzie Taylor burnt.”

No details can be found for a fuller explanation of this incident.

Nov 21, 1914: “Col. Vaux died.” Bishopwearmouth man Colonel Ernest Vaux was awarded a C.M.G for war services. He was instrumental in forming Wearside’s first scout troop.

Feb 8&9, 1926: “Lifted the tram way on Botcherby’s Bank.”

Mar 12, 1935: “Board Inn electric started.”

Oct 12, 1936: “Started to pull down the Big House at East Herrington.” The last legible entry in Harry’s diary – which referred to Herrington House.