MODEL-MAKER Fred Gooch is raising the curtain on Wearside’s vanishing history - with an exhibition featuring lost city buildings in miniature.
Scale models of several iconic structures - from the much-lamented Town Hall to the original Winter Gardens - will be displayed at Bede Tower as part of Local History Month.
Taking centre stage, however, will be a replica of the Victoria Hall - the latest building to be immortalised in perspex and glass by the former Sunderland Shipbuilders worker.
“The hall’s rich history is overshadowed by the terrible tragedy of June 16, 1883, when 183 children were crushed to death racing to claim a free toy during a variety show,” said Fred.
“But, although the deaths should never be forgotten, it would be unfair to remember the hall just for that reason. It did, in fact, help entertain and inform generations of Wearsiders.”
Designed by the architect G.G. Hoskins, with financial backing from the Backhouse family, the Victoria Hall opened on January 8, 1872, amid a fanfare of welcoming applause.
Statesmen, suffragettes, evangelists, musicians, campaigners, politicians and archbishops were among the great and the good to stand on its stout platform over a 70-year period.
And, in 1901, it was even chosen to host the first moving picture shows in Sunderland - with people queuing up and down Laura Street for a glimpse at the new “moving magic”.
“It was built as a concert hall and helped entertain tens of thousands of Wearsiders over the years with plays, shows, variety events and musical evenings,” said Fred, from Pallion.
“Yes, it is remembered for a tragic event, but it should also be remembered with pride. Many great people, from Winston Churchill to Emily Pankhurst, spoke at that theatre.”
Fred’s passion for modelling was sparked by making kit planes as a boy. Later, as a shipyard buyer, he was inspired to create replicas of the boats he watched built.
Models of the Cedarbank, Radiant II and Superflex ferry Alfa were among his first creations - landing him a dream job working on a 30-metre long model of a Trident missile-carrying submarine.
And, although not on such a grand scale as the Trident, his 1:100 model of the long-gone Victoria Hall has none-the-less benefited from hundreds of hours of devoted attention.
“I always enjoy a challenge, and this certainly gave me one. Finding photos of different angles of the building proved quite difficult but, although hard going, it was fun,” said Fred.
The model-maker’s creations are usually stored away in a spare bedroom but, next week, he will be dusting them down for a display at Bede Tower, in Burdon Road, on May 11 and 12.
The free exhibition is being held as part of Local History Month, from 10am until 4pm each day, and has been organised by architectural historian Dr Michael Johnson.
“This display concentrates on buildings that have been lost due to redevelopment or wartime bomb damage,” said Michael, co-author of The Architecture of Sunderland, 1700-1914.
“Painstakingly recreated from archival photographs and architectural plans, Fred’s models give a unique glimpse of these lost treasures.”
The rise and demise of the Victoria Hall
THE Victoria Hall played a unique role in the social life of Wearsiders for over 70 years - before falling victim to a bombing raid in World War Two.
The great and the good of British politics, music and drama performed at the theatre over the decades - yet the disaster of June 16, 1883 - when 183 children died - always hung over it.
“The hall closed after the tragedy, but was eventually re-opened with new doors that opened outwards in the event of another crush - a safety feature still law today,” said Fred.
“However, many people now disliked the hall and the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 - after whom it was named - offered a golden opportunity to revamp the building.”
Sunderland Corporation bought the hall just a few years later, for £8,000, and spent a further £30,000 on enlarging the theatre.
It was then re-opened on November 7, 1906, playing host to dozens of stars over the next four decades, until the war brought about its demise.
The hall was the scene of many political campaigns, including a three-night debate between Echo founder Samuel Storey and Mr J.M. Robertson on tariff reform versus free trade.
Winston Churchill also spoke there in 1920, when he famously told the audience; “Labour is not fit to govern at this time.”
Other political leaders to take to the stage included Asquith, Baldwin and Lord Halifax. The hall was also a shrine for first-class concerts - including one by Sir Edward Elgar.
“Celebrities such as Howard Holt, Melba, Pachmann, Backhaus, Madam Patti, Albert Sammons and Bratza all drew the crowds to the Victoria Hall too,” said Fred.
“And, for three years after World War One, many London show were staged there, bringing stars such as Henry Baynton, Owen Nares, Sidney Fairbrother and Iris Hoey.”
Lectures, church meetings, bazaars and even flower shows were held at the Victoria Hall too, but, by the time of World War Two, it popularity was on the wane.
Indeed, when the hall was bombed by Hitler’s Luftwaffe in 1941, the Echo referred to it as a White Elephant, although the article did add:
“Whatever its faults, the Victoria Hall has had a history. It more than fulfilled its position of being the town’s civic hall. For its past glories, its loss should be lamented.”