Myrtle, 96, looks back on the grand old days of a Sunderland hotel

The Grand Hotel in February 1971.
The Grand Hotel in February 1971.
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Myrtle May Wild has our utmost thanks.

The 96-year-old cast her mind back 77 years to the days when she was a chambermaid at the Grand Hotel in Sunderland, including during the Second World War.

Our bedroom door would open, then shaken with a ‘wakey wakey’ and up we got staff, guests and all went down to the back lounge on the ground floor. We had no air raid shelter, but we were lucky that the hotel was never damaged

Myrtle May Wild

She remembers the ground shaking as bombs dropped.

She remembered the days when cleaning was done with a dustpan and brush – because there were no vacuum cleaners.

And she remembered staff and guests alike heading for cover when the sirens screeched out – to signify the German Luftwaffe were overhead.

Thanks to her, we now have a wonderfully descriptive picture of life inside a Sunderland hotel.

“It was Grand, believe me,” said Myrtle who was 18 at the time when she worked from 7am to 10pm – with a three-hour break in the middle.

Here is her amazing story.

It was September 1939 and the world was at war.

But for Myrtle and the rest of the Grand Hotel staff, the day began like any other.

They all lived in the hotel and were up early. At 7am, Myrtle was up and cleaning the lounge on her floor in preparation for the guests.

“Then we had our breakfast in our staff room at 8am,” she said. “Then off to work on our floors.”

She would often work from 8am to 3pm, enjoy a break, and then be back for the 6pm to 10pm shift.

It was arduous work with 18 bedrooms to clean, 30 stairs to brush, solid wood handrails to polish.

And each Monday, one bedroom would be thoroughly cleaned – right down to the coil springs of the bed. Windows were cleaned inside and out – luckily they swivelled round. Unluckily, they were three storeys high.

The daily routine would certainly have been livened up when Britain went to war.

“The Royal Navy took over the main part of the hotel. The Commander had the blue room, other ranks had the pink and the green rooms. A naval office stood outside of the Commanders door, no-one was allowed into the hotel.

“Staff was not allowed to go near to that part of the hotel.”

The war brought the constant threat of air raids and the Grand Hotel was no exception.

“I remember two of the porters,” said Myrtle, “Eric Pottts and Jackie Coughlin, they both lived in Houghton. If the siren went off, either one of them who was working that night would waken the staff and the guests.

“Our bedroom door would open, then shaken with a ‘wakey wakey’ and up we got staff, guests and all went down to the back lounge on the ground floor. We had no air raid shelter, but we were lucky that the hotel was never damaged.”

She remembers the night Binns was bombed.

“The hotel manage Mr Shillito volunteered to help the Fire Brigade. He was out with all of the firemen.

“The water was led from the River Wear under the Town Bridge, through big rubber hoses along North Bridge Street and along Fawcett Street to put the fires out.

“The firemen worked all through the night to get the fires out and Mr Shillito brought all the firemen into the Grand Hotel. They were all dishevelled, tired, dirty and weary. Mr Shillito shouted “open the back lounge bar and give all these men not only double rums but treble rums. They deserve it for the way they have worked all night”.

One night, the Victoria Hall in Toward Road was bombed.

“We all heard the ground vibrations, but the Grand Hotel was missed,” said Myrtle.

Myrtle got in touch with us after our original article from Philip Curtis of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

He told how the good and the great who stayed at the Grand included the Hollywood cowboy of the silent films, Tom Mix; Prime Minister Harold Macmillan; novelist and playwright JBPriestley and The Beatles.

Myrtle told us: “I do remember one act that came to the Sunderland Empire, Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane. They were excellent and acted as Old Mother Riley and her daughter.”

And even though they were hard times, she remembered the seven cinemas, seven large clothes shops including Defty’s and Jane Jones.

Myrtle celebrated her 96th birthday yesterday.

We thank her for her wonderful present of fantastic memories shared with us.