New book pays tribute to those who made Sunderland great

BATTLE SCENE: The Battle of Trafalgar in which dozens of Sunderland sailors - including Harding Hall - fought.
BATTLE SCENE: The Battle of Trafalgar in which dozens of Sunderland sailors - including Harding Hall - fought.
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Tributes to the people who made Wearside great have been compiled in a new book. Nostalgia writer Sarah Stoner takes a look.

THE great and the good of old County Durham have been officially recognised.

Politician Sir Hedworth Williamson, Trafalgar sailor Harding Hall and genealogist James Corder are just a few of the Wearsiders to feature in Durham Biographies Volume Seven.

Other notables include church worker Emily Marshall, union activist Percy Marshall, Royal photographer William Downey, naturalist Abel Chapman and benefactress Priscilla Beckwith.

“We take a very catholic approach, with a small ‘c’, to who we include in the books,” said Biographies editor Dr Gordon Batho, who sadly passed away last Wednesday.

“We just want to make sure that those who deserve it are given a mention. The collection therefore embraces a wide range of people, from footballers to priests and philanthropists.”

The hugely popular Durham Biographies series was launched back in 2000, following a bequest from David Reid – a former chairman of the Durham County Local History Society.

“He always said it would be nice to publish biographies of people who had made a significant contribution to old County Durham, as defined by the pre-1974 boundaries,” said Prof Batho.

“So we took the idea up when he left us a legacy and between 2000 and 2008 we produced six volumes, featuring approximately 48 people in each book, which proved very popular.

“It actually started as a pilot study, which it was not thought would go to any further lengths. But the books really took off in a big way, and it has been a very worthwhile project indeed.”

A change in publishers, from Durham County Local History Society to Durham History of Education Project, resulted in a two-year delay in the release of Volume Seven.

But, according to Prof Batho, it was worth the wait.

“We feature a great range of men and women in our biographies, and get a lot of very positive feedback from readers,” he said.

“Those featured are people who made a significant, but not necessarily high profile, contribution to the region, or were born in the area, or at one time were resident here.

“A kind reviewer once said this type of book should be done for every county, because it brings attention to people who wouldn’t otherwise be recognised. It is very worthwhile.”

l Durham Biographies Volume Seven costs £10 plus £1.50 postage. Cheques should be made payable to the History of Education Project and sent to the project at: Miners Hall, Red Hill, Durham, DH1 4BB. Further details available on: 0191 370 9941.

The hero of Trafalgar’s long and incredible life

WHEN Harding Hall died at the age of 90 on March 9, 1848, the cause of death was given as “senile exhaustion”.

And little wonder!

Apprenticed to a keelman at 13, he later went to sea and had become master of his own vessel by 1800. At the age of 45, however, he was press-ganged into joining the Royal Navy.

“Wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, engaged in several other battles and shipwrecked to boot, he survived a harsh life,” said biography author Douglas Smith.

Harding had been born in Sunderland’s East End in 1758. His teen years were spent working as a keelman in the coal trade on the River Wear and, in 1790, he married Margaret Brown.

Sadly, Margaret died the following year and the couple had no children. Thus, as a widower with no ties, Harding fell foul of the press gangs which roamed the town’s streets and pubs.

“Press gangs had become increasingly active in North East ports, as war with France had just been declared. Our ports proved their best recruiting grounds outside London,” said Douglas.

Harding, an experienced sailor, was assigned to HMS Colossus. Although pressed into service as an able seaman, he was promoted to Yeoman of the Sheets and then Quartermaster.

“In October 1805 he was to find himself in the thick of battle as 40 ships of the Spanish and French fleet were sighted,” said Douglas, president of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“At 11.30am on October 21 – the day of the Battle of Trafalgar – the Colossus faced the enemy. Fighting alongside the Bellerophon and Achille, they obliged the enemy to surrender.

“But it was not without a heavy price. The Colossus was much damaged and 40 men, including the Master, were killed. Another 160 were wounded – including Harding Hall.”

Harding was sent to Gibraltar to recuperate and, in a letter to his mother, he recalled how the decks were “afloat with blood” and how the ships’ cock had started crowing during battle.

“He made but brief mention of his wounds and no mention of the harsh life of a pressed man. Instead, he exulted in the victory he witnessed, and the excitement of battle,” said Douglas.

Harding later transferred to the Royal William and, the following year, joined the Anson. By now a Quartermaster, he sailed for the West Indies – taking part in the capture of Curacao. Tremendous storms led to the shipwreck of the Anson in 1807, which Harding survived.

He was then transferred to the Bellerophon – the ship which was to take Napoleon into exile.

“Harding was discharged from the Navy due to ill-health in 1814. At 64 he applied to Trinity House for charitable relief and lived for at least 20 years in Assembly Garth,” said Douglas.

“Having been a seaman since 13, subject to the horrors of the impress, to harsh discipline and diet, wounded in battle, shipwrecked and saved from the deep, here he at last found rest.”

Harding died at 15 Robinson Lane on March 9, 1848, and was buried in Sunderland Parish churchyard. The cause of the 90-year-old’s death was given as senile exhaustion.

A man who left an invaluable legacy to the people of Sunderland

HOUR after hour, week after week, year after year – James Watson Corder devoted almost his whole life to researching Sunderland’s history.

As the privately-educated only son of a merchant tradesman, a world of business and money-making opportunities was probably open to him.

Instead, Corder chose to document the lives of Sunderland’s families – leaving behind a unique legacy of 37 manuscript volumes which still intrigue today.

“James Corder deserves to be better known. He was dedicated to his cause,” said Douglas Smith, who has written about Corder in the new book. “He worked and worked and worked.”

Corder spent years searching church records, trade directories, marriage licence bonds and parish registers to compile his books, recording in great detail life in 19th-century Sunderland.

And, as well as documenting the families of Sunderland, he also chronicled the streets, lanes, buildings, church ministers and industries of the town – together with local business people.

In what little spare time he had, Corder served on the Libraries Committee and was also a benefactor to Sunderland Museum – donating pictures and natural history specimens.

He also served as president of Sunderland Antiquarian Society from 1938-39, as well as vice president from 1946-47, contributing articles on Bishopwearmouth and Bainbridge Holme.

Corder eventually retired in the late 1940s, having amassed thousands of pages of historical information. Just a few years later he left Sunderland for Somerset, where he died in 1953.

“After a lifetime of transcribing it is hardly surprising his eyesight began to fail in later life,” said Douglas. “But his volumes of social history were his legacy to the people of Sunderland.”

From hunter to naturalist

From hunter to naturalist

ABEL Chapman’s life was a curious mixture of gore and glory.

As a young man he travelled the globe, shooting big game and birds for pleasure. Trophies from his hunting trips adorned the walls of his home at Silksworth Hall in the 19th century.

In later life, however, Chapman’s passion for wildlife turned from hunting to preservation – helping to set up the Sabi Game Reserve in South Africa and protecting of the Spanish ibex.

“The Chapmans came from Whitby originally and were ship-masters. They were associated with the Quaker Society of Friends,” said Douglas Smith, who has written Abel’s biography.

“However, when they found they could not charter their vessels during the Napoleonic Wars for the lucrative transport of troops without also carrying guns, they faced a dilemma.

“The Friends disapproved of transporting guns and decided they must give them up – or forfeit membership of the Society. The Chapmans decided to stick to their guns instead!”

Abel Chapman, the eldest of six sons and two daughters, was born at Silksworth Hall in 1851 into a long line of sportsmen who were both accomplished hunters and acclaimed naturalists.

His grandfather, Joseph Crawhall, was an accurate grouse shot, as well as a founder member of the National History Society of Northumbria, and his uncle George was an expert shooter.

Abel’s first experiences of hunting were in Northumberland, where he fell in love with nature at the same time as shooting, often making drawings of the birds he saw and shot there.

He went on to develop a life-long interest in birds, animals, travel and adventure, touring the world as part of his work in the wine trade – and penning 11 books on wildlife along the way.

“His reputation as a hunter spread world-wide. Despite this now unfashionable pursuit, it must be said in mitigation he was also interested in wildlife protection,” said Douglas.

“He became a member of the Natural History Society too, was present at the opening of the Hancock Museum in 1884 – and was later to bequeath his specimens to this institution.”

Abel moved to Northumberland in 1898, after retiring from the family firm. He died at his beloved old sheep farm near Wark in 1929, having never returned to Sunderland.