A LITTLE shop at the heart of a historic community is the focus of today’s Wearside Echoes.
ONE woman’s quest to restore a rundown Wearside store to its former Georgian glory has won the support of heritage enthusiasts across the globe.
Pauline Sirrell launched an appeal to track down the history of her shop – Northolm Pet Supplies at 18a Nesham Place in Houghton – through the Echo in 2012.
Her plea for help sparked an avalanche of worldwide interest via the internet - and now a project exploring the rich history of the surrounding area has been launched too.
“I originally hoped to track down photos, information or any documents relating to my shop, as I wanted to use them as a guide to restoring the frontage,” she said.
“Sadly, I’ve yet to come across any vintage images, but the response to the appeal has been amazing. People from around the world have offered to help with research.
“We’ve ended up with a two-pronged project - one concentrating on the history of the shop, and the other, Houghton Now, charting the history of Nesham Place.”
Investigations into the background of 18a have so far revealed that the site may originally have formed part of the garden of nearby private house 18 Nesham Place.
Pauline believes her little store was built in around 1926/7, just before the Great Depression, as an “infill building” - to help bring more shoppers into Nesham Place.
“It is possible it was originally run as a pharmacy, as a chemist lived at No. 18, but little is known about the shop’s early years - despite hours of research,” said Pauline.
“It had been run as a television store by William Woods before I took it on in 2008, and before that it was used as a butcher’s shop by the well-known Owsnett family.
“It still has its original candy-striped canopy, although it is hanging on by a thread, and it also has a meat locker and grooves in the floor - where the blood drained away.
“I’ve been told that, many year years ago, local people used to go out shooting in the fields around Houghton and brought their rabbits and game to the shop to be sold.”
Very little other information, however, has so far been gleaned from news archives, census records or the internet on 18a - prompting a fresh appeal from Pauline.
“I have to admit that my shop is a bit of an eyesore at the moment, and it would be nice to restore it to its former glory. But I just don’t know what that is, yet,” she said.
“Somehow, in all the old photos I’ve seen, my shop is either cut off - or hasn’t been built yet. If anyone has any memories or pictures, I would love to hear from them.”
Pauline is planning to divide her time between the search for details on 18a and working with the new community group which has been formed from a Facebook group of the same name - Houghton Now.
“The group has hundreds of people, many of which have registered their interest in the project through the Facebook page,” she said.
Pauline’s next step is to apply for Heritage Lottery funding and she added: “Nesham Place was once known as Quality Hill, due to all the grand houses.
“Its historical importance was recognised with conservation status in 1975 and the area has a wealth of history.
“We want to get people of ages exploring the heritage on their doorstep. It will be like putting the pieces of a jigsaw back together.
“There are so many avenues to investigate, such as former owners and their homes. Every building has a story to tell, including my shop. We just have to find them all.”
** Pauline can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone on 0191 5840618 or logging on to the Facebook page at “Houghton le Spring Now.”