Sunderland school days memories + SLIDESHOW

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The focus is on a Wearside school today. Nostalgia writer Sarah Stoner takes a look.

A TREASURE trove of photographs documenting one of Sunderland’s oldest schools has been unearthed.

LEARNING THROUGH PLAY: Youngsters at St Benet's in the 1940s.

LEARNING THROUGH PLAY: Youngsters at St Benet's in the 1940s.

Retired engineer Peter Davidson has spent years collecting photos of his former school, St Benet’s RC in Monkwearmouth, and today we publish a selection of the gems.

“I followed in the footsteps of my two older sisters to attend St Benet’s, starting at the age of about five and staying until I was 15,” said Peter, of Fulwell.

“I started collecting the old photos after attending a reunion in 1994. That inspired me and, when I’ve attended other reunions, the pictures are always popular if I bring them along.”

Records relating to the parish of St Benet’s date to mid-Victorian times and, in 1851, a school chapel was built for local Catholics in Monkwearmouth.

By the time young Peter started at St Benet’s, the school was almost 100 years old – having survived a devastating Zeppelin attack which blew out its windows in 1916.

“I was born in Jarrow, but moved with my family to Roker when I was three-months-old,” he said. “This was at the start of 1941, when Sunderland was suffering a great deal of bombing.”

Peter grew up in a rented house in Park Gate. His father, Lance, ran a grocer’s shop in Crowtree Road for several years, but sadly died when his son was just six.

“I had started St Benet’s the year before, following my sisters,” said Peter. “I still remember the big coal fires in the classrooms, with milk bottles piled up in front to defrost.

“I also remember having to walk along Portobello Lane to the swimming baths in Newcastle Road, as well as to Seaburn to play football in all weathers, as we didn’t have our own field.

“Miss Henderson was my first teacher – she was a very nice lady. Then there were Mr Scales, Miss Carty and Mr Crow – who has since died – who taught a bit of everything.”

Peter also recalls several nuns who helped to run St Benet’s, including teacher Sister Clare and her colleague Sister Clement – who was head of the school.

“I didn’t really have a favourite lesson, although I did enjoy the sport!” he said.

Peter left school soon after his 15th birthday, taking up a job as an apprentice electrician at Cole’s Cranes. He was to stay with the firm until 1993, when it sadly closed.

“It was a good place to work, and I made a lot of friends there who I still see,” he said. “It was sad to see the firm close. I had many happy years there.”

Peter attended his first St Benet’s reunion just a year after the closure of Cole’s and, after asking other ex-pupils for help in tracing old photos, his collection has kept on growing.

“I don’t have a favourite photo, not really. It is just nice to look through them now and again and remember those times and the people you knew,” he said.

l Do you have old school photos you would like to share with Echo readers? Contact Sarah Stoner via email on