Wearside Echoes: How Sunderland celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

King George V chats to a Sunderland shipyard worker during a visit to Sunderland.
King George V chats to a Sunderland shipyard worker during a visit to Sunderland.
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TODAY we begin the countdown to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations with a look at how Wearside celebrated another Diamond Jubilee - Queen Victoria’s.

THE sun shone down on streets filled with flags, banners and streamers as Wearside celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee on June 22, 1897.

Illuminations spelling out Nil Desperandum, Loyal Sunderland and God Save the Queen decorated the Town Hall, while streamers festooned Fawcett Street and the surrounding streets.

The Liberal Club, Constitutional Club, Sunderland Museum and park bandstands were all a mass of colour too, while Wearsiders sported cheerful ribbons and rosettes to mark the event.

“Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 60 years, and the people of Sunderland made a real effort to celebrate in style,” said Douglas Smith, president of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“Babies in their prams were dressed in red, white and blue, and one or two dogs could be seen wearing ribbons or rosettes on their collars. Shipping in the river also displayed bunting.”

Wearsiders in their thousands packed Roker beach from early in the morning, with the unfinished pier being opened to the public and brass bands playing in the nearby streets and parks.

A Jubilee Tea was held at Monkwearmouth Hall for pensioners, while sailors from Assembly Garth and Trafalgar Square enjoyed a reception at the Seamen’s Hall – and a present of some tobacco.

The inmates of Union Workhouse were presented with Jubilee medals, as were youngsters at the Orphan Asylum in the East End, and a tea for 400 children was held at Malings Rigg Chapel. Other events included a Dispensary Carnival – which saw a procession of 150 cycles, as well as carriages and trade exhibits, leave Newcastle Road at 3pm en-route to Fawcett Street.

Sporting contests at Hendon attracted the crowds too, as did a carnival at Fulwell.

The largest crowds, however, gathered in Fawcett Street as darkness fell, to watch the illuminations switch-on.

“The crowd was entertained by a band playing in front of the Athenaeum. The National Anthem and Rule Britannia seemed to be played constantly,” said Mr Smith.

“Once the lights were on, the crowds surged towards the Town Hall and a crush began. Women were screaming and a few fainted. Thankfully, no-one was trodden upon and order soon resumed.”

Wearside’s Jubilee celebrations concluded with the lighting of bonfires around the town – the largest being at Tunstall Hill and Fulwell, where Sir Hedworth Williamson provided the material.

As the day came to an end, the Mayor left to catch a train to London, for a reception with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. “By midnight the memorable day had ended,” said Mr Smith.

l Do you have old photos of Royal celebrations you would like to share? Email sarah.stoner@northeast-press.co.uk

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SUNDERLAND’S first official Royal visit of the 20th century was carried out by King George V and his wife, Queen Mary, during World War One.

The Royal couple travelled to Sunderland on June 15, 1917, to offer support to the town’s shipyard workers, who were providing vessels for the war effort.

“When they visited on June 15, 1917, the shipyard unions put in a request that their Majesties should see the men going about their normal work,” reported the Echo.

“And this request was faithfully observed, with only those workmen spoken to by the King or the Queen dropping their tools for a moment to reply to questions.” Among the workers George V chatted with was 3ft 6ins teenage rivet-header John Cassidy. A photo of the pair smiling at each other was flashed around the world - and was even made into postcards.

“Twenty years ago, as a ‘paintpot lad’ at Laing’s shipyard, I shook hands with King George - God rest him,” recalled John in 1936. “I have been treated like a king myself since by my own people.

“What was it Little Johnny said to make King George laugh so heartily? I said ‘You get the troops now, and we’ll get t’ships off.’ Something in him put me at ease and gave me courage.

“They say the picture of His Majesty talking to me has pleased thousands of people all over the world. Around our way children still shout ‘There’s t’little chap who shook hand with t’King.’

“But anyone who might think to shake hands with me must take the left hand. Now that King George has passed, I shall honour him in my heart and with my right hand as long as I live.”

John, who hailed from the ‘poor Irish folk of South Johnson Street in Sunderland,’”had fallen on hard times as the Great Depression gripped Wearside - according to newspaper interviews.

“Now I draw four shillings a week at a Government occupational camp,”” he revealed. “But I am still looking forward to happier times.

“I love children. King George did. I want a job and a wide, a nice Sunderland girl, a home of my own, a settled life – with children and dogs for pals.”

Sidebar: Other Royal visits

THE Duke of York was the second Royal visitor to Sunderland of the 20th century - and a frequent return guest.

His first Wearside appointment took place in October 1925, when he opened a bazaar in aid of Monkwearmouth and Southwick Hospital Extension Fund, and he was back again four years later.

The Duke – later King George VI – took centre stage at the opening of the new George Pavilion at Grindon Hall Sanatorium on October 31, 1929, accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

Also on the agenda that day was the grand opening of the new Wearmouth Bridge, which saw him drive a silver rivet into the structure to mark its completion – watched by a crowd of thousands.

No mention was made in the Echo of the duchess, who would later become the Queen Mother, but a report stated: “The visit generated lots of excitement, with women fainting in the crowds.” Other Royal events of the early 20th century-old included a visit by Princess Mary, who laid the foundation stone of an extension to the Royal Infirmary on February 24, 1926.

Princess Marie Louise opened a hall at the YMCA in April 1929, while the Duke of Gloucester visited Lambton Street Boys’ Fellowship and St Cuthbert’s Boys’ Club on July 30, 1936.

Sunderland AFC’s FA Cup success in 1937 saw the team meet King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Wembley, and their Majesties were to return to Wearside on February 22, 1939.

Crowds turned out to cheer as the Royal couple inspected the new Girls’ Junior Instruction Centre, which had been created within the former Colliery Council School at the Wheatsheaf.

And the celebrations continued as the King and Queen took a tour of the Home Training Centre in Gray Road, organised by the Central Committee on Women’s Training and Employment.

Twice in the thirties the Duke of Windsor - then the Prince of Wales - was acclaimed on Wearside.

“He took part in a whirlwind tour on July 3, 1930, during which he laid the foundation stone of Monkwearmouth and Southwick Hospital in Newcastle Road,” the Echo reported “Durham Territorial RGA were honoured, for the first time since the Coronation of King George V in 1910, with a place in the ceremonial parade to mark the Prince’s visit to the Town Hall.

“And, in the course of a visit which took in eight miles, the Duke also went to Roker and Fulwell before seeing Doxford’s Pallion yard.” Four years later, the Duke returned to a rainy Wearside – although the weather did not apparently affect his spirits.

“In the guard of honour was Lieutenant Edward Cooper VC, who at the time was manager of Sunderland Co-operative Society’s fruit department,” reported the Echo.

“This Sunderland tour took His Royal Highness down Coronation Street, to see the open-air nursery in George Street - opened by Lady Astor - and to the Occupation Centre in Roker Avenue.

“He took a deep interest in this, and thence the Prince travelled via Southwick on his way to New Washington and Usworth Social Centre.”

Sidebar: Royal Mary

IT was a day of glorious sunshine when Princess Mary - otherwise known as Viscountess Lascelles - laid the foundation stone of an extension to the Royal Infirmary on February 24, 1926.

“Appropriately, the band of the Durham played Kind, Kind and Gentle is She: Kind is my Mary, at the Town Hall until HRH arrived,” reported the Echo.

“At the Children’s Hospital Princess Mary planted a tree. School children had a holiday from 11.30am, and lined part of the route. In the hospital grounds 500 Guides were on parade.

“In the Priestman Ward little Effie Roberts, a patient, courtesied and presented the princess with a bouquet of red carnations.”

Sidebar: Royal Duke

ON July 30, 1936 a plane touched down at Usworth and from it stepped the Duke of Gloucester.

He motored into Sunderland to inspect Lambton Street Boys’ Fellowship and St Cuthbert’s Boys’ Club at Monkwearmouth,” said the Echo.

Sidebar: Royal beds

SUNDERLAND Infirmary - as the oldest, and largest, hospital of its kind in the country - was commanded by King George V to include the word Royal”in its title.

Ten beds at the hospital were endowed by the Ladies Guild with Royal names over a 36-year period, including:

Queen Victoria (1901), Queen Alexandra (1909), King Edward VII (1912), Princess Elizabeth (1926) and King George V (1929). In 1928 the Princess Mary wing was opened at the hospital.