Wearside Echoes: Raise a glass to brewery’s sporting history

SPORTING TENSION: Two spectators get into the spirit of a Vaux sports day in the 1960s.
SPORTING TENSION: Two spectators get into the spirit of a Vaux sports day in the 1960s.
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WEARSIDERS are being urged to sprint along to an Olympic broadcast. Nostalgia writer Sarah Stoner takes a look.

ARCHIVE footage featuring Wearside athletes is to go on show as part of the North East’s Olympic Flame celebrations.

A unique collection of recently discovered films, commissioned by Vaux Breweries in the 1960s, will be shown across the region by the Northern Region Film and Television Archive this month.

“They were made to encourage and support amateur and professional sport,” said archive manager Lindy Gilliland. “This is an exciting opportunity to get the films back into the community.

“They document coaching and competing across the region in all manner of sports, from cycling, archery, road running, equestrian, swimming and rowing, to tennis and pigeon racing.”

Indeed, lard-slathered swimmers preparing for long-distance dips in the River Wear compete with target-obsessed archers, super-fit field runners and cyclists for starring roles in the films.

But, it is the footage shot at the annual Vaux Sports Days, held as a thank-you for staff, which really provides a unique insight into life in the 1960s – when Wearside firms were ‘big happy families’.

Former Vaux secretary Margery Smith, who helped organise the sports days with her boss, Major John Webb, has very happy memories of how the events help to bring staff together.

“They were held at a sports ground in Glenesk Road, which has since become a housing estate,” she said. “There were all the usual sports, but we always tried to find different types of entertainment.

“Staff from our Scottish breweries would come down for the day by coach, and there would be marquees, special catering and prizes provided by Joseph’s in Holmeside and Flynn’s the Jewellers.

“I seem to remember that in 1966, when England won the World Cup, our sports day must have fallen on one of the match days. We had TV sets fixed to all the tent poles for people to watch.”

Margery, who joined Vaux after leaving Bede School in 1961, still has vivid memories of handing over the prizes to Mrs Nicholson – wife of chairman Douglas – who passed them out to the winners.

“It really was like one big family at Vaux,” she said. “The staff thought very, very highly of the Nicholson family, and I still have fond memories of the sports days when I worked there.

“We would give out coupons for tea or beer to the staff, and there was no rowdiness or drunkenness. It was just one lovely, very, very happy day – full of staff and their families having fun.”

Indeed, even after Margery left Vaux in 1973, she continued to be invited to the sports days – often bringing her mother, aunts and young children along to enjoy the fun.

“As an ex-Vaux employee I found the old films very interesting – and I’m sure other people will, too,” she said. “It was a very special time – just like working for one big happy family.”

Northern Region Film and Television Archive has joined forces with Northern Stage to show the Vaux footage across the region, after being awarded a Creative England grant.

“We are now looking to get in touch with athletes who took part in the Vaux Encourage All Sport programmes, and share those memories in a series of archive film podcasts,” said Lindy.

“And to capture the community spirit of the Olympic Torch Relay, we’re also asking for everyone to dig through their cupboards, attics, and sheds to find their old sports and gala day films.

“If you took part in athletics, gymnastics, egg and spoon, three-legged, sack races, the mighty tug o’ war, or any community sports events, it’s all part of the North East’s vibrant sporting past.

“Our archive holds a rich collection of hundreds of films documenting the North East’s sporting heritage, dating right back to 1913. If you have any sports and gala day films, please get in touch!”

** For further information contact the Fast Forward project team at the Northern Region Film and Television Archive at Teesside University, Tel. 01642 384022 or email s.huber@tees.ac.uk


THREE archive films – including shots of several Vaux sports days – are to shown across the North East this week, to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic torch.

Northern Region Film and Television Archive has joined forces with Northern Stage to broadcast the vintage footage aboard a 1940s bus between today and Sunday.

The bus will be stopping off at the following places:

June 14 – Alnwick Marketplace: Until 7pm

June 15 – Newcastle Haymarket: 3-7pm

June 16 – Durham Oriental Museum: 12-5pm

June 17 – Middlesbrough Dorman Museum 3-7pm

Other vintage film shows planned for the summer include:

** June 16: Teesside Archives, Middlesbrough – 1pm

** June 30: Guisborough Prior Pursglove College Fair – 10-4pm

** August 22-26: Saltburn Film Festival

Sidebar: A brief history of Vaux

Cuthbert Vaux started a brewery at Moor Street with businessman William Story in 1830s.

He launched his own firm in 1837, Cuthbert Vaux and Sons, at Pemberton Row.

Vaux moved to a larger site in Union Street in 1843, taking over Taylor’s Brewery.

The firm relocated to Castle Street in 1875 to make way for a new railway station.

Cuthbert died in 1878, leaving a prosperous business to his sons, John and Edwin.

John died in 1881. His sons, Cuthbert and Ernest, joined their uncle Edwin in the firm.

The year 1896 saw C Vaux and Sons become a private limited liability company.

Frank Nicholson, a chartered accountant, joined Vaux in 1898 as manager and secretary.

Maxim Ale first produced in 1901.

Edwin died in 1908 and Frank became company director before World War One.

Frank became managing director in June 1916 and managing director for life in 1919.

Vaux merged with North Eastern Breweries in the 1920s – a firm with 600 pubs.

Flagship beer Samson launched in 1931.

Vaux took over the Avenue Theatre for use as a bottling store in 1930s.

In 1940 the firm became known as Vaux and Associated Breweries Ltd.

By 1949 Vaux owned 800 licensed premises and employed nearly 2,000 people.

Sir Frank Nicholson died in 1952 and was succeeded by his son, Douglas.

Gold Tankard launched in 1961 and Norseman lager in the late 1960s.

In 1972 the firm was renamed Vaux Breweries Ltd.

Vaux sold most of its Scottish interests in 1980. It became the Vaux Group plc in 1985.

Labatt’s lager launched by Vaux in 1988.

Waggle Dance – a cask ale brewed with honey – launched in 1995.

Lambton’s – a creamy bitter – launched in 1996.

In 1997 the Vaux group included two breweries and a hotel chain. It employed 9,800 staff.

Vaux brewery closed in 1999.