Wearside Echoes: Snapshot of old Sunderland

DIGGING DEEP: A miner at work at Wearmouth Colliery
DIGGING DEEP: A miner at work at Wearmouth Colliery
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A NEW project has brought old memories flooding back.

Residents at Highcliffe Care Centre in Witherwack joined forces with Beamish Museum and local schools to record recollections of the past through words and pictures.

“It has been a fantastic project,” said Highcliffe manager Leslie Langton. “It has brought back memories probably long forgotten and everyone who has taken part has enjoyed themselves.”

The past two months have seen Beamish staff work with Highcliffe residents to explore the museum’s archive photographic collections – with any memories evoked being documented.

Objects and images relating to mining, the beach, housing, football and baking formed the main basis for discussion – and displays of vintage pictures are now on show throughout the home.

“Many of the memories have been put into a special booklet, which all the residents can read. This project has created a great deal of interest among residents, which is wonderful,” added Leslie.

Among those to take part was Highcliffe resident Bea Robertson, 92, who was born in Monkwearmouth and worked at Binns before serving as an army sergeant during World War Two.

“I really enjoyed the project, as it brought a lot of memories back,” she said.

Bea, who came from a mining family, was called up for the ATS after war broke out, serving most of her five army years in Scotland – where she met future husband Gunner John Robertson.

“I worked hard for my three stripes,” she recalls. “But after we got married, and my husband got a job at Castletown Colliery, he promised that I’d never need another job – and that’s what happened.”

Another Highfield resident to add her memories to the project was 92-year-old Chrissy Foster, who was born at the Sheepfolds in Monkwearmouth and attended St Benet’s School.

“I have really enjoyed what we have done, and was very surprised when I was told that my memories were going to be recorded for the project,” she said.

“My dad, Billy Watson, was a miner at Wearmouth Colliery and served in the First World War. He was a man who liked to work and, even after losing his job at the pit, still worked til he was 67.”

Many of the memories documented by Highcliffe residents are now to be featured in libraries across Sunderland, and will also be on show during a coffee morning at Fulwell Library on March 24.

A celebration of the project – part of Beamish’s Heritage Lottery funded Celebrating Community History scheme and part-funded by Sunderland Council – will also be held at Beamish on April 2-4.

“It has been a great project to be involved with, hearing memories from the residents about life in the area, some very funny and other very poignant,” said Beamish worker Michelle Ball.

“Everyone has different stories, and it’s so lovely to see one person’s memory spark off another for someone else. All the staff at Highcliffe have really got involved and been so enthusiastic too.

“It will be fantastic for people to be able to read some of the memoirs through the displays in the library and at Beamish, and to get some personal memories about life their community in the past.”

Sidebar: Memories

Chrissy Foster:

“Dad worked down the pit at Wearmouth Colliery. Before the First World War there was a fall of stone and he was fastened down in the mine for eight hours. Dad’s leg was crushed, so when he recovered he worked on the surface, sweeping coal.

“One day my dad heard this young man saying ‘I could do his job.’ My dad was so disappointed because it was at the time men were being paid off. Dad was paid off, but determined to work.

“He found a job at the Sunderland Empire, assisting Alf and Bob Pearson to get ready for their performance. My mam was shocked when dad got the job. ‘Well Billy,’ she said, ‘You can’t even put your own collar and tie on.”

Bea Robertson:

“There was always accidents down the mines. My brother was a miner: I used to worry about him all the time. I can remember when he had an accident when he was down the mine. He spent a lot of time convalescing at home.

“The horses that worked down the mine were beautiful. They used to go down in cages. But the best thing that happened involving mining were the Mining Galas – they were lovely days.

“Meeting up with lots of friends and making new ones. We used to sing and dance for hours. I remember the big banners that were always at the galas. I thought they looked like big cushions.”

Olive Fitzgerald:

“On a Friday afternoon, after school, I would catch a bus to Castletown to collect my daddy’s pay. At the other end, Grandad Owen was there to meet me, and we would join the pay queue.

“Hylton Colliery was known as Castletown Colliery and it stood at the east end of the village, only five minutes walk from my granddad’s house.

“After handing in the tally, which was kept safely in granddad’s side pocket, we would collect the pay and return to his house, to have tea with my Aunty Mary and my Castletown cousins.

Dennis Cowan:

“There were six brothers, so we always had our own five-a-side team – with a reserve! In the late 1950s and early 1960s we played in the streets or fields. It all depended on the lads you were with.

“You used to put your jerkin or jumper to mark the goal posts. Our Colin was the best footballer, he really was a talented lad. He played for Sunderland and Middlesbrough during the 1960s and 70s.

“The six of us had different football experiences, and mam had the job of washing all six strips. Sometimes she had the whole of the team’s strips to wash.”

Florence Bell:

“I went to the beach with my mam and dad when we were very young. We used to take sandwiches, tea and pop. Some days we stayed all day. If we had money we would go to Notrianni’s for a cornet.

“I did walk along the pier at Roker, but not a lot as it could be quite dangerous. I liked both Roker and Seaburn because they were next to each other. It was great.

“I liked swimming in the sea, my dad taught me. We never went to the Fair Ground, as you had to pay there. Going to the beach was like a holiday, because we didn’t get out a lot. Once or twice we went on holiday.”

Hilda Flett:

“I went to Seaburn with my friends. We walked along the seafront and promenade. We sometimes took sandwiches, but usually we had to go home for tea.

“We used to go into Notrianni’s. The ice cream was served in little glass bowls with wafers and monkey’s blood. The hot orange was served in thick heavy glasses.

“I remember you could get an ice cream sandwich in between thin wafers or thick chocolate wafers, which were wrapped in small squares of greased-proof paper.”