Wearside Echoes: Snapshot of old Sunderland

ON THE WATERFRONT: The River Wear ferry.
ON THE WATERFRONT: The River Wear ferry.
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WALTER Binns was a man with a mission – to capture the glory days of Victorian Sunderland on camera.

People, places, streets and shops were the focus of his work and, as can be seen by this collection of images, Walter obviously had an eye for a good picture.

BYGONE DAYS: The South Dock.

BYGONE DAYS: The South Dock.

“I think they are absolutely brilliant,” said Ron Lawson, photographic archivist for Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“They show us just how Sunderland used to be.”

A small album featuring photos taken by Walter between 1890 and 1898 proved a big hit at Sunderland’s recent History Fair – with dozens of visitors drawn to the old images.

However, although the collection of sepia pictures serves as a lasting memorial to Walter, little is known about the man behind the camera.

PARK LIFE: Mowbray Park and a view of the town.

PARK LIFE: Mowbray Park and a view of the town.

“Walter’s album is a highlight of our collection,” said Ron. “It is therefore a great shame we have so little information on him. We just know he produced the pictures for a friend. We are pretty sure he was an amateur photographer, as he is not listed as a professional, and that his family had a business – although it wasn’t the famous store we all know about.”

Archive records reveal that a Walter Binns, the 10th child of grocer and confectioner Edward Binns and his wife Margaret (nee Just), was born in Sunderland in October 1873.

It has yet to be established, however, if this is the same Walter who took the photos.

“Edward Binns had a shop/cafeteria at 37 Fawcett Street, not far from the old gas sffice,” said Wearside Echoes reader Frank Erskine, who is distantly related to the Binns family.

HARBOUR VIEW: Roker and the Harbour.

HARBOUR VIEW: Roker and the Harbour.

“This part of the street was, of course, later purchased by another Binns – Henry Binns – for his shop who, as far as I can tell, bore no relation to Edward.”

The 1881 census shows seven-year-old Walter living with his parents at 128 High Street. Ten years later he was serving his time as an apprentice engineer in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

“To date, I can find nothing further about Walter after 1891,” said Frank. “But, in the 1901 and later censuses there is more than one Walter Binns in the Halifax and surrounding areas.”

Volunteers at Sunderland Antiquarian Society are appealing for anyone with further information on Walter to come forward, to help complete the files they hold on him.

“Walter left Sunderland a wonderful legacy with his photographs, which is why we are very keen to learn more about him. He was obviously extremely talented,” said Ron.

“His pictures were not only of good quality, but also extremely interesting due to the time period in which they were taken. They show just how much Sunderland has changed too.”

l If you have any information on Walter, or old pictures you would like to share, contact Ron Lawson on 520 0570. The group’s next meeting will be at Sunderland Minster on June 23, from 10am to noon. Admission £1.