SUNDERLAND manufacturing firm with links to one of Spain’s oldest football teams is the topic of today’s Wearside Echoes.
HUNDREDS of Victorian vessels – from trawlers to paddle-boats – were once powered by engines crafted by a Sunderland firm.
But the history of MacColl and Pollock, a once prosperous global enterprise based at Wreath Quay, has never been officially documented – until now.
Dr Brian Newman, of Newcastle University, has spent years researching the work of the marine engine building firm, talking to former workers as well as ancestors of the founders.
And his findings will come under the spotlight during an illustrated talk at High Southwick Methodist Church this Saturday at 2pm, hosted by Southwick History and Preservation Society.
“Despite their great achievements, there is no detailed history of any of the marine engine builders of the North East coast – be they large, or small,” said Dr Newman.
“One of the least well-known of these firms was MacColl and Pollock (M&P), a company which engined almost 400 vessels between 1896 and 1931.”
M&P, probably the last new engine building company to be developed on the River Wear, was founded early in 1895 as Jameson and MacColl.
“The site at Wreath Quay had previously been employed for boiler-making, and it was this facility that Jameson and MacColl occupied,” said Dr Newman.
“They expanded the works to include engine building, but only two engine contracts were secured by the fledgling firm before Jameson’s sudden death at the age of 35.”
John Jameson, who was living in Azalea Terrace North when he died, originally hailed from Castle Eden and is believed to have worked with Hugh MacColl at a Hartlepool engine firm for a time.
It was to another old pal – and former footballing colleague – that MacColl turned to following Jameson’s death. Businessman and engineering expert Gilbert Reid Pollock.
“Pollock came across from Manchester to become a partner in the firm, which was re-named MacColl and Pollock. It seems they knew each other from working in Spain,” said Dr Newman.
“The firm occupied the same site until 1935 although, as one of the last available riverside sites, the topography was difficult – a very cramped and narrow space for manufacturing.
“This constrained the firm to a narrow range of customers for their machinery, but also had a surprising result in the form of a world-first for Sunderland.”
This world-first was an electric cantilever crane – a giant piece of machinery with a capacity of 60 tons, which was installed in 1905 at the Wreath Quay Works.
The firm went on to be incorporated as a Limited Company in 1903 and, by 1914, it was specialising in the supply and fitting of marine engines and boilers, as well as repairs to ships.
“A legion of boys learned their skills at M&P and, in the process, were forged into men,” said Dr Newman. “It put shoes on the feet of many a child, food in many a pantry, and kept a fire burning in many a parlour.
“Yet the passage of time has effaced almost all evidence of this firm and its valuable contribution to the prosperity of the local community.”
Dr Newman, a university research associate, developed a life-long interest in the mechanics of ship engines and cranes while serving as an apprentice at Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company.
Detailed information on specific pieces of equipment, however, proved difficult to track down and, when he discovered a picture of the M&P crane some years later, he decided to delve further.
“It was the first time I’d heard of it,” he recalls. “I spent the next few years trying to find out more, eventually tracing relatives of MacColl, who kindly allowed me access to the firm’s records.
“My presentation is largely based on the unique photographs and drawings provided by them, as well as my interviews with ex-employees – which add some interesting and amusing anecdotes.”
M&P traded for more than 30 years, employing 500 men at its peak. The last engine, however, was built in 1930, and the firm dealt only with repairs until closing in 1935.
“The site was stripped, with much of the equipment taken to Wales,” said Dr Newman. “Only a crane was left, which was taken to pieces in 1941 and the parts used for a similar one in Scotland.
“The base of the crane was slowly covered by dust from Wearmouth Colliery. But there are still signs that the firm was there, if you know what to look for, and I’ll be mentioning them in the talk.”
Dr Newman is hoping his talk will spark further discussion about M&P, and is appealing for people with more information to come forward – with the aim of compiling a detailed history on the firm.
“It is my intention to preserve for future generations some of the history of M&P,” he said. “It was once someone’s whole life, and a part of the life of the whole community, too.”
Dr Newman can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via post at: The School of Marine Science and Technology, Armstrong Building, The University of Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU.
HUGH MacColl and Gilbert Reid Pollock weren’t just business parters – they were team mates too.
“Both worked at the Portilla and White foundry in Spain for a while, playing football during their free time,” said Pam Tate, chair of Southwick History and Preservation Society.
“Apparently Hugh, who was known as Hugo, was the first captain of Seville FC, while Gilbert scored the first goal for the team. What an amazing piece of history.”
Records show that football was introduced to Seville in the late 19th century by British workers living and running businesses in the city – mainly owners and managers of manufacturing firms.
The first documented football match took place in 1890, between a team from Seville and Huelva Recreation Club – attracting crowds of laughing Spaniards who found the game hilarious.
It would be another 15 years, however, before Seville FC was incorporated as an official club, by which time the team’s first captain and first goal scorer were hard at work in Sunderland.
“I have been emailed by football researchers in Spain, who have confirmed the original Seville FC was founded by Hugo and Gilbert, amongst others. It is one of the oldest teams in Spain,” said Pam.
“The Seville strip in the early years was very similar to Sunderland’s, being red and white stripes, and the club’s crest still features these stripes. Surely that can’t be a coincidence.
“Finally we know how Hugh MacColl got his new business partner when Jameson died – he had already worked, and played footy, with Pollock in his ‘younger’ days.”