Wearside Echoes: Sunderland tram memories

MODEL MAN: Gordon Douglas pictured with some of his models in 1978.
MODEL MAN: Gordon Douglas pictured with some of his models in 1978.
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A TREASURE trove of memories has been unearthed at a house in Tunstall.

Photographs of Sunderland through the decades, taken and collected by former tram driver Gordon Douglas before his death in 2003, have just been discovered by his daughter Dorothy.

“I’ve moved several times in the past few years and never had a proper clear-out,” she said.

“When I started looking through some of the boxes in my loft, I came across albums and albums of dad’s pictures.

“He wasn’t a professional photographer, he just enjoyed taking snaps in his spare time. He obviously went around the town over a period of several decades, taking photos of the changing scenes.

“I don’t know what started him off, but it is surprising how interesting the pictures are. They have brought back many memories for me of what the town used to look like all those years ago.”

Gordon’s collection of photos features shots of Austin and Pickersgill shipyard, British Ropes in Roker Avenue, the demolition of Redby School, holiday kiosks at Seaburn and Roker Park football ground.

Several vintage black-and-white shots are included too, including Fawcett Street in about 1900 and undated images of Alexandra Bridge, Low Row, Mary Street, Hylton Road and Silkworth Row.

“Although he was interested in taking pictures of the town, his main interest was actually model making,” said Dorothy. “Lots of the photos I’ve found show the models he created – many of them being trams.

“Dad could spend up to two years working on a model. He didn’t use kits or plans, he just worked from old photos and memories. He absolutely loved trams. They were his passion.”

Gordon, who was born in Sunderland in 1917, took up model making as a teenager. His models, each a mechanical work of art, were often displayed at exhibitions around the North East.

“I grew up with my father making models,” said Dorothy. “He used bits of wood, plastic and tin, as well as glass and small motors. My mum, Eva, used to go all over to buy tiny dolls to fit into the models.

“Dad would build the trams in our garden shed, but had a track set up in the garage to test them. He would also run them on a track at Roker Park, and had a portable track for taking to displays and exhibitions.”

Dorothy has donated digital copies of her father’s photographs to Sunderland Antiquarian Society, with the aim of preserving his work for future generations of Wearsiders.

She is also hoping that several of her father’s model trams will be included in an exhibition of working models at Beamish museum next year, and added:

“It is nice to think that my dad’s work and photos can continue to be enjoyed in the future. I think he’d be really happy about that, I really do.”

- Do you have any photos you would like to share with Sunderland Antiquarian Society? Contact Bill Hawkins on 551 3947. More images from Gordon will be featured in Wearside Echoes this Saturday.