Here’s a pub question for you.
Who was the first Sunderland person to win an Olympic medal?
Author and historian Trevor Thorne has the answer. He explains more on this, and many other fascinating topics, in his new book Sunderland and the Edwardians.
The Edwardian period brought many changes in Sunderland’s history.
It meant a new bridge for Wearside and the appearance of the motor car for the first time.
It also meant Sunderland’s first medal-winning Olympian.
The honour went to Helen Aitchison in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912. She took two silvers in doubles tennis.
All of her family played tennis at Ashbrooke and she her sisters Alice, Kath and Sybil formed the basis of the Durham team which won the 1907 Tennis County Championship.
Vesta Tilley was another woman in the Wearside headlines. She was the star act at the Empire Theatre’s opening night in 1907. She also got to lay the foundation stone.
Plenty of other influential figures also made their presence felt in the area at around the same time.
The campaign for women to have the right to vote gathered huge momentum in Sunderland in 1912. To support it, three important speakers came to the area and they were Ethel Snowden, Emily Pankhurst (who received both rousing applause and heckling for her speech at Victoria Hall), and Emily Wilding Davison from Northumberland.
Helen Watts, a militant suffragette from Sunderland, was just as important and won the Women’s Social and Political Union Medal of Honour for her part in the strife.
Sunderland and the Edwardians is available to buy at Waterstones, Sunderland Antiquarian Society, Clays Nursery in Washington and Haswells Farm Shop at Pittingdon and it is priced £9.99.