Were you one of the 700 Play Day kids in Washington in 1976?

A Viking axeman thrills  the crowds with a re-enactment.
A Viking axeman thrills the crowds with a re-enactment.
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It was the summer of 76 and it was one of the hottest on record.

But if you were a child of the times and living on Wearside, it probably wasn’t the only reason for remembering that year.

Who were these children having fun at Play Day 76.

Who were these children having fun at Play Day 76.

Seven hundred of you took part in a massive playday which was held in Washington.

They even got a visit from a football legend.

Chris Cordner reports.

Britain was sizzling and the people of the country were hot under the collar?

I was just having a cup of coffee at 7.30am when a group of children banged on the door demanding to know where it was all happening. I could not believe my eyes. The first event on the programme was not due to begin until 10.30am

Ian Gray

Why? Because they felt their children were suffering from a nationwide shortage of decent play facilities.

To prove that the Sunderland area could defy the critics, an enormous event was held at the Glebe Adventure Playground. It was called Play Day 76 and it was a real success.

Were you there?

Stephen Holley certainly was.

He was the general manager of the Washington Development Corporation at the time and told the Sunderland Echo in 1976: “The aim of the operation was to highlight the restricted opportunities for play in many modern environments.

“At Washington, I feel we have catered for all ages in the planning of the town with a fair measure of success, and the children who visited Washington for the first time at the weekend obviously agreed.”

It wasn’t just the children of Washington who got to see what the area had to offer for children. Youngsters from Newcastle, Gateshead and other parts of the North east all gathered at the playground.

They were in for a treat.

The day’s fun started with a travelling theatre group who provided a comedy element.

Sunderland’s FA Cup-winning goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery was the celebrity who kept the children busy on the afternoon.

During the day, the children got to make kites, do a spot of painting, and take part in all sorts of competitions and activities and keep on going until early in the evening.

One of the big attractions was a huge balloon but there were other highlights including ropes courses, and a visit by Viking axemen as part of the Mad Bongo Theatre Group.

It was a blast and children aged from four to 18 took part. Amazingly, the children of the North East were so keen to take part, they turned up early ... three hours early!

Play leader Ian Gray explained more at the time.

He had worked all night to get the job completed and to add the finishing touches to the programme which he and his assistant had been preparing for months.

“I was just having a cup of coffee at 7.30 in the morning,” said Ian at the time. “When a group of children banged on the door demanding to know where it was all happening. I could not believe my eyes.

“The first event on the programme was not due to begin until 10.30am three hours later but they were so keen, I had to let them in.”

Washington’s big event was one of 300 being held across the country as part of the London-based Fair Play For Children campaign.

The Echo headlines of the day talked of “The Playtime Invasion.”

Ian said: “We feel it is very necessary to draw the maximum attention of everyone to the essential importance of the development of play in the area.”

There were plenty of distractions for children in the 70s.

Television programnmes which were on the box on the same day as the playevent included Bewitched, Castaway, Star Trek, Rainbow, Play School and the second day of the cricket test match between the West Indies and England.

But the children of Washington were clearly in the mood for play and turned out in their droves.

Were you there? Did you enjoy the day of fun in Washington and what were the highlights for you?

Were you one of the children banging on the door at 7.30am, eager to get your day of fun under way?

Tell us more. Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk