Blue plaque bid to remember Sunderland hero ends in success

A hero who saved dozens of people from drowning in the North Sea will be remembered forever in his home city.

Thursday, 31st May 2018, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 31st May 2018, 8:12 am
The Joseph Hodgson blue plaque campaign. From left, MP Julie Elliott, the Boar's Head's Lisa Fairweather and Chris Carolyn and Nick Simpson from Sunderland Maritime Heritage.

A campaign to erect a blue plaque in memory of Joseph Hodgson has ended in victory and the ceremony to unveil it will be held at the Boar’s Head in Sunderland this Sunday.

Joseph had the nickname of Stormy Petrel because whenever a gale blew up, he looked for ships in distress so that he could help.

A painting showing Joseph Hodgson carrying one of the many people he saved from the waves.

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By his mid-60s, Joseph had rescued the crews of 15 ships as part of a lifeboat team, as well as numerous people himself.

Joseph was born in Dunning Street, Sunderland, in 1829 and was only 15 when he jumped into the River Wear to save the life of three-year-old John Snowdon. It was the first of many acts of heroism.

He even won a gold medal from Napoleon III after coming to the aid of the stricken French schooner Les Trois Soeurs in 1857.

Sadly, he died a poor man after having to sell his medals to survive and spent his last few years in a London slum.

But his story was researched by great great grand-daughters Christine Sexton and Debbie Scott. Their efforts later led to a Sunderland campaign for Joseph to be permanently honoured.

It was backed by the staff at the Boar’s Head, Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, Sunderland Maritime Heritage group and given outstanding support by Sunderland City Council.

Campaigners say the plaque will remain on the wall of the Boar’s Head for two years until a permanent site is ready in Keel Square. Sunday’s ceremony will include the singing of a song in tribute to Joseph.


* Boar’s Head director Lisa Fairweather said: “Knowing that the Tall Ships Races were going to happen soon, it started us on another race - to get everyone together so that a blue plaque could be awarded and in place for the Tall Ships.”

* Great great granddaughter Christine Sexton first began the research into her ancestor Joseph around 14 years ago. She hailed the news of the blue plaque ceremony as “brilliant” and said she hoped to be in Sunderland for it.

* Fellow descendant of Joseph Hodgson Debbie Scott said: “I am really pleased that Sunderland is remembering him again. They certainly did at the time so it is good that he has been recognised for helping save so many lives.”

* Peter Bryce, a trustee with Sunderland Maritime Heritage, was “delighted” at the blue plaque confirmation and said: “It is a real step in the right direction.”

But he believes the city should do even more to recognise Joseph who he described as “Sunderland’s greatest peacetime hero.”

* Coun John Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Communities and Culture at Sunderland City Council, said: “This blue plaque commemorates the bravery of an extraordinary man, a true hero in every sense of the word.

“This successful campaign for a permanent, visible commemoration of his life is testament to the place Joseph Hodgson will always hold in the heart and the history of our city.

“All those involved can be very proud of their efforts, and I’m delighted that we have been able to support the community in honouring a man who will be forever remembered as The ‘Stormy Petrel’ for his mastery of our seas and for saving so many people’s lives.”

* Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott was “absolutely delighted” that the campaign had proved successful.

She added: “Joseph Hodgson risked his life dozens of times to save others over a period of more than 50 years, yet there was very little in the city to mark his heroism. He deserved to be remembered.

“Scores of men, women and children owed their lives to the bravery of Joseph – and I’m sure many descendants of those whom he rescued still live here in Sunderland today.

“The blue plaque will help to ensure that Joseph’s bravery is remembered both now, and by future generations.

“It is also particularly appropriate that the plaque is to be erected in time for the Tall Ships arrival in Sunderland – for Joseph was a man who dedicated his life to keeping people safe from the seas.”