How they dealt with winter in Sunderland 100 years ago

If you're after something of a nostalgic read this season - packed with local facts - there's a strong candidate from Billy Dent.

Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:02 pm
Horses come to the rescue in snow-hit Whitburn in 1916.

Billy is the man behind Glimpses of Old Sunderland, which contains 50 packed pages of memory lane material.

It’s seasonal too, with a section on how Sunderland cleared the snow in 1916.

A bathing machine which protected the modesty of Wearside women.

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Chris Cordner found out more.

War and winter did not mix too well on Wearside in 1916.

That year, soldiers stationed in the area used horses to clear snow from Whitburn’ streets. The residents welcomed their help but the military had also created some major headaches.

The beaches at Roker and Seaburn were closed off to the public during the First World War but so too was Whitburn Road which should have been connecting villagers to Sunderland.

HMS Cyclops which was built in Sunderland.

This was raised by a local councillor who asked the authorities to grant each householder a pass to use the road.

This is just one of the many stories featured in Billy’s book.

It contains over 200 photographs and illustrations from his large postcard collection, photographic archive and collection of Sunderland memorabilia.

As well as being used by the Army to clear snow, horse power was crucial for everyday life. In the days before motorized tractors, Grindon Farm depended on horses to plough the fields.

A bathing machine which protected the modesty of Wearside women.

Shops needed horse-drawn carts to deliver goods, as did laundries and dairies. Breweries such as Vaux used Percherons and Gelderlanders to haul their drays. And after the Second World War, Craven Dairies had a horse called ‘Jacko’ who only stopped at houses that gave him a treat.

The Council’s Cleansing Department also relied on horses to pull their dust carts right up to 1950. Horses were a big part of Sunderland history and, of course, so were ships.

Shipyards played an important part in Sunderland life and are well covered in the book. These were the days when concrete was used to build seagoing tugs. Bartrams launched vessels straight into the North Sea.

Robert Thompson’s ships were launched broadside into the river and the book gives a first-hand account of working life at JL Thompson’s yard.

HMS Cyclops which was built in Sunderland.

One of the Wear’s largest shipbuilders almost went under in 1908 due to huge losses on a ship conversion. When the 6,500-ton steamer Indrabahra went down Laing’s slipway at Deptford on November 2, 1905 all was well. Problems started when the owners sold the vessel to the Government.

Laing’s agreed to convert the newly renamed HMS Cyclops into a floating workshop. It was a costly mistake.

The firm lost £100,000 (almost £10million in today’s money). James Marr helped bring Laing’s out of liquidation and it flourished in the following decades.

Over a century ago, if you ventured onto the beach between the piers you would have seen bathing machines for ladies to have a dip in the sea away from prying eyes.

On Bank Holidays, Roker Beach was usually packed, but people were not there to top up their tans - all were fully clothed as was the fashion of the day.

Until it was demolished in the 1930s Holey Rock was one of Roker’s best known landmarks and dances were held in the alongside marques with Pierrot troupes performing on the outdoor stage.

Seaburn was developed later as a resort with the skyline dominated by the Big Dipper in the Fun Fair. The Seaburn Hall provided entertainment for adults while Seaburn Camp was a place usually just for children but in the 1950s whole families also stayed there during the summer holidays.

As Northern Spire nears completion comparisons can be made with earlier Wear crossings – the original Wearmouth Bridge of 1796 and its two reconstructions as well as the story behind the opening of Queen Alexandra Bridge in 1909.

Glimpses into the past bring back memories of beehive hairdos, Teddy Boy suits, roller skating rinks, scrapyards, Saturday morning children’s cinema clubs, pantomimes at the Empire and ragtime bands in the East End.

Glimpses of Old Sunderland is available from Waterstone’s, Sunderland Museum, Sunderland Antiquarian Society and, priced at £4.99.