Blue plaque finally unveiled at James Herriot’s Sunderland birthplace in Roker
A blue plaque at the birthplace of a world famous author has finally been unveiled in Sunderland.
Alf Wight was born in Brandling Street in Roker in 1916. His main job was as a vet, but he became better known to the world as the author James Herriot. His books have sold over 60 million copies and been adapted for TV and films, including the series All Creatures Great and Small.
As a baby, Alf Wight was taken to Glasgow where his father had found work. Alf studied to become a vet there and, after joining the RAF during World War Two, spent most of his adult life in Thirsk where he lived and worked.
However, he always considered himself a Mackem and heart was in Sunderland, not least because he was a fanatical supporter of its football team.
He once invested a six-figure sum into the club, but still refused free season tickets for himself and his family. He was made SAFC Life President in 1992 and died in 1995.
The unveiling was performed by the author’s children, Jim Wight, himself a retired vet and his sister Dr Rosie Page a former GP. The plaque has been paid for entirely from by the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.
The house is now owned by Julie Graham. It wasn’t straightforward to establish that it was the correct house. The door numbers in Brandling Street were rearranged in 1967. But the Echo carried out some detective work, while Julie managed to secure the deeds to provide further evidence.
Philip Curtis, secretary of Sunderland Antiquarians, gave a short speech to around 50 people who had gathered at the house, before the plaque was unveiled.
Jim said: “It’s quite a moving experience to see the place where my father was born. Even though he left here at the age of three weeks, his ties to Sunderland remained extremely strong.
“Every holiday his family went on, they came back to Sunderland and, of course, his loyalty to the football team was second to none.
“His father worked in the shipyards, but he was a very cultured man and my dad had a great sorrow that his father didn’t live to see his son become James Herriot.
“But he said if his father had been alive to see him become president of the football club, he would have regarded that as his greatest achievement.”
Rosie said: “It’s rather wonderful really. Julie has shown me the actual deeds of the house, signed by my great-grandmother in 1906 – 10 years before dad was born here.
“It’s a strange feeling. Jim and I have never been here. Dad came to visit various cousins, but whether he’d been back to this house, I don’t know.”
Julie said: “He’s a national treasure and we’re just delighted that he’s linked to this house. It’s a good thing for Roker and for Sunderland.”
Another surprise for Jim and Rosie was a meeting with a relative they had never met before; Melanie Wight, who is also headteacher at Redby Academy.
The house is in quite a stellar neighbourhood. Stan Laurel’s sister Olga lived in Hartington Street; two streets along from Brandling Street.