New blue plaque and Frank Styles creation recognises Sunderland-born inventor of hand grenade at city pub
William Mills was born in Wear Street, Southwick, in the shadow of the shipyards, in 1856 and would go on to become a celebrated engineer and inventor.
His most well-known invention is the Mills Bomb, the ring-pull hand grenade used by British and allied forces in the First World War, a weapon which helped play a major role in their victory.
It’s an invention which earned William a knighthood in 1922, however, there was little to recognise his contribution to the war effort in his home city – until now.
Steve Lawson took over The Times Inn pub in Southwick last year and is passionate about celebrating its rich Wearside heritage. Dating back to 1854, the pub once overlooked the gates to shipyards on the banks of the Wear and has witnessed the rise and fall of the industry, as well as the construction of the Queen Alexandra Bridge, two World Wars and now the Covid pandemic.
It stands on the very same street in which Sir William was born, which was once filled with houses occupied by people who worked in the shipyards.
After liaising with Southwick Village Green Preservation Society and committee member Peter Gibson, Steve offered to pay for the plaque as part of the society’s ongoing campaign to celebrate the village’s history.
Steve said: “Other inventors and notable figures are well-known in the city, and have streets etc, named after them, but there’s a massive amount of people who don’t know about Sir William and his contribution.”
The bomb, and most importantly the fuse, invented by Sir William, who honed his skills as a marine engineer, gave the thrower just enough time to seek cover, but not enough time for the enemy to throw it back and it’s believed around 75,000,000 were supplied to allied forces during the war.
As well as the blue plaque, Steve commissioned artist Frank Styles to paint a hand grenade on the side of the pub and has also named a new drinks shot ‘grenade’ for when restrictions are lifted and pubs can open.
It follows the creation of two previous Frank Styles murals on the pub, one celebrating Southwick-born 1973 FA Cup goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery and the other depicting Black Cat goalscoring hero Kevin Phillips, which have been drawing people down for pictures at the historic pub, helping to put it back on the map.
Steve said: “I’m a big football fan myself, but not everyone is and I don’t want this just to be a football pub. This area has so much history and inside the pub I have lots of images of things like the Queen Alexandra Bridge being built. Sir William is another part of the area’s history and having a hand grenade on the side of the pub is certainly a talking point for those who don’t know its significance.
"Sir William moved away from the area, but he is buried just up the road at Holy Trinity Church, so he must have requested to be brought home in the eventuality of his death.”