Two new blue plaques unveiled in Southwick to honour village's proud history

Two new blue plaques have been unveiled in Southwick as a project to honour the village’s proud history forges ahead.

Sunday, 7th February 2021, 10:37 am

The plaques, which are nationally-recognised markers of historical significance, have been installed at Stoney Lane and on the Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project (SNYP) building in Southwick Road as part of Southwick Village Green Preservation Society’s ongoing work to preserve and celebrate the area’s colourful heritage.

Stoney Lane was once a vital thoroughfare in the village which linked the communities of High Southwick and Low Southwick. Originally called Limestone Lane, but shortened to Stoney Lane, the 18th Century wagonway was the centre for business and commerce in Victorian Southwick and was once lined with 44 shops, two pubs, a railway goods station, a Salvation Army Hall and a printers.

At the other side of the green, the SNYP building still serves the community with its excellent youth work, but it has long been at the heart of village life.

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New blue plaques honour the history and heritage of Southwick

Built on land given to the village by shipbuilder Robert Thompson Jnr, it was opened by his wife in February 1893 as a purpose-built base for Southwick Local Board whose members ran Southwick Township. It would later become an Urban District Council before becoming under the remit of Sunderland Borough Council in the 1920s as the Sunderland conurbation expanded.

Peter Gibson, chairperson of Southwick Village Green Preservation Society, says the village has always had its own distinct identity and it’s one the committee is working hard to maintain.

"After the loss of industry Southwick was hit really hard economically and it’s really suffered, but it’s still the only working green in the city,” he explained.

"Southwick has so much history and heritage, it’s an ancient place which dates back 1,000 years, but it’s been neglected and forgotten, and we aim to change that by highlighting its history.”

Southwick Village Green Preservation Society Peter Gibson and Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project manager Ruth Walker with the new blue plaque on the building.

Speaking about the former Local Board and Urban District Council and their civic duties, he said: “They had to deal with lots of problems at the time, such as great unemployment, population explosion, diseases and infant mortality. In 1898 there were 308 deaths recorded in Southwick and 201 of those were infants under the age of five.”

The council building would later become a clinic before becoming the base for SNYP in 1984.

The two new plaques, which were installed with support from ward councillors, the Community Chest Fund and North Sunderland Area Committee, join privately-funded plaques which were installed on the green itself, as well as on The Times Inn in honour of Suddicker Sir William Mills whose hand grenade invention played a pivotal role in the Great War.

There are plans for more blue plaques to recognise local characters and important places, as well as two interpretive panels on either side of the green.

Peter Gibson with the new blue plaque on Stoney Lane, once a wagonway linking the quarries to the riverside kilns.

One will recognise the area’s rich industrial past while the other, near the War Memorial, will honour people from the area who’ve sacrificed their lives in conflicts, including Pte Michael Tench who was killed while serving in Iraq in January 2007 and Tucker Taylor who died in Northern Ireland in May 1973.

Just over £10,000 is needed to create and install the two panels and the society is looking for sponsors to contribute.

The Facebook page for the group can be found at 'Southwick Village Green Preservation Society'.

Suddick Fact File

Stoney Lane, Southwick new blue plaque.

:: Wealthy aristocrats owned much of Southwick and lived there as Lord of the Manor.

:: Industry arrived, beginning with the Suddick Glasshouse in 1690.

:: Potteries, glassworks, limestone burning, brickmaking and shipbuilding all followed.

:: By 1801, there were 554 inhabitants and by 1851 the census recorded 2,721 people who were living around the village green and the rapidly growing Low Southwick.

:: In 1912, the three sons of Robert Thompson Junior, the Southwick shipbuilder, paid for the green to be laid out as a memorial to their father. They laid out the green in the shape of a ship.

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The west end of Southwick Green in the early 1900s showing the top of Stoney Lane

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A view from the east end in the early 1900s.
The Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project building dates back to 1893 and played a vital role in village life