Sunderland shop stood firm against the German bombing

The constantly altering face of inner-city shopping has brought many changes to Sunderland.

Wednesday, 11th January 2017, 10:00 am
The Josephs store in Sunderland.

The main one perhaps being the massive decline of the city’s family-owned shops and businesses.

At one time Wearside boasted hundreds of these, not only in the town centre but right throughout its suburbs.

A view of Josephs store.

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One of the most popular was the sports shop in Union Street run by the Joseph family.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, looks back.

Joseph’s was founded by Benjamin Joseph Olshowski.

He was the son of Joseph Olshowski, a Jewish immigrant who had arrived on Wearside from Poland in the mid-nineteenth century.

A view of Josephs store.

The first shop was opened in 1881 in South Street near the Central Station.

At the time it was felt that Benjamin’s full name was too long to use so it was shortened to plain Ben Joseph.

At first, they made and sold horse harnesses and portmanteau, with Benjamin having completed his apprenticeship with a local company of saddlers and harness makers.

They had a prominent position in the town and quickly built up a reputation for fine workmanship in leather.

In 1904 Joseph’s moved into larger premises in Union Street in order to have more room for additional lines of goods. At that time there was a growing clamour for sporting goods as people were beginning to travel more and

sporting activities such as football and cricket were becoming increasingly popular as spectator sports.

As a result there was an upsurge in business in the town and the firm prospered.

During the First World War the horse was still a major form of transportation and the demands on firms that were dealing in saddles and harnesses increased.

Between 1914 and 1918 many servicemen passed through the firm’s workshops in Union Street and, under the guidance of Benjamin Joseph, became proficient in harness maintenance.

Ben’s son, Montague, joined his father towards the end of the war and, having learned the trade from him, also became expert in the art of tennis racquet making and stringing, to the extent that racquets that were made and strung by

Joseph’s were eagerly sought after by many of the leading players of the day.

In 1928, extensive alterations were made to the Union Street premises, enlarged showrooms were added and the firm became contractors to education authorities throughout the north east of England.

In 1939 further extensions were planned and adjoining properties were in the process of being acquired but then came the Second World War.

Being in the middle of the town and adjacent to the railway station, the property suffered considerable damage from bombing but the strength of the building was indicated by the fact that whilst most of the property in the vicinity was

destroyed, Joseph’s still stood amidst the ruins.

On September 5, 1940 Joseph’s, however, had the dubious honour of displaying in their front window a railway truck which, during an air raid, had been blown from the station into their premises.

Sporting equipment and travel goods were strictly rationed during the war period but the firm kept going until the end of hostilities when there was a great upsurge in sporting activities of every description.

Montague’s sons, David and Michael, eventually both joined the business in 1950 and 1953 respectively and the business continued to thrive.

In 1960 Josep’s relocated to larger premises in Holmeside and there began selling toys as well as its large range of sports equipment. Eventually the sports department moved a few doors up Holmeside into premises vacated by Milburn’s.

This shop closed in 1990 but trading carried on in the other premises until Christmas 1997 when Joseph’s closed its doors for the final time after serving Wearside for well over a century.