The Sunderland hotel with revolving doors and staff in resplendent maroon uniforms

A former Sunderland venue which attracted the stars certainly got the memories flowing.

Wednesday, 24th April 2019, 11:00 am
Taking a look inside the hotel.

We were delighted to get a great response to our article about the Grand Hotel – especially from Maureen Kitchin, whose late husband David Kitchin was managing director.

Maureen responded after we shared the memories of Ronnie Joynes who worked there between 1962 and 1966. He met celebrity guests such as Helen Shapiro and Hughie Green.

Grand Hotel, Bridge St, Sunderland pic taken 20 November 1972 old ref number 42-5962

Maureen said she had “a very close connection” with the Grand from 1959 until it was later taken over.

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The family connection did not end with her husband, as Maureen explained. “My husband’s grandfather, Wm Jackson, founded the company which bought several pubs and hotels stretching from Wooler to Boroughbridge, as it was his ambition to establish a link along the then A1.

“Wm Jackson (Sunderland) Ltd were eventually recognised as hotel proprietors/wine and spirit merchants. The stores and bottling plant were across the road from the Grand car park and the managers were Matthew Nixon and Walter Yardley.”

Maureen confirmed Ronnie’s memory that Mr Berry was a director who “stayed at the hotel when there were meetings. He and my husband voted against the sale of the Grand but the proposition of a take over was attractive to many share holders”.

Grand Hotel demolition 13 August 1974 old ref number 46 7782 Photographer Jack Carroll Work has started on the demolition of the Grand Hotel, Bridge Street, once one of Sunderland's premier hotels, which has become more and more derelict since it closed in January 1969 see Tuesday August 13 1974

She also told us of Terry Donnelly and his wife Angela who managed the Grand and lived there with their two children. “I knew them well. Around that time, the hotel was also managed by Mr and Mrs Renshaw.

“I knew a head receptionist named Dorothy who was a keen golfer. Mr Joynes described the head waiter, Eric, well: the butler from Downton Abbey reminds me of him.

“Very much in command but loved by the staff. Eventually his place was filled by Tony Vidovato, a Venetian, very skilled and spoke several languages. He had married a Sunderland girl and wanted to stay in the area.

“The head porter who had worked at the Grand for many, many years was Harry Defty. I can still picture him standing by the famous revolving doors in his immaculate gold braided maroon uniform. He was a valuable, reliable member of staff.

“The housekeeper was lovingly referred to as “Mrs Mac”. I am sure there was nothing that passed her scrutiny.

“I do recall the stars Mr Joynes referred to and many more including the PG Tips tea party chimps.”

Maureen added: “My husband, directors and staff worked hard to bring the hotel back to its former glory. He was responsible for the refurbishment of the restaurant and for naming it the White Rose. He had great plans for the future of the Grand.

“Among the head office staff who worked there were John Robinson, company secretary, John Keehner, accountant, Harry Bailes and Stan Evans, stock takers. There were 12 staff.”

The hotel closed in January 1969 and was put up for auction in 1971. But no bids were forthcoming and it was withdrawn from the auction. Demolition followed in October 1974.

Maureen said she and her husband were “appalled to hear of the Grand’s demolition”.

She described the hotel as “a landmark and a good source of employment for local people, not only in the hotel but in the stores and bottling plant. It was the end of an era”.

Linda Quinn-King, whose dad was the managing director, said on social media that the family “had quite a few hotels at one point”.

Derek Richardson was another to get in touch. “As a 15-year-old (1958-9) errand boy,” he said, “I delivered to the Grand Hotel, for Hammonds (Vine Place) high class purveyors of game/fish.

“I had to climb a spiral staircase at the rear of the hotel to do this.

“A few years later, with friends, we’d have a drink in the hotel bar.”

We also got plenty of interest in our original story from Ronnie on social media including Keith Cubby who remembered the back lounge, and David Wilkinson who said: “Just a shame it’s gone.”

Brenda Brown commented: “We’ve lost so many of our beautiful and outstanding buildings.”

Thanks to everyone who shared memories.