Location: Monkwearmouth, Co Durham
RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD MONKWEARMOUTH
- Mr. George Hudson
- Mr. Wm. Byers
- Mr. Thomas Russell
- Mr. John Cropton
- Mr. John Storey,
- Mr. Thompson Oliver's
- Mr. Thomas Walker, Spirit Merchant
- Squire Stafford
- Mr. Thomas Orwin,
- Mr. Ralph Preston Robson
- Mr. George Wilkin
- Mr. Peter Austin
- Mr. James Allison
- Mr. William Allison
- Mr. Thomas Speeding
- Mr. Robert Ayre
- Mr. Cuthbert Pattison
- Mr. Wm. Wealands Robson, Sen.
- Mr. John Smith
- Mr. William Thompson
- Hugh Smith
RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD MONKWEARMOUTH
Entitled — Some of the "Men of Mark" in Monkwearmouth in olden times, and their surroundings.
It will be scarcely disputed when I say, that no country has ever been so distinguished in the commercial world as Great Britain is to day, her ships and her traders are to be found in almost every habitable part of the globe which possesses such skill, indeed the race, energy, enterprise and indomitable courage, is pre-eminently fitted to lead the van in every branch of trade and commerce in all quarters of the world. We need not go far to prove this assertion, the little creek (as it was formerly called) known all over the world as the river Wear has in the past, also the present, done much to accomplish this fact, for there are nowhere to be found men of greater enterprising and pushing qualities than the Sons of the Wear, if we measure it by the new fangled sport and pastime of football which has become so exceedingly popular, though so recently introduced throughout Great Britain, the Sunderland Team whose headquarters is their large and commodious grounds at Monkwearmouth, the chief support of which is their popular President, Robert Thompson, Esq., J.P. of the West House, Fulwell, lead the van against all comers. The President is a worthy descendant of such men as we have had in the past, and a type of those that will be introduced in those pages to the notice of my readers; a class that has always existed in our ancient Borough. The little work I venture to place before my fellow townsmen is entitled: "Some of the Men of Mark" in Monkwearmouth in olden times. For has it not always been the case that when British Commerce, the English language, and her enterprising sons have found their way and pushed their peaceful conquests, all that is noblest and best in the British character has followed. At least this part of the country owes very much to them for their enterprise, their integrity, and their perseverance, confining my attention therefore to our own townsmen, and to me who have made their mark in the annals of the present century, we shall see amongst them characters worthy of imitation "which being dead yet speak" many of them as we shall see were of humble origin. The first to mention is
Mr. George Hudson
who resided the great part of his live in a small gravel coat-fronted house No. 113 Church Street, Monkwearmouth, which still remains as in its former state. He was tall in stature, slightly built, most regular in his habits, seldom seen in conversation or in company with any person outside his own office or place of business, he was very fond of pedestrian exercises especially on business as to the fair sex, seldom if ever he took notice of them in his travels, he was never married; for it seems that his sister Margaret and he had entered into an holy alliance never to enter the matrimonial pathway come what may. Margaret who was the oldest was born August 18th, 1791, and died September 17th, 1874. Mr. Hudson was one of the front rank shipowners in the north side, one might almost say in the entire town, when I was a boy he owned a fleet of vessels, the Minerva, Nelson, Wear, Providence, Northumberland, Eaolus, Grange, and Peace, some of which were employed in the coal trade, others in the timber trade and foreign trade. Another profitable trade he speculated in was that of ropemaking, starting a ropery near the "Babbies" and leading down Fulwell Road, and when in the prime of live he devoted a large amount of time and labour to this establishment, which resulted in a large trade, he was a shrewd painstaking and successful man in all that he took in hand, and was widely known in the commercial world. Finding years creeping on he partially retired from active interest in his business, and bought the Grange Estate, Newcastle Road, Monkwearmouth, as his country seat, an estate of no small value. The old ancient Hall and Grounds was laid out in splendid style, differing to what it did when occupied by the late Mr. John Laing, a famous shipbuilder, and uncle to Mr James Laing, of Deptford Shipbuilding Yard, here Mr. Hudson spent much of his spare time, seldom known to hospitably entertain in this fine old Mansion any company. Mr. Hudson was born on December 13th, 1800, died at the Grange on May 8th, 1884, having nearly reached the patriarchial age of 84 years. The remains of Mr. Hudson and his sister Margaret are deposited in the vault at the Mere Knolls Cemetery, a sum being provided for in his Will to the Board for the due performance in keeping it in good order, including also the family vault in the Old Churchyard. Previous to his death it is evident he had made provision by Will for the disposal of the wealth he had amassed, very few were known to be related to him, his Will was made at a time when everything was in its proper course, taking care not to forget his old and faithful servants of both sexes, to most of them he gave a life annuity. What was the full amount of that wealth or at what particular time of his life the foundations of his large fortune were laid down cannot be stated here, nor is it of much importance to know. One thing we do know that at his death a large portion of what wealth was left by him for a most excellent purpose, which is now known as the George Hudson's Charity, for the education, maintenance, and support and clothing of Orphan Boys and Girls between the ages of eight and fourteen years, two thirds being boys, one third being girls, and twenty such boys to be the sons of Sailors of Pilots belonging to the Port of Sunderland, twenty other such boys being Orphan Children, born and living within the limits of the Parish of Monkwearmouth aforesaid. The term "Orphan" to comprise only such children whose fathers is dead or paralized. All applications on behalf of Orphans to be made by a printed form to be had on application at the office 54 John Street and forwarded (post paid) to Mr. Robert Singleton, Superintendent. Passing on to No. 19 Church Street, it was the residence of
Mr. Wm. Byers
who near to the "East House" carried on a profitable business in those early days as a Block and Mast Maker, employing a large number of men and apprentices, also he held the Ropery at the top of Church Street, he was also a shipowner of this Port, on of the ships the name I well remember was the brig Sedulous. In the front of his residence there was a large jargonel pear tree trained up on the front wall, which was remarkable not only for the quantity of fruit it bore; but its quality. Mr. Byers bore an high reputation as an employer, seldom ever swerving from that strict integrity of character which he strove to maintain, ever mindful in doing a fair share of work in the means of his disposal to assist the poor and needy. During the long and severe winters, which was bitter indeed in these gone-bye days when the working class population had to suffer much during those dreary winters, but for such noble minded men as Mr. Byers, did much to alleviate their sufferings, and who took a most prominent part as one of "The Men of Mark" in Old Monkwearmouth, in those perilous times. His adjoining neighbour residence was
Mr. Thomas Russell
who also had a pear tree similarly trained, the quality being equal to the former, tempting as this fruit must have been hanging in clusters, to the young urchins, and not having the town protested by a Police Force at this early period, the wonder was of so few depredations then known to take place to what takes place at the present time. Mr. Russell carried on a similar business as the former on the quay end at the North side Ferry Landing, both these gentlemen were in good sound positions and had earned good names among the inhabitants of the town by the bestowal of many acts of kindness wherever it could possibly be done, and were both always very generous in relieving the wants and necessities of the poor that they could always be depended upon to be worthy of the name they bore. Near was the residence of
Mr. John Cropton,
another of the famous class of Shipowners. One of his vessels I remember so well was the Clara, named after one of his daughters, another, Legatus, and another Aspasio, besides other vessels that he owned were chiefly employed in the timber trade, trading to Montreal and Quebec. The vessels crossing the Atlantic were not allowed by the Clubs in which they were insured to leave the port before the 1st of April. This was a red-letter day on the river Wear, and a pretty sight it was to see so many fine ships dressed up, colours flying and garlands suspended on high between the masts all proceeding seawards: and afterwards cruising under sail to test their sailing qualities too and fro in the roadstead before taking their final departure. The many friends who accompanied them out into the roadstead after taking a farewell were brought on shore by the Steamer in attendance to relate their experiences in the parting of their loved ones, but not before partaking of the "Boiled Beef of Old England, and the cup that cheers," drinking the health and happiness of all on board, with a prosperous voyage to the noble ship, hoping to see the same garland flying in the same place on their return to England's shores, which was an omen of a favourable voyage across and back of the wild Atlantic Ocean. Each vessel strove hard to make two voyages in the time allowed by the Clubs to go there and back, before the month of November set in. Commanders opinions varied as to the route preferable, some taking a southerly direction, while others a northerly one. On the discharge of their last timber cargo, they were taken out on the Insurance Clubs for the winter season, stripped and laid up near the North Quay with their bare masts and yards crossed, giving the river a dismal appearance. A sad occurrence took place in the winter of February 16th, 1828, in connection with this family. The writer, and their son George, aged 8 years, took a stroll from home during the holiday season on that day February 16th, taking Southwick Road for their journey, on reaching the Half Way House, they took a turn in the direction of Burdiss' Lime Kilns, found them empty, as was usual in the winter season, the ground at that time was thickly covered with snow, young George (boy-like) noticing a keel drifting down on the ebbing tide with a man on board, stooped and made up a snowball and threw it at the Keelman from the top of the kilns where they were standing, moving backward so that he might not be seen, forgetting that he was so near the gaping mouth of the empty line-kiln, down he went, no one near him only his companion the writer, who lost no time in giving the alarm, help was soon forthcoming, and George was soon got out from the kiln, but it was quickly seen that life was extinct. The sad news soon spread far and wide, and the remains of poor George were conveyed home as quickly as possible. Such a sad event as this, the sudden death of one so young, so full of promise, cast a gloom over not only the household, but also throughout the whole of the town during the remainder of the festive season just closing. Strange as it may appear there was no inquest held, nor any attempt so far as I can remember to get up a court of inquiry; I ask, would it be the same now? Oh! dear no. Mr. Cropton was a worthy benefactor in all that appertained to the welfare of the working classes, and deserves to be classed as one of the "Men of Mark" in Old Monkwearmouth, living to a good old age, died March 24th, 1872 aged 87 years. Another of the prominent lights was his neighbour
Mr. John Storey,
whose residence almost adjoined Mr. Cropton's, this identical house is now the grocery business of Mr. Anthony Brown. Mr. Storey on arriving in this town in early life was comparatively in humble circumstances, yet much to his credit made rapid progress in his business pursuits, he began to speculated most largely in the Rope and Sail business, the works were right abreast of his residence leading on in an easterly direction towards Roker Banks. After the success that had attended his efforts in this direction, he began shipbuilding at the Sand Point, North Sands, in this also he succeeded most marvellously, and for many years gave employment to a large number of men and boys including able bodied women at the former works already mentioned. On arriving at the zenith of his prosperity, he purchased the estates connected to the large mansion belonging to Squire Stafford, so well know as the "Babbies," the land an plantation extending down Fulwell road. After repairing the estate, he left Church Street and took up his residence at the Squire's mansion, but we have reason to believe that he returned to his former residence in Church Street and died there, he was about 65 years at the time of his decease, and was then greatly reduced in circumstances to a sorrowful extent, he was buried in the old churchyard, so was Mrs. Storey. Mr. Storey was always considered a careful and industrious man, therefore we must not imagine that the adverse circumstances in which he was then placed at the close of his eventful life was brought about by any extravagance whatever, but it was quite the contrary, like others of our business men, he was subjected to fluctuations and changes of the unsettled state of trade over which he had no control whatever. Mr. Storey had shown that he possessed extraordinary powers of business management, not only the rope making and sailmaking business which was an extensive one, and also his large shipbuilding works; but he was also the owner of three or more large ships employed in the timber trade to Canada, the names were the John and Mary, Defender, and Planet, yet notwithstanding the large amount of wealth and property he had accumulated during his career, yet as we have said he had to a large extent to part with it ere he changed worlds. While he had the means, Mrs. Storey was known to be very mindful of the poor, supplying their wants liberally and cheerfully, the poor of the neighbourhood lost at their deaths useful benefactors, and the working classes in so many branches of trade sustained in like manner a severe loss for Mr. Storey was well known to the writer, and was always one of the best employers of labour, and was entitled to take front rank among the "Men of Mark" of Monkwearmouth in olden times, and which life has helped to make our town what it is to-day. Some years after the late Mr. Robert Thompson had fulfilled the duties as manager at the Patent Slip and Sawmill at Jarrow, he was induced by Mr. John Storey, Shipbuilder and Roper of North Sands to return to his Native town, and undertake the management of his yard, and in which the late Mr. Joseph L. Thompson, and his brother John commenced their apprenticeships in Nov. 1836. The entire North Sands is now occupied by the three sons of the late Mr. Joseph L. Thompson, whilst the elder son of Mr. Robert, the senior member of the firm has recently began his apprenticeship at the North Sands Shipyard. It will thus be noticed that there are no less than three firms of Wear Shipbuilders, who have entered the fourth generation of their business of shipbuilding, viz., Mr. James Laing, Mr. S.P. Austin, and Messrs. Joseph L. Thompson and Sons.
claim to a part in this brief work cannot be overlooked. He followed the same trade as Mr. Storey, their roperies adjoining each other. Mr. Thompson Oliver was one of the first residents in Lower Dundas Street, that being then a fashionable spot where dwelt those in higher ranks of society. Mr. Oliver was rather short of stature. When in the prime of life was as quick in his movements, as in business matters, not only the ropery did he take management of, but was also one of our celebrated Shipowners. I remember well, one of his fine brigs called the Progress, invariably employed as an Holland Trader. In religious matters he was very earnest, taking a lively interest in the welfare of the Barclay Street Baptist Church, and at his decease was greatly missed, not only by this Church, but by a large number of all ranks and conditions of men, women, and children, with whom he was ever ready to co-operate for their happiness. He was a native of the old parish, and a good employer of labour, and is entitled to a place among the Leading Lights in the early days as one of the prominent "Men of Mark," of Monkwearmouth. In the same street resided
Mr. Thomas Walker, Spirit Merchant,
who was the first resident in the street, and carried on the above business on the premises know as the Grapes Hotel built by himself. Mr. Walker was born at Southwick; in stature about the average height, but very slightly built, in his young days he managed to receive a very good education which was very rare to attain, choosing later on for his profession that of a schoolmaster. His scholastic abilities were soon required in another direction, and he eventually became the Principle Clerk at the North Quay Brewery which then or soon afterwards came into the possession of Mr. James Allison. Fortune smiled upon him every step he took, being one of our local shipowners. A few of the names of the ships he owned must suffice, such as the Spring, Thompsons, Ranger, Grace, and Arethusa. Mr. Walker like many others in the early days of our towns history, was one of those self-made men which spring from the humbler ranks of society, and who seem destined to make an important place in the higher ranks of society. Mr. Walker was not a man of words, but a deep thinker and observant to all that was passing, always guarding against entering in public matters; but he was a man of consistent principle, and did his part well by relieving the wants and necessities of the poor to whom he was an acknowledged benefactor, also his wife, a Mrs. Thompson to whom he was, while in the middle age of manhood married. He was another of the Leading Lights who formed the "Men of Mark," in Monkwearmouth in olden times. I come now to a different class of men altogether from those who have been mentioned, one who had never Toiled nor Spun, never known the ups and downs of business life, and one to whom the common saying could be applied, that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, I mean
who was at this period one of the leading lights, and greatly looked up to, I have previously alluded to the mansion at the corner of Broad Street, (now called Roker Avenue) where the Squire resided, surrounded with all that was beautiful and refined to make a life happy and contented, and with a full share of comforts too. The mansion had a massive clock erected on the roof which struck the hours in loud and sonorous tones, and leaden figures of imagery known as the "Babbies" extended from Portobello Lane to the extent of the estate on the walls leading down Fulwell Road to where now stands the Church of All Saints', two of them can now be seen in Roker Park. The Squire was never known to take any part in the management of the town affairs, his whole bent and study seemed to be Cock fighting, it was then as Football is at the present day most popular of the Sports and Pastimes in which all classes of Society (more or less) delight to indulge in. The Squire was celebrated as a great breeder of Game Cocks, and there were few in those days who equalled him as a breeder (at least in his position) and who took great interest in this brutal game in which Monkwearmouth figured so prominently in days gone by, and big Billy Bainbridge of the "Artichoke," (a near resident of the Squire's) were great friends in this brutal sport, which would not be tolerated at the present day. The writer can well remember having seen the steel spurs put on the birds and the commencement of the struggle in the cockpit yard, and in the raised ring used expressively for that purpose, on some occasions these fights frequently took place in the adjoining yard known as the Fighting Cock Yard, the former was reached through an open as can still be seen at the back of Thomas Street and Roker Avenue. Not long ago an old lady Mrs. Ann Gerry who lived to near her hundredth year told the writer, that when in the service of the Squire during her girlhood days, she remembered distinctly that the squire once won the County Prize, which was a full size Game Cock cast in Gold. He was so delighted at his success that he placed the prize on top of one of the columns of the Babbies unprotected during the day, but of course taken it in at nightfall, so that his neighbours and fellow townsmen might see this unique and valuable prize which he had won, there is no doubt this would be a risky thing to do in the present day. So great was the interest in this man of wealth took, even in the local prize cock in the fights at the Fighting Cock Yard at Monkwearmouth, for he was always found there a prominent figure mixing among all classes of society. The Squire it was true had got the wealth, but what use was that wealth and culture to the people among which he was placed. What a contrast to those worthy sons of Monkwearmouth already mentioned. I cannot think that the life of the Squire was a wasted one, with good opportunities and power for good what he might have done during his long sojourn in the mansion, and the possession of wealth be admitted as a claim to be classed as one of the "Men of Mark," in Monkwearmouth in olden times, I suppose we must (though reluctantly) find a corner for the wealthy Squire Stafford.
Mr. Thomas Orwin,
another of these worthies, whose residence almost adjoined the Squire's mansion, was quite a different stamp of a man to the squire on matters concerning his own interest and the welfare of the town; he was a powerfully built man, well made, and of great height. He had known in his early days, from practical experience what the rough and tumble life of a sailor was, but by thrift and perseverance he had laid by that capital which enabled him to become a shipowner, making another added to that useful class of persons who have been so necessary to the welfare and prosperity of this seaport town. He owned three very fine brigs, the Tiberias, Beaver, and Orwin, all Canadian timber traders. Mr. Orwin's life was one of great activity and usefulness, known to be a great favourite with the men employed on board his ships, because in everything he was reasonable and just. Mr. Orwin lived to a good old age, and died at his favourite residence near the Babbies; which still remains unaltered with its red painted front, in the old fashioned style. Thomas Orwin's perseverance and success in our town entitles him to be classed among the list of the "Men of Mark" that have made Monkwearmouth what it is at the present time. A little further west in this terrace is the residence of a very old standard
Mr. Ralph Preston Robson,
grandfather to the late Wm. Wealands Robson, solicitor, also to Colonel Robson, of Roker, a partner at the North Dock Shipbuilding Company, the father of the two latter being Mr. Wm. Wealands Robson, sen., Shipowner, residing in Whitburn Street. The Robson's of West Morton, in the County of Durham, who came from the North Tyne in the reign of Henry VIII., their pedigree going back to A.D. 1500, is recorded in the Herald Visitation of 1615, and in Surtee's History of Durham. Mr. Ralph Preston Robson born 1762, died 1843, was great great grandson to the first of the family who settled in Monkwearmouth, and great great grandfather to Mr. Allac George Robson, the present head of the family. It may not be generally known that towards the latter part of the last century Mr. Robson purchased the upper end of the terrace abutting Portobella Lane from the estate of Squire Stafford, the thatched houses attached to the farm were then residences of the Farm Servants, and erected on the site a residence, the present building, its equal been unknown in that little township. The house then, as it still appears, has the appearance of having a small house attached to it at each end. Some persons giving it the name of Ralphy's Wing, there was a magnificent lawn in front the full width of the frontage. Mr. Robson resided there for a number of years, and took an unusual pride in seeing the lawn kept clean and in proper order, in his old days he spent much time in this work, always accompanied by a tiny favourite dog which he had at full command. The writer and the writer's father were frequently employed in cutting and rolling the lawn. Sometime after his death it became the Monkwearmouth Dispensary, since extended, and is now the Monkwearmouth and Southwick Hospital, a great boon to the town. Mr. Robson was also the owner of other landed property, in 1827 he built a row of cottages near the old workhouse Portobella lane, they still remain in the same plain old fashioned style, about the same period he owned two very large ships which I well remember, one was called the Belzonia, a barque, the other the Salamis, built expressly by himself for the Mediterranean trade, and launched from behind the North Pier into the Potatoe garth. Mr. Robson in his old days was a short thick set man, peculiar in some of his ways and so very precise in everything around him, in his early days, (we are told) he took a more prominent part in public matters concerning Monkwearmouth, and was much looked up to: but as years rolled along he kept very close in his own domain, seldom, if ever, seen outside, whereas he could be seen early and late on the lawn (weather permitting) spending hours in the open sunshine, shaded with the large elm trees outside, watching every passing movement in the then village of Monkwearmouth, very different to what it is now with its continuous bustle and commotion. I suppose he never contemplated that some day there would be running by his front, a tramcar service permanently fixed. He lived to a good old age, and was a most worthy citizen during his long sojourn here, reasonably he can claim to be considered as one of the leading lights, also one of the "Men of Mark" in olden times and greatly respected.
Another well known figure in old Monkwearmouth was
Mr. George Wilkin,
who lived in the double fronted house directly opposite the Squire's mansion, he was rightly termed a true old English Gentleman by the early inhabitants of Monkwearmouth, the antiquate form of the house seemed to harmonise and fit that well known personage. His peculiar style of dress would no doubt attract the attention of those in the present day much more than in the past, and perhaps would be considered somewhat strange in his appearance, no doubt that he followed the highest fashion and custom of the day, which in my boyhood days was fast disappearing among the gentry, for he cultivated and wore the plaited pigtail of hair hanging down his back, and also wore the ruffled or trilled shirt front which was the fashion at that time, in addition to this when dressed for company he always appeared in velvet breeches and orange or light coloured stockings, and on special occasions he wore silver buckles to his low fronted shoes, the coat and vest were of a sky-blue colour with large silver buttons, the coat swallow tail cut was much in fashion at that period. Mr. Wilkin up to the time of his death had the pride and satisfaction of knowing that he owned among his ships the oldest vessel belonging to any of the northern ports, her name was the Blackbird, with a representation of the bird on a twin painted on her stern. The Blackburn was considered in those early days, to be of large dimensions, she certainly was an unsightly vessel so very high out of the water at the after end, resembling the style of construction during the reigns of Charles II. or James I., any person with the slightest knowledge of ships could easily pick her out from among the other colliers in the roadstead before she entered the harbour. Mr. Wilkin ran her in the coal trade as long as he could find officers and crew to sail her, the condition of his old favourite became so dangerous and unseaworthy that no one cared to take the command of her, she was then stripped and berthed alongside of the North Quay abreast of Mr. John Dickinson's famous engine works where she remained for years, so infested with rats had she became during these years of idleness, that the writer had seen the large holes eaten by the rats through the bottom of the vessel causing her to sink with every tide. It was said (and there is every reason to believe the report) that the owner would not part with his favourite until she had completed her 100th year, and just about that period she was taken to pieces and sold, many of the parishioners securing their bargains out of mere curiosity. The Blackbird and her owner, with their strange old fashioned appearances resembled each other, they were representatives of a period which had passed away, never more to return. Another singular act he performed which fully testified his loyalty to his king and country at the close of the war with France, as can still be seen at the north-east corner of Nelson square, Monkwearmouth, he caused a large stone to be inserted in the corner wall of the block of property he owned, cut out in the old fashioned letters the following inscription Nelson Square,
- In commemoration of the victory obtained by
- Admiral Nelson of the French Fleet off the mouth of
- the Nile on the 1st. of August, 1798.
- This stone was erected by George Wilkin, sen.
Mr. Wilkin was well known to the writer, and though undoubtedly eccentric in his ways, but at the same time he possessed very many good qualities of the good old English gentleman type of character, and may well be considered fit to take his place among the leading lights of Monkwearmouth in olden times, and to warrant him being classed among the "Men of Mark" of Monkwearmouth in olden times.
At the back of the residence of Mr. Wilkin was the Curtain, as it was formerly called, sometimes Curtain square, by others as of late Dixon's square, having an entrance from Church street on the east side, and on the north-west from Broad street, (or Roker avenue) was the residence of many of the higher class of society, very different to day than what it was 70 years ago. It is now let into tenements occupied by the working classes. Among the gentry in former times was the residence of
Mr. Peter Austin
the founder of a family that the people of Monkwearmouth feel proud of. The writer can picture Mr. Peter Austin, with the countenance of meekness and love which showed itself so conspicuous, sitting in his accustomed place at the Whitburn street Wesleyan Chapel; or as he appeared on those great annual occasions when so many of the schools of the circuit assembled in their festivals. He had always a warm heart towards the enjoyment of children, it was a source of keen delight and pleasure when he could minister to the wants of that required his help. There was one feature in his character which perhaps stood out more prominent than others, it was that of benevolence, for he was a type of the early Methodists, trained how to give and what to give, whether in the church or in the town. What, it may be asked, was the foundation and main-spring of such liberality? It was his religion; deeply rooted in his nature, and no man had a keener insight in business matters, and in his later years when he had the valuable assistance of his son Samuel Peter who was a comfort to him even up to old age. The sequel of it was, that he was imbued with love, reverenced his sanctuary, and profited by the means of grace resulting in his future success in worldly matters. When he first entered into business as a shipbuilder, it was in the yard at Nova Scotia, near the famed Dame Dolly's rock, he built there the fine brig the Robert Raikes, for his friend Mr. Thomas Speeding (named after the founder of the Sunday School System) afterwards, and for some time remaining here. In 1829 he took the yard on the North Sands, vacated by Mr. James Allison, his son Samuel Peter (the latter being father to the present iron shipbuilders Mr. S.P. Austin and Stanley Austin, Brothers,) rendered valuable assistance in this department, and was a great comfort and support to his father in his old age; apparently Samuel Peter was born to be a shipbuilder and constructor, the tact to buy and sell and make trade, was fully marvellously developed in this aspiring youth, who seemed to have inherited this trait perhaps more strongly marked than in his father. He had a genius for design and construction, just as Watts had for rhyming, and Sir Humphrey Davy for chemical experiments, his fame spread far and wide, and to-day the firm occupies a high position, not only on the Wear, but throughout the world of Naval Construction. This firm continued building on the North Sands for some years, and at Southwick. The firm being better known them as Austin and Mills, building some fine ships, and employing a large number of men and apprentices, and were celebrated not only for the style of their ships, but for the quality also. In about (it may be) 1846, they removed from North Sands to the Panns Slipway and building yard on the opposite side of the Wear, near the bridge, where they are at present located, they were not long in discovering that a much large class of ship was in great demand, and to meet this they dispensed with the slipway in order to provide a graving dock of large dimensions. The firm is now, and has been for some time past, under the control of Messrs. S.P. and Stanley Austin, Brothers, the surviving sons of the late Mr. Samuel Peter Austin, in point of age the firm is the oldest but one now existing on the Wear, Mr. James Laing, being the oldest. Since the yard has been under the present management, they have gone fully into the construction of the new class of steel steamers and sailing ships of large dimensions, and are now extending their works by taking in the adjoining yard in order to build a much larger class of ships, where they will soon be able to compete with any other firm on the Wear. We think that the late Mr. Peter Austin, and his son Samuel Peter, and the other two sons, must be included in any list of the lights which formed a part of the "Men of Mark" of old Monkwearmouth at a time when such men were much needed.
I may note here that the only son of Mr. S.P. Austin, Mr. Selwin P. Austin has now put on his harness and taken up the work as a shipbuilder, so he is the fourth generation.
Another of the brilliant and speculating lights that shone so brightly in the dark days of old Monkwearmouth, when there was no gas supply, was that of
Mr. James Allison,
who resided in the large residence adjoining Dove's Open, Roker Avenue, at one time it was only a two storey building, but, as can be seen another storey was added in 1827 by Mr. Allison, who also brought out the noble window to some distance on the beautiful front garden, which formed a room in itself. The drawing room above where he entertained at various times so many of the gentry of the surrounding neighbourhood was a fine spacious place, extending the entire width of this large building, beautifully and elaborated fitted. This addition to the residence was, to Mr. Allison necessary, on account of his family steadily increasing; it still stands intact, a spacious model of a comfortable home of the well-to-do classes, unfortunately now let into tenements, I well remember the lovely garden in front, Mr. Allison spared neither money or time in having it thoroughly attended to during the four seasons of the year, seldom I pass but cast a glance of the years past and gone, for it was beautifully laid out and stocked with the choicest plants and flowers that money could purchase; during the summer season the fragrance from the lovely spot was something delightful. The writer when quite a boy assisted his father who was the appointed gardener. Mr. Allison possessed business abilities of a high character, a knowledge of which extended beyond the confines of his native town, for when young he entered fully into shipbuilding at the North Sands, at this yard and under Mr. Allison, the late Mr. Robert Thompson, Shipbuilder, grandfather to the present shipbuilders, North Sands Yard, served his apprenticeship, Mr. Allison having served his apprenticeship as a shipwright under the late Mr. James Hall, Bridge Dock. After his death the works were carried on by his two sons George Wilkin and William Hall. The present Mrs. Allison, wife of Colonel Allison at Roker, is a daughter of the former G.W. Hall, Colonel Allison, son of Mr. James Allison, is now on the retired rank of Honorary Colonel of the 4th Durham Light Infantry, and is now in possession of the high rank of a C.B., the medal being sent by H.M. the Queen, for the eminent services performed, and is also a D.L. J.P. There was also a relation of the gallant Colonel in early times known as Willy Allison, he was a keelman, and on one occasion was taken by the press gang, and afterwards joined the Royal Navy, and appointed to H.M. line of battleship, the Victory, Flag ship of Admiral Lord Nelson, and was one of the Admiral's boats crew. On one occasion on the Admiral landing, the latter received a bullet wound in his shoulder, and on returning to his ship the wound being examined by a surgeon there was no hope of saving the arm. Admiral Nelson gave vent to his feelings to remove the arm, which was taken off in the presence of Mr. Allison. Another novelty now in the Colonel's possession, is that of an ancient relic, an ordinary sized claw hammer which was found on the wall plate supporting the rafters of the roof of the old church at Monkwearmouth, on the church having a new roof in 1806, this relic has been for years in the Hall's family, Nelson Square, since then it became the property of Colonel Allison, and is supposed from where it was found to have been left there on the erection of that ancient fabric, many hundreds of years ago. Mr. Allison, as we have already intimated, showed great promise as a shipbuilder, continuing there for many years, gaining fame as a constructor of some fine specimens of the wooden fleet, which was then the pride of the Wear, and amongst which were the Harrietta, and Cynthia, the former vessel taking her name from a daughter still living. About 1830 Mr. Allison retired from shipbuilding, and took the North Quay Brewery, then vacant, caused by Mr. Robert Holt retiring to enter upon the shipbuilding yard at Jarrow, the late Mr. Robert Thompson accepting the management of that large concern. He was a most pleasant and affable gentleman to approach at any time, always ready with a kind word to give to all inferiors as well as equals in his station of life; as an employer of labour he was all that could be desired, his benevolent disposition was well known in supplying the wants of the poor and needy, his wife with the same disposition, so very kind and benevolent in every good work.
Mr. Allison was elected Mayor of his native borough November 9th, 1844, and again in 1868. It is very pleasant to write an account of the life, however brief, of such a worthy son of old Monkwearmouth whom the writer can well remember, and fully bear out the facts here stated. It is such men as these who are the makers of local history, and who are far more worthy of remembering even in imperial history than some of the persons whose names adorns its pages.
We come to another worthy townsman that of
Mr. William Allison,
brother of the above Mr. James Allison, this gentleman's residence was about the centre of George Street on the east side, a fine old fashioned house, the front of which can still be seen in the plain style; but on the removal of Mr. Allison to Ravensworth terrace, (off Roker avenue) where he died, the estate fell into the hands of Mr. Thomas Speeding, great alterations were made in the re-building, and a large and commodious residence was built on the large plot of land attached, which was formerly laid out as a lawn. Mr. William Allison was an attorney, carrying on the business at offices attached to his old residence on the southern end of the building, which specially set apart, he was a tall but slenderly built man; walking before God in faithfulness, and a man among men; he belonged to Whitburn street Wesleyan Chapel, a class leader there, and a sick visitor, visiting from house to house, giving a kind work to the poor, and the families he visited, not fearing to give of his substance to relieve the necessitous and distressed. The writer knew him to be a thorough christian, upright in all his ways and actions, inside and outside the pale of the church; at his death the poor lost a kind and amiable friend, and in religion he was a true and ardent supporter, may he not, with the strictest propriety be pronounced as one of the brightest lights that formed the "Men of Mark" in Monkwearmouth in olden times. Another gem of our old town was
Mr. Thomas Speeding,
in the youthful days of the writer to whom he was well known, the figure of Mr. Speeding was conspicuous in our streets, who took great interest in his early days in local matters affecting the town, and its commerce, for he was not only a Town Councillor, but afterwards, became an Alderman of this important borough, attending closely to all its duties, he was also President and Treasurer of the Monkwearmouth Gas-light Company, until its dissolution in 1846. In all the improvements, such as the making of the Monkwearmouth Dock, he took an active part therein, he was active in matters connected with the church to which he had been attached from childhood to old age. About the year 1824 it was decided to pull down the Whitburn street Wesleyan Chapel, and rebuild it. Mr. Speeding at this period lived for some years in the house built against the north end of the chapel, subsequently the site was required for the erection of the present schools, he removed elsewhere later on to his newly erected house in George street, where it is said he died. Mr. Speeding began his business life as a sailmaker in premises on the quay end at the north ferry landing, having Mr. Robert Frost as his managing foreman. In the course of years becoming one of the prominent shipowners of the port, one of his vessels was the Robert Raikes, named after the founder of the Sunday School System, which shows how great the admiration of the genial christian was for Robert Raikes and his good work. Monkwearmouth was at this time just rising out of that extreme degradation which had characterised it in the days of Whitfield and Wesley. When Mr. Speeding joined the band of brave men in this part of the circuit, who could be seen wending their way to chapel, whenever the doors were open, and as regular as the Sundays came, and the week night services were held. During week days he was in ceaseless business activity; but on Sundays he was free from this, the services were his delight, the sermons his meat and drink; the hymns his heaven. His life was a uniform testimony to the power and excellence of the grace of Christ; he was a most excellent class leader, the interest he took in the sabbath school was most surprising, it was his great delight even to his closing days, when his lamp became dim through age, he never turned weary in the sabbath school work, but held on to the last, like the Sabbath School Founder Robert Raikes, he was one of the noble band of pioneers in Sunday school work. The name of Robert Raikes always brought a happy smile to the countenance of Mr. Speeding, he was also a very acceptable Local Preacher, taking his country appointments with others, on the plan, extending as Seaham Harbour, greatly assisting the younger class of preachers in their work of labour and love to win souls was his chief delight. The public generosity of the man has been much extolled by our former townsmen, but the writer is fully persuaded from personal knowledge, that his deeds of private benevolence were of a most delicate character, at least equalling, if not exceeding his more public acts of charity. No man was less spoiled by unexpected wealth, or less elated by marvellous attention, and sometime painful flattery, paid by men of rank and influence. He prospered in the worlds wealth, but was uninjured in his honesty, simplicity, and national urbanity, by that wealth. The humblest, whether kinsman or strangers, was a welcome as the proudest or titled could be. Could he but speak out of the ground, he would echo these works, "Not unto us but unto Thy name be all the praise." Following after the Robert Raikes was the Iona, built by the late Mr. Robert Thompson, grandfather to the present builders, on the North Sands yard, which had the honour to be the first vessel that entered the North Dock on its opening, she was steered in by the late Lady Williamson. Another new vessel Mr. Speeding got built was the Jubilee, a noble ship of large dimensions in those days, also many other vessels were owned by him. His son James soon after this began to show unmistakable signs of following the footprints of his father, and assisted much in the sailmaking business upon a much larger scale than his father, and also the steam shipping interest belonging to the port. In the late Mr. Thomas Speeding, including those of his family mentioned, each carried their religion into all the concerns of every day life showing the light that existed among a few in the early days of this ancient parish. It cannot be disputed that Mr. Thomas Speeding, by his acts and deeds, combined with wealth, is worthy of a niche in local fame as a "Man of Mark" in our dear old town. No record, however brief, of a town like Monkwearmouth, whose prosperity is so largely identified with ships and sailors, could exclude a consideration of this remarkable man, which is so interesting, and also the careers of those "old salts," who, by such dogged perseverance have climbed to the height of prosperity, and such a one was
Mr. Robert Ayre,
his old fashioned residence built during the reign of George II. can still be seen in its unaltered state as 34 Whitburn street, nearly opposite the Wesleyan Chapel. He was one of those big and powerful weather-beaten sailors, who, having spent a large portion of their early days on the ocean, and when drawing on towards middle age, settle down on shore. Captain Ayre had succeeded in laying up a fair amount of wealth, which he had honestly earned, and which he soon invested in the shipping interest. In 1832 he had a fine large brig built by Messrs. George and Wm. Hall, at the Bridge Dock shipyard, named the Jane Ayre, called after his wife. It being the custom then that all the apprentices, on the launching of their first ship were to go through the ceremony of "ducking," that is, a plunge into the river as soon as the ship rested safely on the bosom of her future element, accordingly all were placed on the edge of the high quay wall, and without any ceremony made a jump, Mr. Robert Thompson being one of the number, disporting themselves in the water to their hearts content, all being swimmers. On being noticed one of the number had not complied with the rule, still standing on "terra firma," evidently showing the "white feather" for he could not swim like the others, this being the writer, a big powerful apprentice the name of Brown came behind, taking the writer in his arms, deliberately threw him in the deep river like he would a dog, the onlookers finding the boy was drowning, called for Brown to see for himself, at once Brown plunged in, he being known as an expert swimmer, bringing the writer safely on shore to the plaudits of the gazing multitude assembled to witness the Baptism of the young apprentice in the bosom of "Father Neptune." He also had other ships about the same tonnage, running them for some years in the Holland trade. The Captain never seemed to have any taste, nor desire to take any part in public matters, nor yet anything concerning the welfare of the town, his ambition seemed thoroughly bent in taking the entire management of the ships he then owned, and diligently looking after his own affairs, yet could always be depended upon to carry out what he promised, even if it cost him twofold more, he was always considered a sailors friend, never taking the front rank to reduce their scale of pay, he knew too well how dearly they earned their small stipends. One of the qualities this old sailor possessed was a charitable disposition to the poor and distressed, the hard and severe winters which prevailed in those gone-bye days, causing so many ships to be laid up for the winters season, bringing misery and distress to many poor people, he doing a fair share of the work to alleviated their sorrows from the pinching and fierce times that were then so common in this town. He lived to a tolerable good old age, possessing a fair share of this world's goods. It may not be generally know that the wife of Dr. Strachan, of Dundas street was a grand daughter of this venerable sailor, Mr. Robert Ayre, who was a notable figure in old Monkwearmouth, representing as he does a class of men of whom any town might be proud, he must rank as one of the "Men of Mark" in the olden times of Monkwearmouth.
The next notable person to be dealt with, springs from a different class altogether, the last mentioned spending his youthful days on the sea, the one now to be considered on the shore, and here there was a wide difference of their early training, yet it will be seen, they both made their mark in a most marvellous way. I come now to
Mr. Cuthbert Pattison,
better known in early days as "Cuddy Pattison," who resided also in Whitburn street, at No. 104. Mr. Pattison spent much time daily in his well kept garden in front (weather permitting), he had a choice selection of rose trees, shedding their fragrance around during the summer season. Not only in the case of Mr. Pattison, but each householder from the chapel upwards seemed to take a pride and a delight in keeping a well ordered front garden. Very little alteration has taken place in the front part of this house, excepting a shop window has been put in, and there is still the large space of ground in front uncultivated. Mr. Pattison sprung from the stock and descendants of "Saint Crispin." In the early part of his life he toiled early and late in his small shop in Wear street, which is now pulled down, laying the foundation of his future wealth, increasing it by a judicious and well-timed investment in the shipping trade, like so many of his neighbours and intimate friends. Of the two first ships he owned was named the Riga Merchant, the other Scipio, they were both so well employed in the coal trade shortly after the war with France, that it was said, they were like gold mines to their owner. Those vessels, and others, which Mr. Pattison owned were entirely under his own management, strange as it may appear, he soon acquired a large store of useful shipping knowledge, there were few that could surpass him; yet in spite of all his accumulated wealth, his appearance showed plainly the humble source from which he had risen. He was a tall man, slenderly built, and like the former sailor could not be persuaded to take any part in things connected with the town, perhaps it was that he felt his unfitness to take part in public matters; but anyhow, his aim in the past, was the same as at present — to be wholly concerned in looking after his own affairs, which absorbed his whole attention. His benevolence was not extended more than in the ordinary way, nor did he keep any company with those of his friends outside his own domain, or sever attempt to make any show to gain the plaudits of those inferior to him in wealth or position, or the smile and approval of those above him, yet he was considered by some, notwithstanding his failings and shortcomings, a man of position, qualified to be placed among the "Men of Mark" of Monkwearmouth in olden times.
Another of the more excellent class of worthies in olden times is a gentleman who personally, and whose long line of ancestors have been so deeply interested and identified with the best interests of Monkwearmouth, the very name brings back the sweet recollection and association of the past, is
Mr. Wm. Wealands Robson, Sen.
Father to the late Mr. William Wealands Robson, Solicitor, North Bridge street, and Colonel Robson of Roker, (co-partner at the North Dock Iron Shipbuilding yard) those two gentlemen are grandsons of the late Ralph Preston Robson, already mentioned. Mr. Wm. Wealands Robson lived many years at 105 Whitburn street near Mr. Pattison, where most of his family was born. The house at that time had a most respectable appearance, and the residents of the locality then were chiefly of the higher ranks of the town; there is but little alteration in the appearance of the exterior since the occupation of Mr. Robson, excepting what might be expected by the ravages of time, and the change of a different class of residents. Mr. Robson was a true type of English bred gentleman in his appearance, ways, and manners, and he was respected by all who came in contact with him, his life was one of great activity and usefulness, both religious and philanthropic, his benevolence was well known, never to be doubted, prompted and aided in this direction as he was by the partner of his life, who was a great comfort and assistance to him even under the greatest and most pressing difficulties she was ever found at his side. Strange as it may appear the venerable old lady still lives, and resides at Torquay. She was born in the year 1800, being now in her 94th year, and still enjoys good health, and her faculties are unimpaired. Mr. Robson was one of a few on the north side that took a deep interest in the education of the boys belonging to the working class, the deep attention he paid to their education was most praiseworthy, this was at a time when the education of the boys belonging to the working class was at a very low ebb, no Board Schools were then formed, evidently Mr. Robson was 60 years or more before his time, so great was his desire for boys of this class to undergo a training to fit them to be useful members of society, that he carried it a step further, by having the whole of his sea apprentices, when their vessels were laid up for the winter season in the harbour, to attend the school conducted by Mr. George Warren, as well as boarding them out with some poor widow, sleeping on board of their respective ships at night time. The school was held in an old building in the last century by the Freemasons, and later on, at the commencement of the North Side Congregational Church, on the site where now stands the large Marine Engine Works of Mr. John Dickinson, known as Palmer's Hill. Mr. Robson had a great taste for gardening, he had a lovely one at the rear of his residence, in fact it might have been called an orchard, it was so largely stocked with choice fruit trees, the garden was for years under the charge of the writer's father. Mr. Robson's business profession was that of a shipowner, one of his favourite vessels was the brig Wealands, another the Gazelle, and Monica, besides owning other vessels which traded to various parts of the world. He was a most consistent man in all his dealings, few could then be found his equal in matters appertaining to the welfare of others, as to his liberality and benevolence, it has been already stated, that with his good lady's efforts they were in most cases the first to take a leading movement to help any good cause, leaving such a name behind, what as Solomon says: "is to be chosen, rather than great riches." Surely such a man as this deserves to rank with the "Men of Mark" in olden times.
There are two other self made men in connection with Monkwearmouth whose names were like household words to the residents then of our old town, they bid fair at one time to become influential men of that day. This little work would be sadly incomplete if their names were omitted. I refer first to
Mr. John Smith
better known in olden times "Gentleman John," he sprang from the ranks of the working class, serving his apprenticeship as the "smithy," at Messrs. Hall's Yard, Bridge Dock, some years afterwards he was employed as an anchorsmith by Mr. Roger Lumsden, at the works Wreath Quay, where he remained for many years. Nature has been generous with him for the heavy and laborious work of an anchorsmith, he was in person very tall, of great weight and strength, few there were to be found in Monkwearmouth to equal him in his great muscular power. Being of steady and industrious habits, he managed after a few years to secure the business of a chain and cable smith, the premises of which were then vacant, occupying the site where now stands the Manor Quay Ship Works, after holding those premises a few years, his prosperity developed in a most marvellous manner, which puzzled his friends greatly; the cause of the astonishment was in the speculation he had entered into, purchasing so many vessels then building in different parts of the Wear, some of large dimensions, having them fitted, and thoroughly equipped ready for sea, if not sold, despatching them off as they were built and fitted, to the London Markets, where they, for a certain time remained with a ship-keeper on board in charge until they found purchasers. It was no uncommon sight — for a short time only — to see a mastless ship towed down the Wear to be docked for fitting, and said "she belongs to Gentleman John," the average number of his purchases being one every week, and the writer has every reason to believe this was not over estimated. The position he took in the port was so sudden and unexpected, it took everyone by surprise, wondering wherever he could derive the means to carry on such an extraordinary speculation in buying and selling these costly ships. From personal knowledge the writer had of this wonderful self-made man, there did not appear on the surface anything strikingly particular in Mr. Smith differing from other men to indicate such a wonderful change in habits or abilities, it has been already said, that he had in him great powers of bodily strength, but it is not always accompanied by intellectual vigour. Here the mystery must remain, evidently he had within him all the abilities necessary to carry out his wonderful plans, some have said that he was born to be a merchant, anyhow the propensity to buy and sell was evident; it appeared wonderful to them who knew the antecedents of this remarkable man, to see him climbing so suddenly, and safely landing at the top of the ladder of prosperity, and that "Gentleman John," when reaching the zenith of his success, the most crowning point of his ambition was, when he took possession of that grand mansion "The Babbies," (formerly held by Squire Stafford) where he resided. Having business matters to settle in London, I am told he died there, his remains were brought to the "Babbies," and buried from there, he died on March 14th, 1855, aged 45 years. The following is inscribed on the tombstone where he was buried in the old churchyard, "This stone is erected as a token of respect." His remains were followed to the grave by the numerous workmen and fellow townsmen, amounting to nearly three thousand people. Thus we see that he had hardly reached the pinnacle of fame, than he was compelled to leap into the valley from whence he came. No one could have had a more pleasing and certain prospect in rising, at one time, than Mr. Smith, and many cases could be cited, where he stood by them who were in need, at a time when all was dark and gloomy, as to his benevolence, there cannot be a shadow of doubt of that, it was freely bestowed for it was in his nature, and while had the means he did all the good he could while in that position. Thus we leave this remarkable man, who was greatly missed by all in Monkwearmouth. We cannot conclude the brief history of this most wonderful man, without stating that no one was more justly entitled to take a prominent position among the "Men of Mark" of olden times in Monkwearmouth, than "Gentleman John," so familiarly called.
We now come nearly to the close, but not the least, of the enterprising sons in Monkwearmouth, I mean
Mr. William Thompson,
commonly known in those early days as "Thompson the Baker." There are but few left in Monkwearmouth who can remember this wonderful man as he climbed up the hill of prosperity. Mr. Thompson's business, as Baker, afterwards Grocer, which he conducted for many years in Wear street, near the quayside. In business matters he was almost the same type of man as the one just dealt with, possessing a strong determination to overcome all difficulties that might obstruct his progress in anything he undertook to improve his condition. All his efforts seemed to be absorbed in this: what shall I do to improve my coffers? About the same period as the latter, he began to follow in the same track, and upon a similar scale, though adopting a different course of action in buying and selling new ships, he entered into a partnership with his brother-in-law, Mr. William Pearson, in 1839, as a shipbuilder, near the East House, launching into the Potato Garth, having then Mr. George Booth as foreman which was considered a wise and judicious step to take. The firm built some large and fine ships, but unfortunately at this time a heavy trade depression set in, which greatly affected the shipping interest in all parts of the country, this company suffering beyond recovery for the time being. The writer, with a full knowledge of his early career, and progress in late years, never knew him to possess the good quality of benevolence to any large extent; yet he strove hard to improve his position by the methods he adopted in acquiring wealth, and tried his own peculiar way to do justice to those among whom he was associated, whether in business or social relationship. When Mr. Thompson had nearly reached the goal of his highest expectations, when the great prize of wealth and accompanying attractions was almost within his grasp; the depression (we have been speaking of) snatched away the fruits of years patient toiling, planning, and watching; with its bright promises of high social position in his native town, but reversed it, and like his friend John Smith, he had to suffer the pangs of bitterest disappointment at an age when it was impossible to commence another career. Though he failed in retaining the position to which he had climbed, yet the career remains a remarkable one, and justifies placing him among the list of the "Men of Mark'" of Monkwearmouth, in old days.
I am coming to another once well known man of the old period, he being of the snail type, compared to those named, his position locally being quite the opposite regarding the amount of wealth he had at his disposal, I allude to
the only Town Carter, as far as my memory allows me, that supplied the little town of Monkwearmouth in the carriage of material used in the little building that was going on within its limits at early period. Hugh Smith, as I have said, was a well known personage throughout the town, he was one of those class of persons that never seemed, as far as outward observation goes, to put on any extra effort in the machinery he had in motion to improve his condition, differing so widely to those "worthies" named, that have made Monkwearmouth what it is as the present time. He always seemed so contented with his lot, being one of those happy-go-lucky sort of fellows. The most singular part in the history of our local Cartman was, that his old black horse partook precisely the same nature as its master, never in a hurry, load or no load, always one pace, as his master often said "slow but sure," frequently could the horse be seen turning the corner of Church street into Broad street, dragging a load of sand from the shore, when his master could be seen at the opposite end of the street, in advance, holding his whip in an erect position, seldom using it, as he frequently said it was of no service for he could not get out of the grove he had got into, and the consolation it gave him was: "slow and sure." From the early knowledge the writer had, respecting the horse and its master, was quite sure on this one point, that the former was improperly fed, which was the secret of its long history, the horse was never in a good condition from its earliest career, for it was a mere shadow, working year after year in this emaciated condition, weak and helpless as it was, for the ribs could be plainly country, which left no difficulty in that, as the skin was broken in many parts, which were brought about by two causes — Old age and hard work, combined with a scanty supply of food and nourishment which was of the most vital importance for the strength of the horse. I scarcely need say that there were no Horse Protection Society, in those early days, the owner of a horse could do just as he pleased in keeping the horse in that wretched condition with impunity at the time referred to, happily that day is gone! such disgraceful sights are never now to be seen in our public street, scarcely any notice was then taken by the public to what it is at the present time. I am quite sure that Mr. Hugh Smith was not known to be unkind to his favourite excepting one thing did he lack, by not giving it a sufficient supply of the quantity and quality of food the horse required to keep up his strength, this was the secret of it all, badly fed. The writer can remember the poor horse trying to his duty for so many years, in his earliest days. In 1827 the condition of the horse became so helpless that even to walk, it had to be supported with men on each side to prevent it toppling over, and in this way it was assisted to a vacant field, then opened for building sites to form upper Dundas street, to meet its doom, and on reaching the spot where now stands the Dundas Street Chapel, it had its last fall, so weak and exhausted with the journey. The owner finding that nothing more could be done to bring his old favourite into its former condition, directed the writer to call on Dr. Torbeck, a local surgeon, residing in Whitburn street, know to be fond of his gun, to attend and shoot the suffering animal, which was done to the satisfaction of all present. It was stated at that time, that the horse was known to be over 36 years of age. Strange as it may seem, the carcass was left on the field as it had been shot, for several weeks in that putrefied state, dog fanciers taking what they required, until eventually a hole was dug, and the remaining portion buried. Here I might state, that his stable was in the yard at the rear of the Brandling Hotel, the site on which now stands the Red Lion Inn, Roker Avenue, the entrance of which presented a strange appearance in coming up the avenue, the gateway was entered between two very large jaw bones of a whale, which was common thing to see in those days, they were about 13 feet in height, and enough in width, with its circular form, to admit a large size cart of carriage to pass through. During the demolition of the old property some years ago, I am told those very old relics was carefully removed as a memento of old Monkwearmouth, and deposited at the North Quay Brewery Stores, for safe keeping. It may be interesting to know, this was the spot selected for the public rejoicing on the burning of the star of large dimensions, lit by gas jets, on the first night of the gaslight in Monkwearmouth, was under the whale's bones, at the gateway previous to their removal. In conclusion, it is hoped that if the readers of this little work experience only a tithe of the pleasure in perusing, that the writer has experienced in recording, then his labours will not have been in vain. Though King, Queen and Statesman may build up Imperial History, it is to such men as I have attempted to sketch, The Captains of Industry, who make Local History, it is these men by the force of character, that have built us the great industrial and commercial systems of country. It is to these "Men of Mark," which exist in every town throughout dear old England, which have made this country of ours the greatest commercial country of the world, and extended prosperity and well being to all. Forster, Printer, 24 John Street Sunderland Footnote:
These texts have been copied from negative photographs of the original book which are held by the Monkwearmouth Local Studies Group based at Monkwearmouth Library. In retyping the text, I have kept to the grammar used by Mr. John Thompson but have corrected one or two typographical errors.
OLD MONKWEARMOUTH AND ITS SURROUNDINGS, SEVENTY YEARS AGO.
|Wearmouth Old Bridge.|
OLD MONKWEARMOUTH AND ITS SURROUNDINGS, SEVENTY YEARS AGO.
BY JOHN THOMPSON, 87, NEW BRANDLING STREET,
IN HIS 76TH YEAR
One of the greatest boons that man can possess when old age creeps upon him, is a retentive memory. To be without this, tends to make declining years miserable and almost unbearable. The weary and weather-beaten traveller cannot look back on youthful days, when all was joy, sunshine and pleasure. Even the little black clouds which seemed so unbearable to youth are obliterated by the absence of memory. The gradual and almost imperceptible passage from boyhood, youth, manhood, into old age, is from the bright sunshine of memory to a dense mist of the darkness of forgetfulness.
But how different when old age can recall so easily the scenes of early days passing in panoramic view before the mind's eye, reflecting gleams of light on the history of the past, like the Alpine traveller who reaches the rugged mountain top and turns to view the landscape from whence he came.
The writer of this brief sketch has had the good fortune, during his long journey over life's rough way, to be blessed with a good and remarkable retentive memory, and, like the traveller, he has almost reached the summit of life's steep, rugged mountain. Pausing awhile, he looks backward into the history of the past seventy years, relating the many and diversified changes in the growth and progress of dear old Monkwearmouth, and its vicinity, the place of his birth.
I purpose making Wearmouth Bridge my starting-point in this survey of the past. The bridge is one of the greatest wonders accomplished in those days; days when science was not so well known, nor engineering skill so widely diffused, as it is to-day. Dame Nature had been generous, and formed the base of this gigantic structure by the formation of a mass of rock on each bank of the Wear. Previous to the construction of the bridge the town was dependent entirely upon the ferry system, which then on a small scale, no provision whatever being made for vehicular traffic. How the trade and commerce of the town were carried on under such conditions seems incomprehensible to the generation of to-day. One of the chief causes which urged on the project of constructing a bridge was the disaster at the Panns Ferry, just below the bridge, and which still plies. This occurred in the year 1777, and was accompanied by great loss of life; for when the river was swollen by rain or otherwise, at certain seasons of the years, there was great danger in crossing.
The first stone of the new bridge was laid on September 24th, 1793, and completed in 1796, at a total cost of £33,400, out of which £30,000 was advanced by Mr. Rowland Burdon, M.P. for the County. The bridge was built under the direction of Mr. Thomas Walker, of Monkwearmouth. It consists of a magnificent arch, 236 feet in span, and 100 feet in height, from the bed of the river, and it admits of masted vessels from three to four hundred tons burthen to pass underneath. The abutments are nearly solid masonry, 24 feet thick, 42 feet broad at the bottom, and 37 feet at the top, which were subsequently widened. In 1857 the Town Council resolved to take off the hump in the centre of the bridge, being dangerous to vehicular traffic, as well as to the bridge, and to widen it, by carrying outwards the flagged footpaths on either side. This was considered a clever piece of engineering work, and to-day the whole bridge is almost a level passage, thanks to the engineering abilities of the late Mr. Robert Stephenson, C.E. M.P., son of Mr. George Stephenson, the railway pioneer. The work was entrusted to Mr. Stephenson in the year 1857, and was carried out in a most satisfactory manner. We have now on the bridge ample space to allow a tram car line across, leaving ample room for the general traffic. The structure is defended by an iron balustrade, and in the centre is the Latin Motto — "NIL DESPERANDUM, AUSPICE DEO" — "Despair not under the auspices of God." The weight of iron said to be used in its construction was 260 tons, forty-six of which was malleable and the remainder cast iron.
The bridge is now entirely free from toll. which is a great boon to the hard-working people of this thriving and prosperous town. After the completion of the old bridge, a highway on the north side was formed, then named Bridge Road, and subsequently North Bridge Street. A toll was levied for many years on the old bridge, both for vehicles and foot passengers. At the opening of the original bridge there was not a solitary house on the west side of Bridge Road until Fulwell Mill was reached. In 1817, the present row of stone built dwellings, known as Hedworth Place, opposite Monk Street, was erected. On the East side of the Bridge Road, the nearest house to the bridge was
"THE OLD OAK TREE,"
a public house which has since been rebuilt on the old site. This venerable building stood alone on the confines of a meadow known as "Bonner's Field," and its nearest neighbour was the old "Wheat Sheaf Inn," which, despite its extreme age, holds its own to this day. A stranger cannot help being struck at the fine state of preservation of this ancient hostelry. Many a good "yarn" must have been spun within those walls during the old coaching days. Its occupant, when the writer was a little boy, was Joe Dodds, after him, Joseph Crowe, and each in his turn rendered the greatest assistance to that robust class of women who were then known as the "Shearers," who made the house their rendezvous. With their sickle or hook in hand they could be seen, during the harvest season, waiting to be engaged by the farmers to cut down their grain crops. These two Inns did a roaring business in those days, when the coaches were running between the Wear and the Tyne.
After leaving the bridge at that time, there was nothing to the westward of it to be seen but green fields; in fact, it was a lovely landscape then, viewed from outside of the mail coach. Hylton Castle (different to what it is now) was one of the first objects that caught the traveller's eye. No factories nor coal mines then to obstruct the glorious prospect, not to disfigure the landscape with the huge shafts, nor to blacken it with the sooty volumes poured from them.
In 1827 the New Inn was erected, as a rival then to the Wheat Sheaf Inn on the Bridge Road, and was kept by Mr. Smart. At this Inn the Newcastle coaches made their first halt after leaving the George Inn and crossing the bridge. The fare then to the canny city of Newcastle was, outside, 2/6, while inside the enormous sum of 5/- was charged. The well known veteran, the late Tommy Rennison, who died a few years back, at the age of 95, occupied the basket at the rear, outside, giving the signals on the approach of the coach with his key bugle in delightful tones. But what a strange irony of fate in this New Inn as it was called. It is now the residence of the Parish Vicar.
The same year saw the erection of the old Scotch Church, its nearest neighbour, since pulled down, and a magnificent church built on its site, with a lofty spire, seen from many parts of the town. It is now called "The John Black Memorial Presbyterian Church."
These were the first two buildings erected between the Oak Tree and Wheat Sheaf Inns. From the latter, the only house northwards was the residence of Robert Holt, Esq., which was known as the "Blue Factory;" and in later years as Union Place, which still remains intact.
A well known place adjoining it, though now like the rest of that class, was the old
TURNPIKE GATE AND TOLL HOUSE.
From here, on the east side of the road, there were no buildings of any description until the junction of the Shields and Newcastle Roads was reached. There was a wagonway drawn by horse power, which used to run from the quarries and kilns on the opposite side, passing Fulwell Mill until reaching where now stands the Savings Banks, branching off to the lime kilns at the Sheepfolds, and emptied their cargoes on board the small Scotch traders which visited the locality.
Leaving the Wheat Sheaf Inn, in an easterly direction, we come to what was formerly called Broad Street, now Roker Avenue. Here the principal business men of the town resided. One of the residences was the mansion of a former Squire Stafford, at the corner of Fulwell Lane and Broad Street, which was popularly known by the name of the "Babbies." This old place, with its ornamental surroundings, was in the days of my boyhood an object of great attraction and curiosity. The two leaden figures, which have since been removed, and now located in Roker Park, representing Spring and Summer, and were fixed in front of the mansion. A row of lofty lime trees extended from the terrace, at Portobello Lane, forming a home and nursery to the rooks, whose pitiful notes had to me, when a boy, a strange fascination and a weird sound. Time, the Great Destroyer of all things has done its work among these trees, the last of which fell during the gale of November 23rd, 1857, when my heart exclaimed in the words of the poet:—
- Oh! Woodman, spare that tree;
- Touch not a single bough,
- In youth it sheltered me,
- And I'll protect it now.
Another curiosity connected with this mansion, and of great service to the village, was the large clock at the top of the venerable building. It chimed the hours in loud and sonorous, and what seemed to me, delightful tones. This building disappeared a few years ago, to make way for a more interesting, perhaps, and very useful structure — the Rope Works of Messrs. Craven & Speeding. Passing from here, in a southerly direction, we get a view Church Street. In those days there were six roperies, all but one running into the street. One was the late Mr. George Hudson's which followed down Fulwell Lane, one, opposite the Wheat Sheaf Inn, was owned by Matthew Robson, afterwards by the late Mr. John Hay. Two adjoined each other at the top of Church Street, and were owned by the late Mr. Byers, and one was the property of the Kirton family. Of the two lower down, adjoining each other in the same way, one was owned by the late Mr. Thompson Oliver and the other by the late Mr. John Storey. Rope making was one of the staple industries of the place in those early days, and was closely connected with the many shipbuilding yards on the Wear.
Church Street seventy years ago, was another of the few famous streets on the north side of the Wear. Houses existed then only on the west side, leading from Nelson Square, opposite the Old Church, to where at present stands the upper house, now converted into a draper's shop and called the "Little Beehive." The road leading up to and past "The Babbies," in the middle of the last century, was the only turnpike road to Newcastle previous to the erection of the bridge, and which took its route up Portobello Lane, coming out on the main road at Union Place Turnpike Catch Gate. Opposite the two upper roperies previously mentioned stood the Toll Gate, where a levy was made on all vehicular traffic leading up from Church Street through Portobello Lane. It was not until the opening of the bridge that the road leading therefrom, known as the Bridge Road, was cut through which is now called "Newcastle Road." At this period there was scarcely any hawking whatever in this part of our town, at least by horse power, the taxation on the roads being unbearable. I have known where powerful dogs were substituted, in small light carts, to take the fish to market. This was to evade the toll, which it did for a time, until the authorities caused the Act to come out in an altered form, prohibiting dogs to be used for such purposes.
To return to Church Street again. Opposite the Toll House there stood an old stone building, better known in the early part of the last century as the
"QUEEN'S HEAD INN,"
and even to-day, with many of the older inhabitants who are natives, it yet retains its ancient name, though its glory and dignity has departed, for it is now (has been for years) let into tenements. The old building with its curios and antiquated work, stands in defiance of time, and is still an object of curiosity and admiration to the present generation. On the east side of Church Street, between the roperies, all was fields in cultivation by their owner, Sir Hedworth Williamson, Bart., under the management of Mr. George Cockburn, who had charge of the farmstead, which extended some distance along Roker banks.
Church Street and Lower Dundas Street seventy years ago! How many instructive associations yet cluster around those two thoroughfares? They are to my mind the emporium of the entire north side of the Wear. How few remain to-day who can follow, with personal recollection and interest, the change of events connected with this place. Another spot yet fresh in my memory was "Cairns' Gardens," which occupied the present site of Lower Dundas Street as a garden, extending south as far as Church Street. At the south-west corner there was a large circular pond, called "The Basin," which occupied the middle part of the present Garden Street, so called after the garden. It was in fact more of an orchard than an ordinary garden, largely stocked with the choicest fruit trees, producing splendid crops during favourable seasons. The apples were very tempting to many of the youngsters in the neighbourhood, and the tree which suffered most from their depredations grew on the spot on which the "Grapes Hotel" was built , in 1826, by Mr. Thomas Walker, Spirit Merchant, who held his own premises up till old age and infirmity set in. This was the first building erected thereon, and the only shop or place of business in the entire street. The remaining buildings were the private residences of the shipowners and captains on the north side. What a change has taken place in these two streets! Nearly the whole of these fine residences have in recent years been converted into spacious shops. At the east end there is , as usual, a long bar; at the opposite corner of Dock Street and Church Street there is the fine business premises of Mr. E.R. Cherrett, which have been considerably enlarged in the Chemist and Druggist department, on account of the increase in business. Our north side ladies have no need now, as in former times, to cross the bridge to make their purchases, as there are in the two streets mentions, also in others, shops that will bear comparison with many on the south side, whether it will be a comparison of quality or amount of stock. There are the grocers and drapers, the fruiterers and butchers, whose numbers are too numerous to specify, but all doing a large amount of business. Then we have the bakers and confectioners, ever ready to supply the wants of their patrons. Following these are the jewellers, shoe shops, fish and poultry dealers, also a few news vendors, all full of that bustle and activity which betokens commercial prosperity. It is very evident that the tradesmen of this ancient part of our town are determined to fully realise the wants and desires of its inhabitants; and, if needs be, to compete with their brother tradesmen of the other side of the water.
There is yet another street which deserves special mention, that is Whitburn Street. Very few changes, if any, have been made in it during the last seventy years, with the exception of some on the opposite side of the Chapel, and a few on the west side. Most of them were occupied by shipowners; and two of the leading medical men on the same side lived in this street then. There were only three of that profession then to attend to the wants of the entire neighbourhood, and that was found sufficient. The pathways in this and other streets were very rough, not a vestige of flags; kerbing or other hard substance could be seen then, at the top of Whitburn Street. Opposite the Workmen's Hall there stands an old relic of the past without any visible alterations. Its history can be traced back for more than two hundred years. I mean the
NAG'S HEAD PUBLIC HOUSE.
It was kept in the middle part of the past century by the writer's grand-parents, and was one of the chief licensed houses in the village. From the front windows of it a full view could be obtained of the bridge during construction, no buildings existing in front to obstruct the prospect. This was a noted house in olden times when the parish churchwardens were vested with the power to visit the public houses after the church service had begun, in order to see that they complied with then existing laws. Yet those officials were not of the type that, in this and other towns, are doing a similar duty to-day. I have been told, from a source which I can rely upon, that many years ago, on the arrival of the churchwardens at the "Nag's Head," there was always awaiting them the best that the house could provide, to make them jolly and comfortable during their stay. They cared little then about visiting other houses within the parish after freely partaking here of the glass that cheers, for its hospitality was not confined to any extent, nor yet the pipe with its delightful fumes. Before leaving they could sing, "What two jolly boys are we." That such a state of things did exist in olden times I have every reason to believe, for, to my knowledge, when a child, I remember that whenever the name of the churchwarden was mentioned, it seemed to strike terror into the youthful minds much more than the name of a policeman of the present day does. Happily, this is now changed. The laws which regulate the liquor traffic are more stringent. What was done then, and only winked at, would now be considered a serious offence, carrying with it the infliction of heavy penalties both on seller and consumer. On looking back over the past, one can see how not only places but customs have changed, and are changing still, in old Monkwearmouth.
Ere I close this little local work, I cannot refrain from giving an outline of another of the most interesting parts of our ancient town. Possibly there is not to be found in the United Kingdom any edifice that has maintained its great and ancient name as a church like that of our venerable building — Monkwearmouth Parish Church, at Sunderland, which lately held its anniversary, for the 1,218th time, but I should like to draw attention to the ancient burial ground attached to the church. In my childhood's days, it was the resort of a large proportion of the juvenile class, as well as adults. It acted as a charm, in drawing together many of the younger ones, to visit this sacred spot in close proximity to our homesteads. There were then few attractions elsewhere for juveniles and others. How different is the present time, in drawing forth the desires and love for a change of scenery, away from the slums of a thickly populated village, as Monkwearmouth was seventy years ago. The sacred spot in question differed much in its appearance then to what it does at the present time. No steps were needed to ascend or descend the embankment in front of the sacred edifice. It was then almost a plain level from the church. It was very easy then for the Bearers, on leaving the church with their heavy burdens, to carry the remains to their last resting place, as there was no embankment to ascend. It was the only ground for the burial of people residing much further to the west than Southwick and Whitburn in the north. It was the only receptacle for the dead for many miles outside the various points of this ancient parish.
This condition of affairs extended over a period of several hundreds of years; and it is reasonable to suppose that the ground became so full, and the air so foul and polluted, on account of the continuous openings of so many graves, and this in the midst of a densely populated district, that steps were taken sometime about 1849 (although I am not quite sure as to the year) to have a thick covering of ballast put on the top of the entire ground. This ballast was only a slight depth at the west, or upper end, and increased to a greater depth at the opposite end. This will account for the bank being formed abreast of the church entrance. The material used for this purpose was collected from the ballast brought by ships coming to the Wear. It was drawn up through a tunnel in wagons, and landed on the Williamson estate wherever required. This estate has long ago been built upon. This was found to be an easy and cheap method of filling up the old churchyard. Thus, in looking at the old church from a northerly direction, it now appears to be in a hollow, on account of the ground outside being so frequently filled up. To have the work done most effectually, the Sexton or Gravedigger, Mr. John Meaburn, was instructed to remove the whole of the then existing tombstones, which were placed on upon another, in tiers, close under the old tower of the church. On the ground being filled up and levelled, the stones still remained in that position. At an unexpected time, one of the leading townsmen on the south of the Wear, evidently felling annoyed at the delay, obtained permission to place the stones in rows. He did this at his own expense; and, as far as was possible, they were placed in their old position. No record whatever was made of them on removal. He set himself at once to the work; and being of a somewhat eccentric disposition, and known throughout the town, he soon gave employment to a number of old men who had been formerly at work in the shipyards — he being the "boss" or superintendent. He had several loads of short cuttings of timber brought and deposited near the stones, for the purpose of marking the positions, in haphazard style, in which each stone had to be firmly fixed. One of those blocks had, for the time being, to denote the stone. He paid little attention as to the exact spot on which they formerly stood, nor would he allow any one else to interfere. This method he adopted, and we are told caused frequent gatherings of the surplus labour from the shipyards who came to annoy the eccentric man from the south side of the Wear. As we have already said, he was endeavouring to achieve a great work, and he would not allow any other person to interfere; yet, notwithstanding the shameful opposition he met with (considering the high position he held in the town), he at last succeeded in his object, much to the chagrin of those who should have known better in the olden times of Monkwearmouth.
I may as well mention here, that when the churchyard was levelled with ballast, in 1841, John Meaburn (according to the church register) was dismissed for the very unusual offence of stealing gravestones, and that Michael Wheatley was appointed in his room. One of the present churchwardens tells me that he can remember the churchyard being levelled when he was a boy, and that he was not born until 1844.
From what has come under my own observation, I can tell that many of the stones are placed far away from where they at first stood. I can instance our own family relic. This stone is placed far away from its former position. It is now nearly on a line with the entrance to the church; whereas it formerly stood between the western wall and where it is now. There are few of the stones which were taken up and replaced that can date as far back as this one. All that I can make out plainly is a small portion; the other faintly, which I imagine, with the help of the dates, can be traced from existing records which have been carefully preserved by the family. The stone, therefore, will read as follows:— "In memory of Hannah Young, of Monkwearmouth, who died in 1759, aged 44 years. Also, John Thompson, son-in-law of the above, and husband of Hannah Thompson." This is all that can be made out intelligibly. Taking the figures given as correct, my Great Grandmother, Hannah Young, must now have been buried there 133 years. My Grandmother, Hannah Thompson, died in 1844 aged 80 years, and was buried in the same ground.
Thus ends the interesting part given in the historical account of Monkwearmouth; and it is hoped that this brief narrative of our town may afford to our readers that pleasure which it has given to an old inhabitant to compile it.
WILLIAM DUNCAN, PRINTER, YORK STREET, SUNDERLAND.
These texts have been copied from negative photographs of the original book which are held by the Monkwearmouth Local Studies Group based at Monkwearmouth Library. In retyping the text, I have kept to the grammar used by Mr. John Thompson but have corrected one or two typographical errors.
Recollections of the Four Hills on Monkwearmouth Shore
Suffer me now to hope that this little work may prove to be what it professes: a finger-post pointing from the past to the present. Much thought and time have been expended in its production, in order to make it both useful and instructive, and to show the progress that has been made in every hand in this ancient corner of our large town. These reminiscences, extending over a period of seventy years, should go a long way to prove to the reader of to-day how wonderful this progress has been. For many of the dates herein contained the writer is indebted to John Dickinson, Esq., J.P., a great employer of labour in this part of our ancient town. To him, therefore, taking as he does a special interest in the town of his birth, this book is humbly dedicated.
THE FOUR HILLS ON MONKWEARMOUTH SHORE AND THEIR SURROUNDINGS, SEVENTY YEARS AGO.
There seems a great tendency with many who are swiftly passing the limits of the span of life allotted, to recall to mind the many changes that have taken place amidst the vicissitudes of time during their earthly pilgrimage, in our own town, particularly on the north side of the Wear. I shall, however, confine the subject of my remarks to the FOUR HILLS on Monkwearmouth Shore and their surroundings, seventy years ago. The starting point will be
THE MEETING HILL.
The hill was so called on account of a meeting house being built on the crown of the hill by the Baptist denomination, in the early part of the past century, who are supposed to be the oldest Non-conformist body on the north side of the Wear. During the later years of its existence there the pastor was the Rev. Mr. Gerror. When the baptismal services had to take place, the spot they selected was in the open North Sea, at the Holey Rock, Roker. This spot was chosen on account of the scarcity of water prevailing throughout the entire town.
The Meeting Hill was once a famous resort for juvenile gatherings, especially during Easter time when they assembled for the bowling of their paste eggs down the grassy slopes at the ends and sides of its banks. The entrance to the hill was by a gateway as near as possible to the present front entrance of Williamson Terrace P.M. Chapel, Charles Street. Here free access was given to young and old. There was a beautiful gravel path leading from the gate to the chapel on the summit of the hill, which was a complete grassy plain. The estimated height from the river on the southern slope of the hill was supposed to be over a thousand feet. On account of the free access given to the public to any part of this lovely sward, the seafaring portion of the population used frequently to ascend to the top when a southerly wind was blowing favourable for the arrival of our wooden fleet of sailing colliers to the roadstead, whence a grand view could be obtained with no obstruction whatever. The only source of income to be derived from the land was by letting it for grazing purposes for sheep only, there being so few butchers there on the north side at this time. At the foot of the north-west corner of the hill were the brewery old stables. Opposite to these, in a northerly direction , was
THE OLD SCOTCH CHURCH.
Mr. James Westoll, in a recently published pamphlet, states that prior to the year 1777 there was no Presbyterian Church on this side of the Wear, and there was no bridge across the Wear at that time. A number of people who attended Robinson's Lane Church were compelled to cross by the ferry, and, when strong freshets occurred, it was often dangerous to do so. An accident, however, happened and some lives were lost; this led to the formation of a church on this side of the river. The first place of meeting was in a stable, altered for the purpose, somewhere near to the top of the Brewery Bank. There, in the spring, 17th April, 1777, the first services were held. The stable, however, becoming too small for the vastly increasing congregation, ground was secured opposite to it, and the church was built and completed towards the close of 1778. That church was called Ropery Lane, or Rope Walk Chapel, because of its nearness to a ropery. Mr. Westoll also tells us that Dr. John Wood was the pastor in the old church, and at the time of their removal to North Bridge Street on the 12th July, 1827. At the foot of the northern slope of the Meeting Hill, there was a direct line leading from Whitburn Street, passing to the southern side of Waterloo Place, to the old church. On the opposite side of this roadway was the brewery field. In the middle of the past century this roadway was utilised as a twine spinning ropery, thus it derived its name — Ropery Lane. This old church, together with the Baptist Church on the hill, was doomed about the year 1833, for the proprietors of the land, the Williamson family, decided to make a great change. Interesting, too, are the many historical incidents which make the whole area sacred ground. Eventually those old buildings were levelled to the ground, to be replaced by more spacious and commodious ones. There were bound up with them many traditions and old associations, which usually disappear or are forgotten when the old stones have been carted away. For nearly a century the vicinity of the old church at the foot of the hill was the scene of many romantic and eccentric incidents, engendered for the most part by the old school of manners and morals long since happily reformed. The green pasture fields which stretched as far as the eye could see, had to give way for the estate to be utilised as building land.
Consequently steps were taken to reduce the hill near to a level with the Waterloo Place estate terminating at the Barclay Street Police Station. This was accomplished by waggons running on temporary iron rails until the entire hill was removed. Soon streets were formed and the few remaining pasture fields converted into the principal dwellings of the captains and tradesmen residents on the north side of the river. It is generally believed that the Meeting Hill, together with its three sister hills about to be named, were produced, years gone by, by the ballast taken out of the sailing colliers at the cranes on the North Quay and deposited at each of those places.
I now come to another interesting spot,
This hill was situated on the south side of the Meeting Hill just named: there was a public highway road which divided them, leading from Whitburn Street to the brewery, shipyards, and the coal drops near the bridge. The present roadway is greatly changed from its former position. There can be no doubt whatever that the hill took its name from an old resident of the name of Palmer, who occupied the very large square built residence and the ground attached on the top of this hill. In the early part of the present century this large building was let off in tenements. The principal tenant was a Mr. Haswell, better known then as Willy Haswell the sawyer, who had a small timber yard on the top of the hill, with sawpits for cutting the timber by hand power. This hill, it must be remembered, was not so high as its northern neighbour, yet its height from the river was immense.
Notwithstanding this, it did not seem to alarm a company of
FOUR YOUNG SHIPWRIGHTS
in March, 1839, to enter into a speculation to build a coasting vessel well up on the slope of the south side of the hill, the writer being one of the company. The names of the members were Messrs. Dennis and Wm. Douglass (brothers) and John Clark. Sometime ago the writer remembers two of our Magistrates, who are amongst the great employers of labour on the Wear, say that, when young men, they saw the launch. They considered it to be the most wonderful undertaking in ship building and ship launching ever known or heard of by them, and expressed the opinion that a work so extraordinary ought to appear in print. It was, however, printed in the Hendon Almanack in 1884. It was, indeed, the most unlikely spot ever selected for such an undertaking. This event, striking as it is, will be justly admitted to have a close connection with the hill we are describing, and to me one of the most marvellous events connected with Palmer's Hill. The adventure being resolved upon, and leave being granted by the agent of Sir Hedworth Williamson, the four youths formed themselves into a company and at once began to cut away the slopes of the hill in order to get a fixed place on which the vessel was to stand. This being done, they soon began to construct this vessel on speculation. The work had to be done by them in overtime, either before their working hours began or after they were finished. They proposed, in the event of getting a purchaser, to finish the vessel right off. Not finding themselves so fortunate in this respect as they had anticipated, they were compelled to take a decided step, the vessel being well advanced, to endeavour to get her safely launched, for in the stormy month of November her situation became dangerous and critical, not only on account of the height of the hill and her great distance from the river but also because there were alarming signs of the hillsides giving way. After being secured afresh from further danger, the builders were advised to get the ship ready for launching as early as possible. About this period, Lady Williamson was driving along by the North Quay in her carriage, and observing the vessel in the distance, nearly at the top of the hill, like a crow's nest in a tree, had the carriage stopped to make enquiries. She sent one of her attendants to ascertain what was going on, requesting one of the persons engaged to come down to the carriage. Her ladyship asked the question, "What is that?" "What is that you are constructing upon that hill?" "Its a coasting vessel in process of building upon speculation by four young men," was the reply. "What method will you adopt to get her into the water in safety?" "Sometimes we think we will be compelled to lower her down as the declivity is so great, at other times we think of launching her in the usual way, the ground being so treacherous." "When will that event take place?" "About the end of the year," was the reply. "Have you any doubt about launching her successfully?" "Perhaps there has never been such an undertaking as this before on the Wear, but we hope to succeed." Lady Williamson then expressed a wish to see the launch, saying that if we would kindly let her know when that event was to take place she would not forget the trouble we had taken and the time expended on satisfying her curiosity. There are a number of our older residents who can well remember the facts here stated about this vessel being built on Palmer's Hill. On the western slope of the hill there was a roadway leading to the quay, and just under the bilge of the vessel of the vessel was the smithy of
a well known personage. At the foot of the embankment there was a house used for scullery purposes, (the vessel having to come over the top of it) and on either side were some lofty stone buildings facing the river. In the centre of this opening where the vessel had to come down there stood, firmly fixed, the River Commissioners' mooring post, which formed a serious obstruction. Notwithstanding all the influence brought to bear, the mooring post had in no case to be removed. With all these obstructions in the way the safe launching of the ship seemed very doubtful. The vessel on her way to the river had to go in a slight curve, not less than three feet from a straight line. Another difficulty was soon manifest: instructions were given that on the day of the launch a space of 12 feet must be kept open, until two hours before high water, so as not to obstruct the quayside thoroughfare. In January, 1840, the romantic undertaking was carried out. A letter was sent to Lady Williamson apprising her of the intended launch. Thousands of persons assembled on both banks of the Wear to witness the site. Eminent practical builders exclaimed "What a declivity, two and a half inches in the foot!" "It is monstrous!" The usual gradients on the Wear and in H.M. dockyards being three-fourths of seven-eighths of an inch in the foot. The vessel was anxiously watched during the morning, as she was showing signs of approaching trouble and alarm. They not disturb either blocks or shores; the shores under her stern, (the ship being stern down) keeping her up the hill, dare not be removed until the last moment, and then they were pulled away by ropes. Previous to this exciting and critical time, the youthful builders had held a consultation to select one who should go on board and cut away the anchor. The lot fell upon the writer, but his relative, Thomas Princes, a most fearless son of Albion, volunteering to do that duty, his offer was accepted. Scarcely had he been safely fastened round the waist when the police announced that all was clear, and, amidst great excitement amongst the spectators, the brave little vessel began to move on her perilous journey towards the domains of Old Neptune. The blocks that held her in position she now hurled from her in all directions, some of them flying down the steep gradient at a terrific rate, almost like lightening speed. No one could at this time distinguish her form, her speed being so great. Then came the troubling of the water. As the little craft plunged into her native element the waves swept clean over her. For the moment she was lost sight of, but she immediately rose like a duck to the surface in gallant style, and after again being submerged rose the second time, and then ran aground on the south side of the river. Prince, who never got the anchor cut away, escaped unhurt. Lady Williamson, being in London at the time, wrote to say that she could not witness the launch on account of the distance being so great and the length of time it would take to perform the journey. An ample spread was, however, to be provided at her expense in honour of such a wonderful event, and this of course was done in truly English fashion. The local weekly, "The Sunderland Herald," stated the following:— "Launched off Palmer's Hill, North Quay, a beautiful coasting vessel. This event attracted thousands of spectators on both sides of the river. As to the safety of the launch, when she was freed by the young builders she left her birth-place, where she had stood nearly twelve months, in rapid style while the man on board, evidently entertaining no fear, was an excellent example of the quality of our lifeboat heroes." In the same month, January, 1840, a disastrous flood took place on a Sunday night, on the Wear, through the breaking up of ice in the upper parts of the river. This small vessel was one of the sufferers. She became almost a wreck. The youthful builders having made all repairs good, three of them left for the south, Clark preferring to stay behind. He still remains in the town. The only other survivor is Mr. John Thompson of Zetland Street, the writer of this extraordinary but truthful statement. He has been away from his native town for many years, but returned a few years ago to settle down here for the few remaining years of his eventful life. The writer wishes to correct a false impression among many that the vessel now in question was called the "Polka." It was not so; the "Polka" being built years after the former builders left for the south, and nothing so high up the hill.
We now come to another interesting feature of Palmer's Hill. At the south-eastern bank there stood, in the early part of the present century, a fine quaint building, of large dimensions, containing a gallery. It was occupied by the Freemasons of the north side of the Wear, and is said to have been the first held by the craft on the north side of the Wear. In 1812, it was given up by them, and came into the possession of the Congregationalist body of the north side of the Wear. They remained in possession of it until they built Salem Chapel, Roker Avenue. The building for many years afterwards, up to the date of demolition, was used as a public school by Mr. George Warren. Another very interesting link in connection with this endless chain is still to be told. It will doubtless surpass all that has been previously said, in point of pluck, energy, and success. Regarding this celebrated hill, the northsiders, in my early days, could not boast of the progress and enterprise of their undertakings in the various spheres of labour which they were then engaged in. Their work was confined chiefly to that of building wooden ships, and many, by their industry and zeal, gained for themselves both wealth and honour in the business of their trade, while some among the number even still retain a good name. In many cases, however, the trade was established on this river by their ancestors in the early days, when liability companies were unknown, and trade and commerce apparently undeveloped, like the electric light which shines so brightly. But science, which has brought about so many changes in every department of life, had its effect on the building of ships; and just as the locomotive, the most wonderful, perhaps, of inventions, took the place of the old stage coach, and as in these still more modern days the electric light is superseding the use of gas, so, in the same way, the old wooden vessels had to give way in favour of the more costly iron fleet propelled by steam power; and, as in most things of this kind, England has led the way in effecting these improvements, and perhaps no part of the country has rendered more effective assistance in this respect than the town of Sunderland. The Wear, indeed, took a prominent part, and rendered great assistance in bringing about this. As an example of this desirable change, I might point out the great and stupendous undertaking of converting Palmer's Hill into the magnificent marine engine and boiler works by the indomitable tact and skill of John Dickinson, Esq., J.P. In the year 1860 the first step was taken, and, single handed as he appeared to be, he succeeded in levelling this hill. The amount of forethought and skill required in the undertaking must have been enormous. The stupendous nature of the work can be best illustrated by comparing it to an orange cut in halves. The upper portion of the hill was of no service whatever, and it had, by some means, to be got rid of, therefore, in the year 1875, he determined to remove the top of the hill, as greater facilities for carrying on his business became necessary at this time. The road now known as Roker Avenue, from Ravensworth Terrace to Roker, was in progress of being made, which offered a ready deposit for the ballast to be removed from Palmer's Hill. Then a start was made, and during the alterations something like six thousand carts of ballast were removed, and to this extent assisted in making this very important thoroughfare from Monkwearmouth to Roker. The roadway mentioned, leading towards the brewery, being on a level with the centre of the hill, the difficulty that was overcome in order to secure a good and firm foundation, so as to place upon it the structure of such enormous weights in those vast works, was the crowning point of this enterprise. Evidently there was no lack in the plans of this practical engineer; evidently his motto was 'forward.' The work was begun at a period when trade and commerce were beginning to spread, and this part of our town required a man of enterprise and no small amount skill and energy to lay the foundation for future success. The way being laid, the works were advanced in proportion as the growth of the system required in the changing from our wooden walls to our ironclads.
Mr. Dickinson's works began just at the time when success might be expected, and Palmer's Hill soon became widely known for the substantial qualities of his engines and boilers used for propelling the large steam ships for which his engines were supplied. It is not my intention in this pamphlet to go into details in those things which would attract the attention of a scientific mind in passing through this vast establishment, suffice it to say that they are too numerous to dwell on here. The whole of the works, whichever direction the visitor may take, will be found full of surprises, especially the great and powerful cranes inside and outside. The latter, situated on the quayside, are said to be tested to lift sixty tons, but have, I understand, lifted nearly 80 tons — the boilers of the large tea ships built by Messrs. J.L. Thompson & Sons — and used in lifting the ponderous engines and boilers in the ships when afloat at their extensive quay walls, which are fitted with the electric light. I may mention that modern machinery of all descriptions necessary for the manufacture of these engineers are to be found here, nothing is wanting to make this establishment equal to the best of its kind throughout the length and breadth of our sea-girt isle. Another feature which abounds, so prominent in the Palmer's Hill engine works is the vast number of men and boys employed in night and day shifts throughout the year. I am told that the average number of men and boys, all told, employed on the works varies from nine hundred to a thousand, which is a great boon to this part of the town as well as to the opposite shores of the Wear. The first pair of marine engines made in this establishment was in July, 1872, for a vessel built by J.L. Thompson, North Sands shipyard, for Messrs. John Tully & Partners. Should we compare the present with the past, we find things very different, especially with regard to the employment of surplus labour. The only places available for our boys were found in our local shipyards, roperies and potteries of the town at this time.
We now leave the busy scenes of this most noble industry, and give our attention to the neighbouring hill. The scene is greatly changed, no longer the lovely green sward to gaze upon as in the two former hills, but a dark, dismal, and barren view in every direction. The history of this ancient hill still remains to be told. Its story is a strange one, and one peculiarly its own. Various changes have occurred in its history, especially on its eastern side.
is but a short distance, in an easterly direction, from the others named; its altitude, compared with the others, being much less.
The most prominent feature in connection with this hill was the cage, or local prison, on the top of it. Fifty-four years ago the case was permanently occupied as a prison, where the law-breakers on the north side of the Wear were temporarily lodged previous to their trial. It was of small dimensions, with huge stone walls, iron doors, and barred windows. As to its internal management, of course there were no comforts to be found there. It had often been said by many of its unfortunate occupants that it was greatly infested with rats. Be that as it may, there can be no wonder about this report, which was generally believed, for there were a number of piggeries adjoining, which remained for a long period. Eventually, the cage was demolished. It and the town were almost solely in charge of two of the parish constables, Matthew Potts for Monkwearmouth parish and Willy Smith for the Shore parish. Those were the only two who took a prominent part in preserving order throughout the town. They seem to have had unlimited power in those olden times, when all was dark and gloomy, having full access not only to the cage but the barbarous stocks also. Such was the impression made upon the public mind, that the appearance of one or the other of those officials struck terror in every direction, for they were both bold and daring, well qualified for the work they were engaged in. The staves of office allowed them at that time were of much larger dimensions than those now in the possession of our police force. They were painted blue; at one end was the Royal arms, in gold, and they were formidable instruments to use. They had also the usual hand-cuffs, the links in the chain very stout and heavy.
To bring about a more satisfactory condition of watching, the authorities resolved to introduce the
BOROUGH POLICE FORCE
on the north side of the Wear. The following is drawn from an old and authentic account I have before me:— "The police force was established on November 14, 1837, on which date the first charge was taken." The present strength of the police force in this division is 1 inspector, 3 sergeants, and 22 constables, making a total of 26 men. At the time when the force was formed, the total strength was fourteen men, consisting of Inspector John Bailes, Sergeant Paxton and two others, and 10 constables. The first station house was in Church Street, opposite Victor Street, now occupied as a draper's shop, called "the little beehive."
On the town being handed over to the charge of the men dressed in blue, decked with their shining glazed capes and old fashioned flat crowned hats, the crown covered with a glazed material, the parish constables were shorn greatly of their power, and the cage with its officials were left to dwindle away as things of the past.
As to Cage Hill, I can go back sixty-five years, when the hill was let off in allotments for kitchen gardens, and remained so for a a great number of years afterwards. It must be understood that it was only the western slope of the hill, leading down into Trafalgar Street, now called Whitburn Street, where those allotment gardens were to be seen. The principal tenants were John Campbell, better known as "Jack the baker," Joseph Lowes, a castor or trimmer, James Whirl, another of the same class, and Charley Hills, a trenail maker. These were men well known. They rivalled each other to such an extent that there was often a considerable amount of ill-feeling existing among them as to the quality of their products. One among the number mentioned, in all cases considered the best articles grown on the slope was by himself, and so strongly did he feel on this point that he would never allow another person to be his judge in such matters. He devoted much time to the work, although the same may be said of the others. At all times of the day or evening, weather permitting, one or more of them were to be seen plodding on. In fact, the gardens were kept in a thorough state of order and neatness, and formed a pleasant outlook to the residential houses opposite the hill. These are now being rased to the ground to allow Messrs. Robson & Sons to extend their timber yard from the quay wall further north. The state in which the hill appears at the present is a most distressing sight. The green verdure which formerly decked the slopes has all disappeared: the leek, the carrot, the turnip, and cabbage are among the things of the past as far as this hill is concerned, its altered appearance differing greatly from its original state.
This part of the town seems to be not only neglected, but deserted by the class of folk, who have had to remove elsewhere in consequence of the changes which have taken place through the employers of labour requiring the land for the extension of their business pursuits.
One point, in conclusion, to which I might refer in connection with the Cage Hill, was the very conspicuous lofty mast which stood firmly fixed in the centre of a raised platform, as a "look out." Signals were supposed to be hoisted here when help was required by the few officials in charge of the town. The only help, however, those functionaries received was during the darkness of the night. Old worn-out seamen, known as patrols or watchmen, chiefly located on the quayside, were stationed in order to protect the shipping moored in the river. Strange as it may appear now, the custom prevailing then was to call out loudly the hours as they passed along. This afforded a good means for the evil disposed to commit the various crimes which were very prevalent throughout our towns.
Another old hill on the shore was the
LOOK OUT HILL,
situated in a north-easterly direction from the others previously mentioned.
This hill, as its name indicated, was some years ago a celebrated spot where a good sea view could be obtained, especially of vessels entering the harbour. This was the rendezvous for our north side pilots, who were a brave and hardy set of men, never seeming to entertain any fear of danger. Amongst these brave number was a powerful and stalwart man, standing over 6 feet 2 inches in height, by the name of William Atkinson, better known by the name of "Patey Willy," and also Tom Jobling, also better known as "Tom the Note," these belonging to a family of Joblings and Atkinsons. The families were renowned all over the town for their deeds of bravery, and they were certainly an example of the truest heroism. When they found that the state of the weather often prevented them from getting out of the piers in their cobles to answer a signal flying in the distance from a ship seeking the aid of a pilot, (having from this hill seen the signal) they planned that their coble should be taken to Whitburn, a distance between two and three miles, so as to launch her there. The writer has on many occasions been an eye-witness of those things and can testify to the bravery they displayed. This big, powerful fellow might often be seen, when the other cobles could not get out to sea, in the greatest of danger, when the ship under sail had barely entered the harbour, he was sure to be seen the first to make a leap, and springing from his frail bark, in a seething and boiling sea, secure a firm hold of the shrouds, after which he quickly took charge of the vessel. In spite of his many noble acts of bravery, for he had no fear, he was like many of his class prone to give way to the influence of strong drink at times, this caused him to be a terror to those with whom he came in contact on account of his muscular strength and determined character; and almost the same might be said of Tom Joblin, or "Tom the Note."
An object of very great interest on the Look Out Hill was
These were firmly fixed in the rising ground above the roadway, where now stand the National Schools connected with the Parish Church. I remember seeing Tommy Crommy placed in those stocks, and he was to be kept there twelve hours for being drunk. This old veteran had lost his legs while fighting under Lord Nelson, and had in place of them wooden legs. The constable, after making his prisoner, as he thought, secure, took his departure. Tommy then soon began to unstrap his wooden legs, and setting himself free replaced them amidst the roars of laughter from the people who had attended to witness Tommy hobbling home down the hill. Another comical fellow, a little deformed, was a snob named Geordie Slee, a well known occupant of the stocks. He had a wooden shanty as a workshop on the Look Out Hill, and was the tool and sport of the pilots. They habitually made him drunk, and always, when elevated, for it was seldom he was sober, his song was If I was a brewer's horse one quarter of the year
I would put my mouth to the bung hole and drink out all the beer.
Another prominent place on the hill was
leading from the quayside in order to convey the ballast in waggons up to the hills. A great amount of smuggling went on in this dark and dreary tunnel. The tunnel is still under the centre of Hedworth Street, forming an entire arch, bricked from top to bottom, and was placed there in 1827, and of no service now whatever. There was a roadway, which was very steep, leading from the road at the back to the old church. It was between the northern slope of the Look Out Hill and the gardens on the opposite side, belonging to the workhouse master, Mr. John Mills. Those gardens he cultivated chiefly for flowers and strawberries, and kept them in excellent order. At the foot of the hollow of this roadway was the Strand, celebrated for the quantity of well kept public houses. Among the oldest was the "Pear Tree House," which was many years ago demolished with other buildings. At this period the residential houses of the Strand were in great requisition, owning to their close proximity to the shipyards. This part of the town was then very different to what it is now, for there was no ironworks there to pollute the air with their black smoke. Where they now stand there was a square of working class houses, one of them being converted into a school. Among the number of boys attending this school was the aged veteran whose name is so well known throughout the town, that of the late Mr. David Holsgrove. He used to talk about the master dismissing the school every day at three o'clock, in order that he might be able to attend to another engagement. This was to get the amount of work done each day by the horses of Sir Hedworth Williamson. The roadway just mentioned was bridged over by a wooden structure for the waggons to pass over. This woodwork was a great obstruction to a full view from the hill seawards. On one memorable occasion there was a disastrous sight seen from this vantage ground. During Tuesday, October 14, 1829, above one hundred and fifty colliers had arrived safely in harbour, and several sailed again, laden, with a favourable north-west wind and a smooth sea; but, during the night, the wind shifted to the north-east and a most tremendous sea came on. On the following morning the view presented from this hill was one of the most awful spectacles ever witnessed for many years. Four vessels were lying on their broadsides on the South Rocks, and by three o'clock in the afternoon there were fifteen vessels on shore and wrecked between the South Pier and Hendon. About four o'clock, the "Eleanor," of Monkwearmouth, which had sailed the day previous for the north, in putting back, sank in the mouth of the harbour, and all on board perished in sight of some thousands of spectators unable to render the slightest assistance. All this was brought about by a thick, heavy, blinding snowstorm coming on just as the vessels had weighed anchor to take the harbour under sail. The brigs "Sarah Gales" and "Hunter," which were among the unfortunate vessels, were got off after the storm abated and, having been repaired, ran for many years afterwards. The wife of the captain of the "Sarah Gales," being on board when she came on shore, had to be dragged to the shore through the surf, like the others of the ships, by lines cleverly set on board, in an exhausted condition. And now, my short history is ended. If it has served to trace the wonderful progress made by this town during the memory of the writer its purpose will not have been in vain. Let those of the rising generation who may read it take a lesson from those who have, by their industry and zeal, done so much for our town, by so doing will honour themselves, and leave behind them names honourable and honoured, and will conclude by the lines of the poet Montgomery—
- Hail to the glorious plan that spread
- The light with universal beams;
- And through the human desert led
- Truth's loving, pure, perpetual streams.
- Behold a new creation rise,
- New spirit breathed into the clod,
- Where'ere the voice of wisdom cries,
- Man know thyself and fear thy God.
WILLIAM DUNCAN, PRINTER, YORK STREET, SUNDERLAND
These texts have been copied from negative photographs of the original book which are held by the Monkwearmouth Local Studies Group based at Monkwearmouth Library. In retyping the text, I have kept to the grammar used by Mr. John Thompson but have corrected one or two typographical errors.
Present and Past History of The North Sands Shipyards
This history of the North Sands Shipyards which I have just prepared has been a work of labour and love which I owe to you and your respective families. Since you and your late father have taken such a prominent part in the work thus described, and because you are almost the only survivors at the present date of all those who struggled to make this popular building place as it is at the present time, I therefore humbly ask the favour to be allowed to dedicate the work to you.
NORTH SANDS SHIPYARDS DURING THE PAST SEVENTY YEARS
Our residential abodes have no doubt a wonderful history, often carrying us back to long years that are past. The wandering mechanic is struck with astonishment when, after an absence of a number of years from his native town, he returns to find long lines of streets sprung into existence, and the noisy and ceaseless whirl of traffic taken the place of the formerly quiet and peaceful hamlet. I believe I am right in saying that there are many persons, even in this enlightened age, who have no conception of the changes that are daily taking place, some even failing to notice the very nature of that which is occurring around their own homesteads. It is beyond my present purpose, however, to dwell on this subject, but at once to present to my readers some practical information on the subject selected — "North Sands shipyards during the past seventy years."
Time is often represented as a thief, as the following lines point out: —
- "Time's a handbreadth, 'tis a tale.
- 'Tis a vessel under sail.
- 'Tis an eagle on its way,
- Darting down upon its prey.
- 'Tis an arrow in its flight,
- Mocking the all-pursuing sight,
- 'Tis a short-lived, fading flower,
- 'Tis a rainbow in a shower."
The North Sands on the Wear, we may safely affirm, has been for a long time celebrated for shipbuilding industry, ever taking the lead in everything connected with its interests, sounding the keynote in all changes that were likely to take place for the benefit of those on the upper part of the river.
My recollections can lead me to 1825, when the entire length of the North Sands was occupied by some of our finest builders. Beginning from the Sand Point to the Strand end, the first was Mr. John Storey, at the extreme point. His yard was perhaps the largest; he was known to have as many as four good-sized vessels on the stocks at one time, viz. the barque "Regalia", "Attalia," "Voyager," and "Captain Cook." They were fine specimens of the style of shipbuilding of that time. The two former were owned and designed by Mr. Robert Holt, of the Monkwearmouth Brewery, and laid down by him in the upper flat of the Brewery Malting. They were built under the management of Mr. John Mills. Adjoining was the yard occupied by Mr. James Crone, one of the heads of a long line of eminent shipbuilders on the North side. There still remains a descendant of that famous family, following the same line as his ancestors on the river. We have yet to learn the cause of the name being altered from Crone to Crown. About the same year that old veteran built three splendidly modelled brigs, the "Mary," "Twins," and "Cleaver," and shortly afterwards the yard was transferred to Messrs. Oliver & Harrison. The latter was previously connected with the ferry boats. During the years Mr. Frank Oliver and his partner, Mr. John Harrison, held possession of this fine yard (for it was no doubt the best yard on the Sands at this time) they built some fine ships, not to be surpassed either for form or quality, chiefly for the coasting trade. The latter was very singular in his manner of expression to those who did not understand this eccentric man.
The adjoining yard was occupied at this date by Mr. James Allison, who belonged to an old Monkwearmouth family, he residing in Roker Avenue. His old residence, which is at present occupied as the Irish Literary Institute, was then kept up in grand style. There was a public roadway leading from the main road at the North end of the Sands between those two yards. Mr. Allison is another of the same class of builders who had the fame of constructing some fine specimens of the wooden fleet which were then the pride of the Wear, and amongst which were the "Henrietta" and "Cynthia." The first-named vessel took her name from a daughter of the family. About 1830 Mr. James Allison retired from shipbuilding, and took the North Quay Brewery, then vacant, caused by Mr. Robert Holt retiring to enter upon the shipbuilding yard at Jarrow, the late Mr. Robert Thompson accepting the management of that large concern, where he remained for some time.
The yard was taken over by another old Monkwearmouth veteran, the late Mr. Samuel Peter Austin, and his son, Samuel, the latter being the father to the present iron shipbuilder, Mr. S.P. Austin. This firm continued some years on the North Sands, building some fine ships, where they employed a large number of men and apprentices, and were celebrated not only for the smart style of their ships, but for the quality of their vessels. In 1846, Messrs. S.P. Austin & Son removed from the North Sands to the Panns Slipway. The adjoining yard at this early period was occupied by the Adamson family, who also in their early days belonged to Monkwearmouth. They remained in possession of this yard for a great number of years.
They also had another yard, just below the Bridge, on the opposite side of the Wear. They stood in the first class as builders, and were not to be excelled for the vessels they sent to all parts of the world. At this early period they built the brig "Peace," a very find model of the early style of shipbuilding. So good and sound were the materials used, and the nature of the work performed upon her, that, to the writer's knowledge, she was running up and down our coast in the coal trade until only a few years ago, and may even now be in existence.
Some few years afterwards the Adamsons removed from Sunderland to Birkenhead, near Liverpool. Mr. John Storey was induced to take the western portion of this yard, and only a small portion was left to the Adamsons. Eventually, Mr. Storey vacated the Sand Point yard, which was taken over by Mr. Henry Dobson. Mr. Storey, on his removal, acquired a small slice of the yard on the Strand side. Here he made a fine start in building a larger class of ships of superior quality, which were then in great demand. Other builders followed in the same direction. At the northern end there was a sawmill of large dimensions, a rare sight on the Wear at this period; unfortunately, its usefulness on the river was scarcely felt, for it took fire in 1828, was burnt to the ground, and never replaced again. Adjoining, on the west side, was the yard known now as the Strand Shipbuilding yard, and presently occupied by Messrs. John Crown & Co. The yard was only then of small dimensions, and was occupied by Mr. Byers, another representative of an old Monkwearmouth family. He carried on a fine business, chiefly building for the coasting trade. On the extreme Strand end of the Sands I must mention Mr. Oswald as having a small yard there. He built a small class of ships, one of the number was the smart, green-bottom brig "Zenith," a perfect model, and much admired; in fact, the ships sent from this yard were of splendid form and construction. The excellence of the work executed here was known throughout the Wear. Mr. Oswald continued here as a builder for many years. We now come to a more recent date, that of 1842 or 1843 when the
was first introduced (as far as we know) into the Wear. The first harbinger of the change likely to take place was seen in a portion of the yard then occupied by Mr. Adamson, North Sands. A large wooden vessel, intended at first as an ordinary sailing ship, was being built by and for the late Mr. Ray, on the opposite side of the river. After the vessel had been advanced, he entertained the idea that she could be conveniently converted to a steam ship. Accordingly, if I am rightly informed, Mr. R. Thompson, then a young man, was engaged, in connection with the late Mr. Thomas Rowntree and Mr. John Brunton (the latter being first surveyor Lloyd's had in Sunderland), in making the necessary alteration and additions, to adapt the vessel's after-end to admit a screw propeller, which was considered a work of great skill in those days.
This vessel was not only intended to carry coals but also goods and passengers, to London as a trader. Her engines were not of sufficient power for the size of vessel, and her build was unlike ships of the present day; in fact, she soon proved to be a failure, as far as getting her passages quick up and down. The only thing in which she excelled the ordinary run of sailing colliers was in calm weather, when she could make headway by steaming four miles per hour when others were brought up. The place of loading was at Ray's Wharf, near Hardcastle's Slip, opposite where she was built. She was appropriately named "The Experiment," for after a few years the experiment was brought to a close, by taking fire at sea, and being abandoned, though all on board were saved.
There is an incident connected with the Sand Point shipyards that, in passing, ought to be mentioned, namely,
THE RIOT AT THE SAND POINT AND LOSS OF LIFE.
This took place on August 3rd, 1823, on the Wear, opposite Sand Point. It appears there were differences of opinion existing between the shipowners and sailors of the Wear. The latter were so determined to have their rights maintained that they put off boats, and boarded the brig "Busy," towing out to sea with a number of special constables on board, to protect the crew. Of course the specials and crew strove their hardest to prevent them boarding, but the sailors were numerous, and soon overpowered the civil force. Eventually a troop of the 3rd Light Dragoons, stationed at Newcastle, were called into requisition. They had been sent for by the civil authorities, to maintain order, by assisting the magistrates in getting the ships out to sea.
The Riot Act was read, but, unfortunately, only on the shores of the South side; those on the North side remained unwarned as to what eventually would take place. This had caused all the mischief. The shipowners say that if a determined stand was not speedily made by the military force the result might be serious, so the soldiers were compelled to drive the intruders out of the ships. In this they succeeded, but not without much bloodshed. The agitated mob were on the Sand Point, where the ships had to come close in shore, and the cavalry and crew were assailed with a long and continuous shower of stones from men, women, and children. This they bore with patience for some time, but some of the soldiers were severely hurt, orders were given to fire in their own defence. This was first done by firing a volley over the heads of the infuriated mob. It had no effect whatever, and as matters became very hot, a second volley was fired, by which three men were killed and several seriously wounded. At this moment the writer of this, then quite a little boy, was standing on the bow stage of a ship then building in Mr. Storey's yard, Sand Point, held by the hand of his father, to witness the launch of the brig "Newton," when the soldiers commenced to open fire. A block maker named Creigton, standing on the right, received a bullet in the forehead, and dropped dead on the stage. This took such an effect upon father and son that they left that exposed position with all speed, by beating a hasty retreat into a more secluded and safe spot, under the sound of volleys, and the shot of musketry, which could be heard distinctly throughout Monkwearmouth, and which lasted sometime until darkness set in. The town on both sides remained in commotion for some days, under the protection of the cavalry from Newcastle, and the river under the protection of a large armed cutter, sent by the Admiralty, which acted as guard ship to the port, firing, as usual, a morning and evening gun from the upper deck, and flying her long and raking pendant when moored off the Mark Quay, where she remained until peace was restored.
We now trace the career of the North Sands into a more recent period, that of 1846. The builders here at that date were Messrs. Byers & Co., Mr. Wm. Pile, Jun., Mr. John Pile, Messrs. R. Thompson & Sons, and in 1850 came Messrs. W. & T. Harkess, Mr. Gardner, Mr. J Blumer, and Mr. George Booth. At this period a complete revolution in shipbuilding took place, when both Mr. John Pile and his brother William got in full swing. Their mode of construction eclipsed all that had ever previously taken place on the Wear, and even in any other part of the country. The name of those eminent constructors was soon spread all over the world. This is no cause for wonder when we consider the stock they sprung from. The name of their grandfather, Wm. Pile, was a household word throughout the port, for the fame of this old veteran spread far and wide, through the building of the "Ganges," an East Indiaman, in 1825, on the rock at Ravenswheel, the last yard of the late Mr. Dennis A. Douglass. Their father, too, another Wm. Pile, following the excellent example of his father, made his mark among the builders of the port as a splendid constructor, so that we scarcely need wonder that the two sons became such bright and shining stars. Here let me state, that the shipwrights' wages at Hylton, in 1838, was 15/-† per week, and at the same period those on the North Sands and in the yards on the lower parts of the Wear only had 18/- per week, when they were lucky to get a full week. The writer, where he was employed, was compelled to take the half of his earnings each week out in groceries.
† 15 shillings
THE CLIPPER "LIZZIE WEBBER."
The Piles had well merited the high encomiums passed on them at the finish of this splendid yacht-like vessel, not only for smartness and form, but for the high rate of speed which she and others of their clippers attained while under canvas. In fact, their vessels were acknowledged, and held by many, to be the swiftest sailing vessels in the China trade, known as tea ships. They were among the first, at all events, in this river, to introduce long ships with beam in proportion. Their vessels were of large dimensions, and the items of their fittings enormously costly, and they won for the builders the high name they attained in every quarter of the globe.
It will be remembered that Messrs. Pile were among the first to take up iron shipbuilding. The same may be said of the style of the iron ships as already has been said of the wood ships they built. They foresaw that a great revolution was approaching, if not already at hand. Inquiries and demand for iron in place of wood were visible in every direction. They at once set about obtaining the plant necessary for the great change required to construct iron ships. The result proved most favourable, orders kept coming in, and they had no sooner made a fair start that it was seen that the class of ships they designed were admired for beauty and form, fully equal to the wood liners for which they already had obtained such a high name.
A few short years after, a terrible blow to the firm was caused by the death of Mr. Wm. Pile, esteemed by every one for his acts of kindness and general benevolence, and as an employer of labour not surpassed in his kindly disposition. There were few, if any, of our builders who could reach the standard to which Mr. Wm. Pile had attained, not only as a model builder but as a model man. The writer of this having known him personally, and with greatest intimacy from childhood, can bear testimony to the good traits in the character of this eminent shipbuilder. I can remember, when quite a boy, how very fond he was of cutting out small models of ships and sailing them in the pools left by the receding tide at the Potato Garth, east of Sand Point. When questioned as to the form of his miniature vessel, he would invariably quote his favourite lines which he never forgot, and in many instances adhered to them:—
- "Cod head and mackeral tail,
- That's the ship for a canny good sail."
MR. JOSEPH L. THOMPSON AS A WOOD SHIPBUILDER.
The late Mr. Robert Thompson, the founder of the firm of shipbuilders now occupying the North Sands Shipyard, was born in 1797.
Having served his apprenticeship with Mr. Allison, on the North Sands, his first operations in shipbuilding were commenced in 1819, when he built several small craft in the dock berth below the Lambton Drops.
In 1837 Mr. Thomas Speeding, sail maker of Monkwearmouth, made arrangements with two bachelors of the name of Melvin, ropers, of Chaytor's Haugh, for the building of a small brig here. Mr. Robert Thompson was engaged to build this vessel, leaving Mr. Storey, for whom he was then foreman, on the North Sands. In due course, this vessel was built, and named the "Iona," being the first vessel to enter the Wearmouth Dock. About this period there were wood shipbuilding yards from the North Pier to within three quarters of a mile of Lambton Castle, one adjoining the estate boundary wall, the builder being one Thomas Lanchester.
We come to another interesting epoch of the North Sands, that of the late Mr. Robert Thompson taking possession of the yard in February, 1846. Mr. Thompson was no novice in shipbuilding, but had gained much experience by the difficulties he had had to grapple with. His success led to his removal to this favourite spot, where he was soon recognised to be one of the leading builders on the Wear. Building many of the large class wooden ships of superior quality (like the Piles previously alluded to), he went largely in for increasing the length of the many fine vessels, entrusted to his construction.
Mr. Joseph L. Thompson continued building for some years under the old firm's name of R. Thompson & Sons. Like his father, he was truly successful in his profession, building a smart and useful ship. Of the large wood vessels built by Mr. Joseph L. Thompson may be mentioned the "Vincedora," "Rondinella," "Freedom," "Golondrina," "Atossa," "Morning Glory," "Aurea," "Star," "Iduna," "Veronica," "Trevanion," and many others.
The largest wood vessel was named the "Helvellyn," built in 1855, and of the following dimensions: length, 189 ft.; breadth, 32 ft. 10 in.; depth, 22 ft.; and of 1017 tons measurement. She was launched 21st April, 1856. From 1846 to 1869, 40,278 tons wood ships were built. Wood shipbuilding was continued until the year 1869, when the last wood vessel built by Mr. Joseph L. Thompson, numbered 103, was built and launched early in 1870 and named the "Peace," in commemoration of the close of the Franco-German war.
In the year 1864, Mr. William Pile desired to extend his shipyard, The landed proprietor, however, considered that Mr. Joseph L. Thompson had a strong claim to remain on the North Sands, which resulted in the latter taking the yard to the eastward, then occupied by Mr. John Blumer. During the later years, wooden vessels of every description were built by Mr. Joseph L. Thompson, from the small coasting vessel to the largest East Indian trader. Many vessels were also designed and built for the copper ore trade. The firm were the builders of the first wooden vessel built on the Wear having iron diagonal straps. This vessel (built in 1853, and mentioned in Surtees' History of Durham) was named the "City of Carlisle," and was 158 feet in length and of 1000 tons measurement.
MESSRS. JOSEPH L. THOMPSON & SONS, IRON SHIPBUILDERS
A new era in connection with this firm was about to be ushered in. The decay of wood shipbuilding being apparent, active preparations for adapting the yard for the building of iron vessels were commenced on the 2nd December, 1870. Mr. Joseph. L. Thompson laid the first keel of an iron steamer on the 1st March, 1871, and in due time, the firm was changed to Joseph L. Thompson & Sons, the change taking place in the year 1873.
In the year 1880, the whole of the North Sands came into the possession of Messrs. Thompson, and, more recently, they have made another extension, by enclosing the vacant ground to the eastward of the present shipyard, so that now, with the facilities thus afforded, the North Sands shipyard is on of the best appointed in the country, having all the most modern machinery and plant obtainable, including hydraulic riveters, cranes, winches, and plate bending machines.
The shell plate and angle furnaces, and the hydraulic plant, are the special design of the works' manager Mr. P. Phorson, Jun., the furnaces being heated by gas which is manufactured in the works by means of large gas producers. During the period of the winter months the whole of the machinery sheds are lighted by means of the Lucigen light now in general use for outside purposes. Vessels of great length and tonnage are being built, the firm having no less than six commodious building berths or slipways, where vessels upwards of 50 ft. in breadth, and varying from 320 ft. to 450 ft. in length, can be put on the stocks at one time. It is worthy of note that, at the present time, the firm have not a vessel building under 300 feet in length, and some of the largest and most powerful vessels in the mercantile service are being, and have been built, in the North Sands Shipyard. They have been classed, and rightly so, as
"THE PREMIER BUILDERS."
This has been proved by many past years' reports of the number of ships they produced during each year, and also of the tonnage. I have now before me the list of ships built and registered at Lloyd's for the half year ending June, 1882, and this gives the firm credit of building eight large, powerful ships in the short space of six months, the total registered tonnage being 17,390 tons, while the aggregate horse power of engines is put down at 1555 nominal horse power, and about 8800 indicated.
With the exception of the year 1884, the North Sands yard has launched annually the largest amount of tonnage built on the Wear since 1880. Consult the following:—
The total tonnage built by the firms from 1846 to 1890 is as follows:—
- 1846 to 1869 . . 40,278, wood.
- 1871 to 1886 . . 173,728, iron.
- 1885 to 1890 . . 139,919, steel
- 353,925, tons.
During the present year over 32,000 tons will be launched, two of the vessels being over 4000 tons measurement.
A few years ago the firm entered into negotiations with Sir Hedworth Williamson, Bart., to take over the estate situated at or on the North Quay (formerly intended for the late Mr. Wm. Pile, and now known as the Manor Quay Repairing Works) as a repairing depôt, where they have a river frontage of over 600 feet in length, and are doing a large amount of business in the fitting and repairing line. As the shops are launched, they are berthed at the Manor Quay Works, where they are afloat; and, after receiving their engines, are completely fitted for sea.
The firm have expended a large amount of money in the erection of two fine and powerful cranes for lifting the masts and other heavy materials in the ships while at the Quay. They have also erected excellent workshops for the smiths, fitters, joiners, and painters. The machinery here is also of the latest type of modern science. We hear that it is contemplated, some day, to sink, at the western end, a graving dock, in the part vacated by Messrs. Robson & Sons. There can be no doubt but it will prove a paying concern, from the quantity of repairs they are having from nearly all parts of the world. But to return to the main and principal yard. On entering, we find a substantial suite of offices, where a large staff of clerks (as may be expected) are employed in the various departments of this vast establishment. The most interesting departments to visit would be that of the drawing office and model room, which contains a valuable collection of models of vessels built by the firm and their predecessors, dating as far back as the year 1838, when the brig "Barnard Castle" was built at Coxgreen by the late Mr. Robert Thompson. The model of this vessel is among many hundreds of fine specimens of naval architecture which have been built by the firm during the last fifty years, showing clearly the change in style of vessel between the old wooden sailers to the present magnificent liners. The firm have successfully exhibited models of their vessels at Paris, London, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Newcastle exhibitions.
Many opportunities have been afforded to visit the joiners' shop. It is of large dimensions, upon one floor. As you enter you hear an unwelcome and distracting noise, proceeding from the whirring tools in motion. The chief are the large circular saws, with their terrific teeth, which roar into the wood with such vigour, that it seems to flinch on the travelling slide as it slowly moves to its doom. Another object which soon strikes the eye of the visitor is the band saws, endless tapes of steel working over pairs of rollers, and always running in one direction. There are also fret saws with the usual up-and-down motion, cutting the most delicate and elaborate patterns and designs for the cabin fittings. Then there is not only the sawing, but the planing, moulding, morticing, tenoning, dovetailing, turning, all in full chop and scoop and spin.
In the stores are kept the various fancy woods in process of seasoning, such as the ash, elm, and plane tree from our own country; teak from Burmah; mahogany from the Gulf; black walnut from the States; deals — red, white and yellow — from the St. Lawrence and the Baltic. All these fancy woods undergo the process of polishing before they are fixed in their respective places.
This yard is very different to what was formerly seen on the North Sands. It is surrounded on all sides by the main gate, the public being excluded unless by special permission. The workmen, as they enter, take up their ticket. To those who have no knowledge of its workings, I may say it is merely a simple brass or leaden ticket, with a given number inserted therein, that being the number of the workman on the books; and, when once the ticket is taken out, no workman can leave the yard until the appointed time, unless he obtains a special order from the yard foreman. The introduction of the ticket system was adopted by the Admiralty in all Her Majesty's dockyards, at home and abroad, many years ago, they being the founders, and the system has been proved, wherever it has been tried, to be of great value.
In taking a stroll through the yard, the visitor's eye must soon be caught, and his hearing deafened, by the continuous rattle of the riveting hammer, which is to some quite distracting. This is increased by the vast machinery in motion, from the huge shears to the many punching machines, where the holes are driven through the plates with so much ease. It is marvellous to see the rapidity with which they are going, and the correctness with which they perform their various fractions. The rolls is another useful implement driven by machinery for the purpose of forming the plates to the shape required before they are sent to the ship. along the top of the yard the authorities have adopted a fine method for getting the plates, and frames, and heavy material on board each ship by means of hydraulic cranes fixed in the ground, and put into motion by means of wire rope. Thus the work is greatly facilitated, and is a great improvement on the past.
Mr. Joseph L. Thompson, Sen., finding he required more rest from active service — the strain of so many years' toil, coupled with growing years, beginning to tell upon him — after mature consideration, felt that he could, with confidence, leave the management of the entire business safely in the hands of his three sons, each of whom had had a thorough and practical training in his profession. As time passes on they have proved to his satisfaction that they had all the knowledge necessary for this great and gigantic undertaking. Being so long on the active list, he has found it difficult to settle down all at once, so that on occasions, when weather permits, he can be seen as heretofore wending his way towards the yard, often on foot, with all that pleasantness of demeanour which characterises a good man, in order to give advice should it be required, but feeling assured that the three sons are entirely masters of the situation, and fully capable of carrying out the vast undertaking in their hands.
His homestead which he has erected, is known as Ashville, on the Newcastle Road. It is all that could be desired, the grounds being neatly laid out. This is enough of itself to attract the retirement of such an one as Mr. Joseph L. Thompson, but with him a retired life seems not to be regarded as a safe one, consequently, when in robust health, he appears still in love with the clattering sound of the hammer and the shrill shriek of the "buzzer." Now that the North Sands shipyard is entirely under the control of his three sons, Messrs. Robert Thompson, Joseph L. Thompson, Jun., and Charles Elliot Thompson, I may venture to say a few words on the progress they have made, which is visible on every hand. Within a recent date they have, in conjunction with Mr. J. Dickinson, succeeded in obtaining the Monk Street engine works, and have converted them into a brass and metal foundry. A large portion of it has been transformed into a most commodious pattern shop, and they have recently added a smiths' shop to the foundry. A large amount of the castings for the ships' engines are manipulated here, and it affords employment to a large number of workmen. Another addition to the works of this enterprising firm is the purchase of the forge at Pallion. They have, at considerable expense, made it well adapted for the forgings of all the heavy work they require at the North Sands yard, such as stems and sternposts.
The heaviest and largest main forgings are also made, and a considerable export trade is down with Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Spain. We hardly need, therefore, wonder how rapidly they can cope with the large amount of work they take in hand. In addition to the various methods introduced by the principals in the different departments, they have the benefit of a most keen and active general manager, in the person of Mr. James Marr, who occupies an important and responsible position with the firm, while the works in the yard are entrusted to Mr. P. Phorson, Jun., works' manager, he having served his apprenticeship with the firm. Needless to say, much depends upon the staff in carrying out the orders of such large and important works to ensure a successful issue, and this firm has the good fortune to be assisted by a large and efficient body of officials. It ought to be fully understood that, of all large vessels under construction here, as well as at other yards on the Wear, very few, if any, are of iron, as formerly, steel being substituted instead of iron. This firm have not built an iron vessel since the year 1885.
Before I close, I may mention an interesting event in connection with this yard. I refer to the report in the Sunderland Daily Echo, dated August 14th, 1891. It is there stated that the steamer "Queensland," recently built by the firm of Messrs. J. L. Thompson & Sons, North Sands, for Mr. Wm. Kish of this town, a vessel of 360 ft. in length, and 48 ft. beam, performed the voyage from this port to Penang in thirty days, including stoppages in the Suez Canal, a voyage equal to that made by the steamers owned by the Peninsular and Oriental Company. This report must have been gratifying to the builders, also to Mr. John Dickinson, of the Palmer's Hill Engine Works, who made the engines. Both these firms have the reputation of building fine specimens of naval architecture, combined with speed and sea-going qualities. The gradual development in this firm, which has been going on for years, has been a blessing to both sides of the Wear.
The following are the names of a few of the important steamers, built by the firm during recent years: —
- Kaisow, Moyune, Keemun, Pak Ling, built for the China Shippers Mutual Steam Navigation Company.
- Thisbe, Pluto, and Euterpe, built for the Austro-Hungarian Lloyd's Steam Navigation Company.
- Coogee, Hubbuck, Murrumbidgee, Culgoa, Yarrawonga, and Port Chalmers, built for the Anglo-Australasian passenger and wool service.
- Conde Wifredo, Cabo Palos, Cabo Penas, Cabo Quejo, Cabo San Antonio, Cabo Silleiro, Cabo Prior, Cabo San Vicente, and the Italica, built to the order of Spanish companies.
Many of the above vessels are fitted with electric light installation, and otherwise handsomely fitted. In the year 1884, the officials presented each member of the firm with a very handsome presentation in the form of cabinet photographs of every member of staff employed at North Sands yard, which is very artistically arranged, and is much appreciated as an expression of goodwill towards the firm.
The senior representative of the firm, Mr. Robert Thompson, also Mr. Joseph L. Thompson, Jun., are members of the Institute of Naval Architects. In March, 1884, Mr. Robert Thompson read a Paper of some length, dealing with the loadline question, and gave evidence before the Load Line Commission. In the year 1884, he took an active part in the formation of the North-East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders, of which he is a Vice-President, and a member of the Council of that Institution. During the session of 1887 an important Paper on "The Influence of Coal Consumption and the Commercial Efficiency in design of Cargo Steamers." was contributed by Mr. R. Thompson, and read before the members of the North-East Coast Institute. Mr. Thompson is also a member of the Iron and Steel Institute; River Wear Commission; and was recently appointed as one of the representatives of the North-East Coast on the Consultative Committee of Lloyd's Registry, and in September, 1890, he was appointed a Justice of the Peace in the County of Durham.
It may be said that Messrs. Thompson have manifested a very enterprising spirit in undertaking the development of their business, many important additions having been made to the existing facilities of the port for the success of the shipbuilding industry of the Wear. The works are on the Admiralty list for the building of Government vessels.
THE ANCESTRY OF THE THOMPSON FAMILY
can be traced back for many years, claiming the old ancient parish of Monkwearmouth Shore as their birthplace. As a family, they remain still unbroken, excepting in a few instances where the Great Leveller has made inroads according to the workings of his unlimited power, removing stems and branches of families, and causing lamentation and devastation.
To return to the subject. There can be no doubt that the firm, taking into account the various establishments under their control, are the largest employers of labour on the Wear. It is computed that, at present, the workmen now employed will exceed 2000.
I will conclude with the remaining portion of that already given on "Time."
- "'Tis a momentary ray,
- Smiling through the winter's day:
- 'Tis a torrent's rapid stream,
- 'Tis a shadow, 'tis a dream.
- 'Tis the closing watch of night,
- Dying at the rising light:
- 'Tis a bubble, 'tis a sigh;
- Be prepared, O man, to die.
- Time slowly comes, 'tis quickly past;
- Anticipate, and hold him fast;
- And lo, the forelocks on his brow,
- Once past, what speed can e'er pursue?"