Roker Pier engineer's relative visits landmark for the first time

Photograph: Craig Connor North News & Pictures. Great Great Grandaugher comes face to face with history.
Photograph: Craig Connor North News & Pictures. Great Great Grandaugher comes face to face with history.

The Australian great-great-grandaughter of the engineer who built Roker Pier visited the historic landmark for the first time on Wednesday.

Carmen Higgs came face to face with initials carved into the tunnel beneath the pier 123 years ago to mark her great-grandfather’s Mervyn’s first visit there as a child in 1891.

Engineer Henry Hay Wake had the initials of at least 3 of his children carved into the walls of the tunnel to mark their visits to the pier over a 7 year period between 1891 and 1898. It is hoped that as work progresses more names will be uncovered.

Carmen was given a guided tour of the tunnel and lighthouse and got to see the recently restored lantern house. She also met up with other members of Henry Hay Wake’s extended family who still live in the north east.

Sunderland City Council is part way through a £1.35m restoration of the much loved landmark pier to its former glory. Following completion of the lantern house last November, work to completely resurface the pier is due to start this June.

Should the City Council be successful in its bid for Heritage Lottery Funding(HLF), this will be followed by the restoration of the lighthouse and tunnel, with a view to opening them for public tours.

The council is currently developing a detailed bid for HLF funding after winning through to the first stage last September, and it is appealing for people to come forward with old photos, family stories or other memorabilia relating to the pier which could be used to support the bid.

Deputy Council Leader, Councillor Henry Trueman, said: “It’s fantastic to have Carmen here visiting the pier today and I’m really looking forward to hearing her share her family’s stories about the pier.

A lot of families pass down stories, photos and other memorabilia through the generations and we’re very keen to hear from anyone who can help us tell the story of the pier through its 129 year history.

“It might be that their great-great-grandad was involved in helping build the pier or was a lighthousekeeper, or they might just have happy memories of visiting the pier as a child and photos from their visits when they were younger.

“There’s also been a fair few people rescued through the pier tunnel over the years after becoming trapped on the pier so it would be good to hear their stories too.”

“We’re already part way through the £1.35m restoration programme, with work due to start on resurfacing the pier this summer. Being able to tell the story of the pier is a really important part of the bid.

“Additional funding from the Heritage Lottery Funding would help us restore the tunnel and lighthouse, open up access to the pier and develop a range of resources to make the most of its heritage.”

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