IN January 1893, John Tolson Lowthian of Shildon needed a police escort after refereeing a match in which Stockton had beaten South Bank 5-2.

“A crowd waited for him on the road to the railway station, but he succeeded in getting safely away,” said a contemporary report.

Mr Lowthian’s story is told in the booklet that is free to visitors to the Shildon 125th anniversary exhibition which opens today to commemorate the town’s football ground and its legendary retailing name, Hackett & Baines.

The Northern Echo: Hackett & Baines shop in Main Street, Shildon, in 1970

Hackett & Baines in Main Street, Shildon, celebrates its 125th anniversary today


Because Mr Lowthian, despite what the football fans thought of him as a whistleblower, was a fine upstanding member of the community – even though at the heart of his family there was a violently tragic tale.

The Northern Echo: John Lowthian, whose son, Dennis, was murdered on the high seas in 1904

Mr Lowthian was the schoolmaster at All Saint’s in Shildon. He was chairman of the Shildon Urban District Council. He was the East Thickley tax collector. He was involved with the Durham County Insurance Company. He sat on the Shildon Show Committee. A year after the footballing fracas in Stockton, he became president of the Auckland District Football League. He also rose to be president of the Durham County Football Association and to fulfil the same highly prestigious role for the Bishop Auckland Co-operative Society – the co-op that dominated south Durham.

And in 1904, at the family home in Hawthorne Terrace in Shildon, he learned the terrible news that his 17-year-old son, Dennis, had been murdered on the high seas somewhere between Montevideo, in Uruguay, and Tenerife.

Dennis was a deckhand on the steamship Waiwera and, on the outward journey to New Zealand, he had made allegations of assault against the ship’s fireman, Able Seaman John Sullivan, 40, which resulted in Sullivan being sentenced to seven days hard labour. He returned to the ship bearing a grudge which he brutally saw through on May 18 by crashing a hatchet down on Dennis’s head, killing him immediately.

His fellow sailors clamped Sullivan in irons and found a remarkable letter about his person.

"This is my last declaration in this world, as I am about to take the life of Lowthian, and should give some reason for it,” he had written. “I have been better than a father and mother to him. I washed his clothes and waited on him, as if I was a paid servant.”

He claimed Dennis was “one of the lowest specimens of humanity I ever met” because he was “a thorough accomplished thief”.

“He broke the church clock at his home and told me he laughed while his father used to talk about the blackguards who did it,” claimed Sullivan.

But it was Dennis’s “bad charges against me” which Sullivan said were “the sole cause of me going to commit this terrible deed”.

“He got me seven days in gaol for assault, and he did everything he could which the devil planned out for him. He will tonight.......Good‐bye to this foul, evil, wicked world. I shall cut his head off and take it overboard with me.”

Sullivan was found guilty as soon as the Waiwera docked in London, although the jury recommended clemency on account of provocation.


However, when Sullivan alleged that “the Judge summed up this case as though he had a personal spite against me, and went to sleep while my advocate was pleading for my life”, Mr Justice passed the sentence of death against him.

And so, just seven weeks after the terrible deed was committed in the Atlantic Ocean, Sullivan was hanged in Pentonville Prison.

As Memories told last week, the exhibition celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Dean Street ground in Shildon and of the Hackett & Baines shop in Main Street opens to the public in Shildon Workmen’s Club in Main Street) at 1pm today.

The exhibition is open every Monday in July from 5pm to 7pm and every Friday from 3pm to 6pm. It is open on Sundays July 2, 9 and 23 from noon to 3pm and on Saturdays July 8 and 22 from noon till 4pm.

The Northern Echo: Eric Thompson

All those who join the Durham Amateur Football Trust (DAFT) (annual membership £5) during the course of the exhibition will be entered into a draw which features a framed print of Eric Thompson’s fabulous painting of three short-trousered urchins trying to bunk into the Dean Street ground without paying, some time in the 1950s (above).

Shildon-born Eric may, or may not, be one of those urchins.


The Northern Echo: The Dean Street ground around 1960, hopefully this time the right way roung

The Dean Street ground around 1960, hopefully this time the right way round

LAST week, we featured a lovely snowy picture of the Dean Street ground in Shildon in about 1960.

“The photograph is incorrect,” says Alan Ellwood, of the Shildon History Recall Society. “It is the Dean Street ground but the picture is in fact reversed.

“I lived in the next street to the stadium for 50 years – my great-grandfather installed the original communal baths in the stand after it was completed in 1921 – so I easily recognised the error.”

Hopefully, this week, we’ve got it the right way round.