A group of Sunderland Labour councillors are celebrating after a blue plaque was secured to pay homage to a headteacher who played a key role in saving Washington Old Hall.

Fred Hill – a former headteacher at Biddick School, later known as Columbia School – also started the community’s first local newspaper and helped established Washington’s first ever swimming pool.

He has been recognised with a blue plaque at the former school, which has been redeveloped into specialist apartments for vulnerable people by Sunderland’s Labour-led City Council.

Fred was largely responsible for saving Washington Old Hall from demolition. He also promoted links between Washington and the USA based on the Old Hall being the ancestral home of George Washington, the country’s first president.

By the 1930s, the Old Hall had become a ruin that was considered unfit for human habitation, and it would have been knocked down had it not been for the determination of Fred.

He managed to convince people on both sides of the Atlantic of its historical importance, forming a committee that successfully managed to raise the money and support to save the building.

Blue plaque at Washington Old School

Cllr Dianne Snowdon, Labour councillor for Washington Central, said: “I am absolutely thrilled to see that the blue plaque to honor the remarkable legacy of Fred Hill at Washington Old Hall has finally been installed.

“Fred was not only an exceptional educator but also a community champion who played a pivotal role in preserving our beloved Old Hall and fostering a sense of unity through the setting up of the school’s first community newspaper.

“This blue plaque is a fitting tribute to his enduring commitment to education and community engagement and will ensure he lives long in the minds of residents for generations to come.”

The redevelopment of the Old School building will deliver 15 new specialist apartments, providing much-needed homes for vulnerable adults in Sunderland.

Councillor Kevin Johnston, dynamic city cabinet member at Sunderland City Council, said: “Fred is someone who played a significant part in the history of Washington and honouring his contribution to the area is something we are delighted to have been able to do.

“Just as the Old Hall had stood empty for many years when Fred stepped in to help save the building, the Old School has been vacant for 20 years and will be given a new lease of life by the council, which is delivering new homes to meet residents’ needs.  I think it’s fitting that the new homes we’re creating will feature this plaque.”

Originally known as Biddick School, it was built in 1893, with the school closing in 1993 after which the building temporarily housed the Washington Church of Christ before being left vacant. Fred was headmaster of the school from 1926 until his retirement in 1948.

The school has stood empty for 20 years, and neighbours a cluster of new bungalows that the council developed to boost the number of homes for older people and those with physical disabilities in Washington.

The 15 units are designed for medium to long-term accommodation and to provide a vital sense of ownership for the residents. The scheme also includes overnight accommodation for support staff and office and meeting space and can also be adapted to house older and vulnerable residents on a more permanent basis, to provide flexibility depending on the needs of its residents.