From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
County Durham
The Wearmouth Bridge
Grid reference: NZ395575
Location: 54°54’22"N, 1°22’52"W
Population: 177,739  (2001)
Post town: Sunderland
Postcode: SR1-6, SR9
Dialling code: 0191
Local Government
Council: Sunderland
Sunderland South
Sunderland North

Sunderland is a city in County Durham standing at the mouth of the River Wear on the North Sea coast.

A person who is born or lives around the Sunderland area is sometimes colloquially known as a Mackem, a nickname taken, it is said, from the shipbuilders' boast that "We mak 'em, they tak 'em".

The name "Sunderland" is believed to come from Old English, meaning "sundered land", perhaps referring to the great valley carved by the River Wear. Three original towns stood on the site of today's Sunderland. On the north side of the river, Monkwearmouth was settled in 674 when Benedict founded the Wearmouth-Jarrow monastery. Opposite the monastery on the south bank, Bishopwearmouth was founded in 930. A small fishing village called Sunderland, located toward the mouth of the river (modern day East End) was granted a charter in 1179.

Over the centuries, Sunderland grew as a port, trading coal and salt. Ships began to be built on the river in the 14th century. By the 19th century, the port of Sunderland had grown to absorb Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth.

Until the end of the bishops' palatine jurisdiction in the nineteenth century, the Bishops of Durham held secular authority here as elsewhere in County Durham.

The town

Sunderland riverside at sunset

Much of the city is located on a low range of hills running parallel to the coast. On average, it is around 250 ft above sea level. Sunderland is divided by the River Wear which passes through the middle of the city in a deeply incised valley, part of which is known as the Hylton gorge. The only two road bridges connecting the north and south halves of the City are the Queen Alexandra Bridge at Pallion and the Wearmouth Bridge just to the north of the City centre. A third bridge carries the A19 dual-carriageway over the Wear to the West of the City (see map below).

Most of the suburbs of Sunderland are situated towards the west of the city centre with 70% of its population living on the south side of the river and 30% on the north side. The city extends to the seafront at Hendon and Ryhope (on the south) and Seaburn (on the north).

Alphabetical street naming of suburbs

Some, mainly local authority-built, Sunderland suburbs have most streets systematically named such that each street in an area will begin with the same letter:

  • A: Farringdon
  • B: Town End Farm
  • C: Hylton Castle
  • D: Dykelands Road area of Seaburn
  • E: Carley Hill
  • F: Ford Estate
  • G: Grindon
  • H: Hylton Lane
  • K: Downhill
  • M: Moorside
  • P: Pennywell and Plains Farm
  • R: Red House
  • S: Springwell
  • T: Thorney Close
  • W: Witherwack

In Marley Pots, the streets are all associated with trees, e.g. Maplewood, Elmwood etc.


There has also been a long-standing local legend that there was a small Roman settlement standing on the south bank of the River Wear on what is currently the site of the former Vaux Brewery, but no archaeological work has yet taken place to explore this.[1] The first known historical appearance of Sunderland is in the seventh century.

The Golden Age of Northumbria

St Peter's Church in Monkwearmouth

Recorded settlements on the mouth of the Wear date back to 674, when one Benedict granted land by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria, founded the Wearmouth-Jarrow (St. Peter's) monastery on the north bank of the river Wear – an area that became known as Monkwearmouth. Benedict's monastery was said to be the first built of stone in Northumbria. He employed glaziers from France and in doing so he re-established glass making in Britain.[2] In 686 the community was taken over by Ceolfrid, and Wearmouth-Jarrow became a major centre of learning and knowledge in Anglo-Saxon England with a library of around 300 volumes.[3]

The Codex Amiatinus was created at the monastery and was likely worked on by Bede, who was born at Wearmouth in 673.[4] While at the monastery, Bede completed The Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731, a work which has earned him the title: The father of English history.[5]

Middle Ages

In the late eighth century, the Vikings began to raid the coast, and by the middle of the ninth century, the monastery had been abandoned. Lands on the south side of the river were granted to the Bishop of Durham by King Athelstan in 930; these became known as Bishopwearmouth and included settlements such as Ryhope which fall within the modern day boundary of Sunderland.[6][7]

As early as 1100, Sunderland was a small fishing village at the southern mouth of the river Wear in Bishopwearmouth parish. This village was granted a charter in 1179 by Hugh Pudsey, then the Bishop of Durham.[8]

From as early as 1346 ships were being built at Wearmouth, by a merchant named Thomas Menville. In 1589, salt began to be made in Sunderland.[9] Large vats of seawater, were heated using coal. As the water evaporated the salt sediment remained. This process is known as salt panning, which gave its name to Bishopwearmouth Panns; the modern-day name of the area the pans occupied is Pann's Bank, located on the river bank between the city centre and Hendon. As coal was required to heat the salt pans, a coal mining community began to emerge in the area. Only poor quality coal was used in salt panning; quality coal was traded via the port, which subsequently began to grow.

17th and 18th centuries

Holy Trinity church, built in 1719

Before the English Civil War in 1642, King Charles I bestowed upon Newcastle upon Tyne a monopoly right to the east of England coal trade.[10] This had a big impact on Sunderland, which had begun to rapidly grow as a coal-trading town and created resentment toward Newcastle and toward the monarchy. In March 1644, a Scottish army allied to the king's enemies was stationed at Sunderland and clashes occurred in the vicinity with Royalist troops under the Marquess of Newcastle who moved against them. The most significant encounter occurred in the Hylton and Boldon areas.[11] During the Civil War Parliament blockaded the River Tyne, crippling the Newcastle coal trade and allowing the Sunderland coal trade to flourish. Because of the difficulty for colliers in trying to navigate the shallow waters of the River Wear, the coal had to be loaded onto keels (large boats) and taken downriver to the waiting colliers. The keels were manned by a close-knit group of workers known as 'keelmen'.

In 1719, the separate parish of Sunderland was carved from the densely populated east end of Bishopwearmouth by the establishment of Holy Trinity Church, Sunderland parish church (today also known as Sunderland Old Parish Church). The three original settlements of Wearmouth (Bishopwearmouth, Monkwearmouth and Sunderland) had begun to combine, driven by the success of the port of Sunderland as well as the salt panning and the shipbuilding along the banks of the Wear. Around this time, Sunderland was also known as 'Sunderland-near-the-Sea'.[12]

19th century

Until 1835 Sunderland, though a substantial town, was govered by parish, but the inadequacy of the vestry meeting as an effective body was shown by an outbreak of cholera in 1831.[13] Sunderland, a main trading port at the time, was the first British town to be struck with the 'Indian cholera' epidemic.[14] The first victim, William Sproat, died on 23 October 1831. Sunderland was put under quarantine, and the port was blockaded, but in December of that year the disease spread to Gateshead and from there, it rapidly made its way across the country, killing an estimated 32,000 people. Among those to die was Sunderland's Naval hero Jack Crawford. The novel The Dress Lodger by American author Sheri Holman is set in Sunderland during the epidemic.[15] The result after the epidemic had passed was the creation of Sunderland as a borough in 1835.

Sunderland's position on a plateau high above the river allowed the building of bridges which were high enough to avoid interrupting the passage of high masted vessels. The Wearmouth Bridge was built in 1796, at the instigation of Rowland Burdon, the Member of Parliament for County Durham, and is described by Nikolaus Pevsner as being of superb elegance. It was the second iron bridge built after the famous span at Ironbridge itself, but over twice as long and only three-quarters the weight. Indeed, at the time of building, it was the biggest single span bridge in the world.[16] Further up the river, the Queen Alexandra Bridge was built in 1909, linking the areas of Deptford and Southwick.[17]

In 1897, Monkwearmouth officially became a part of Sunderland. Bishopwearmouth had long since been absorbed.[18]

20th century to present

Sunderland from Green Hill", 1989

As the former heavy industries have declined, so electronic, chemical, paper and motor manufactures have replaced them, including the city's Nissan car plant.[19]

From 1990, the banks of the Wear experienced a massive physical regeneration with the creation of housing, retail parks and business centres on former shipbuilding sites.

Many fine old buildings remain despite the heavy bombing that occurred during Second World War.[20]


Sunderland is within the Diocese of Durham. Notable churches include:

  • Church of England:
    • Holy Trinity Church, built in 1719 when Sunderland became an independent parish
    • St Michael's Church, built as Bishopwearmouth Parish Church and now known as Sunderland Minster
    • St Peter's Church, Monkwearmouth, part of which dates from AD 674, and was the original monastery
    • St Andrew's Roker, known as the "Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement", contains work by William Morris, Ernest Gimson and Eric Gill.[21]

Ship building and coal mining

Once famously hailed as the "Largest Shipbuilding Town in the World",[22] ships were built on the Wear from at least 1346 onwards and by the mid-eighteenth century Sunderland was one of the chief shipbuilding towns in the country. The Port of Sunderland was significantly expanded in the 1850s with the construction of Hudson Dock to designs by River Wear Commissioner's Engineer John Murray, with consultancy by Robert Stephenson.[23] One famous vessel was the Torrens, the clipper in which Joseph Conrad sailed, and on which he began his first novel. As Basil Lubbock states, Torrens was one of the most successful ships ever built, besides being one of the fastest, and for many years was the favourite passenger ship to Adelaide. She was one of the most famous ships of her time and can claim to be the finest ship ever launched from a Sunderland yard. She was built in ten months by James Laing at his Deptford yard on the Wear in 1875.

Between 1939 and 1945 the Wear yards launched 245 merchant ships totalling 1.5 million tons, a quarter of the merchant tonnage produced in the UK at this period. Competition from overseas caused a downturn in demand for Sunderland built ships toward the end of the twentieth century. The last shipyard in Sunderland closed in 1988.

Sunderland, part of the Durham coalfield, has a coal-mining heritage that dates back centuries. At the peak in 1923, 170,000 miners were employed in County Durham alone,[24] as labourers from all over Britain entered the region. As demand for coal slipped following Second World War, mines began to close across the region, causing mass unemployment. The last coal mine closed in 1994. The site of the last coal mine, Wearmouth Colliery, is now occupied by the Stadium of Light, and a miner's Davy lamp monument stands outside of the ground to honour the heritage of the site. Documentation relating to the region's coalmining heritage are stored at the North East England Mining Archive and Resource Centre.

Other industry

Glass has been made in Sunderland for around 1,500 years. As with the coal-mining and shipbuilding, overseas competition has forced the closure of all of Sunderland's glass-making factories, the last, Pyrex, in 1997, bringing to an end commercial glass-making in the city. However, there has been a modest rejuvenation with the opening of the National Glass Centre which, amongst other things, provides international glass makers with working facilities and a shop to showcase their work, predominantly in the artistic rather than functional field.

Vaux Breweries was established in the town centre in the 1880s and for 110 years was a major employer. Following a series of consolidations in the British Brewing industry, however, the brewery was finally closed in July 1999. Vaux in Sunderland and Wards in Sheffield had been part of the Vaux Group, but with the closure of both breweries it was re-branded The Swallow Group, concentrating on the hotel side of the business. This was subject to a successful take-over by Whitbread plc in the autumn of 2000. It is now a brownfield site and this is a derelict site in an urban area that could be targeted for redevelopment.

The Port of Sunderland

The Port of Sunderland is owned by the city council, and has been earmarked for medium-term redevelopment with a focus on mixed-use industry.


Each year on the last weekend in July, the city hosts the Sunderland International Airshow. It takes place primarily along the sea front at Roker and Seaburn, and is attended by over 1.2 million people annually and reckoned the largest free airshow in Europe.

Every year the city hosts a large Remembrance Day memorial service, the largest in Britain outside of London in 2006.[25]

At a special meeting of the Council on 19 December 1973, the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Sunderland was conferred on 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, the North East Gunners, in recognition of the number of members of the Regiment who have been recruited from Wearside. The Regiment exercised its Freedom in April 2000 and following a successful tour of Afghanistan in July 2008.

HMS Ocean, an active Helicopter Landing Platform of the Royal Navy, is Sunderland's adopted ship. The crew of Ocean regularly visit the city.

Sunderland's inaugural film festival took place in December 2003 at the Bonded Warehouse on Sunderland riverside, in spite of the lack of any cinema facilities in the city at that time, featuring the films of local and aspiring directors as well as reshowings of acclaimed works, such as Alan Bleasdale's The Monocled Mutineer, accompanied by analysis.[26] By the time of the second festival commencing on 21 January 2005, a new cinema multiplex had opened in Sunderland to provide a venue which allowed the festival to showcase over twenty films including the UK premieres of Shall We Dance? starring Richard Gere and Kim Basinger's The Door In The Floor, as well as a special screening of Shakespeare In Love, presented by its producer, Sunderland-born David Parfitt.


Beach at Roker
The Winter Gardens, Sunderland, from Mowbray Park

Notable attractions for visitors to Sunderland include the 14th century Hylton Castle and the beaches of Roker and Seaburn.

The National Glass Centre opened in 1998, reflecting Sunderland's distinguished history of glass-making.

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, on Borough Road, was the first municipally funded museum in the country outside London. It houses a comprehensive collection of the locally produced Sunderland Lustreware pottery. The City Library Arts Centre, on Fawcett Street, also houses the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.

The City of Sunderland has been commended several times on its commitment to preserving its natural faculties. As such, Sunderland has been awarded prestigious titles by the Britain in Bloom collective in 1993, 1997 and 2000.


  1. "Brewery may hold Roman answers". BBC News. 2003-09-02. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  2. Sunderland Echo (2005). "Museum and Winter Gardens – Look At Glass". Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  3. Weardaleway website (2005). "Sunderland History". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  4. Bede's World museum (2008). "Academic – The Venerable Bede". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  5. University of Glasgow (2001). "Book of the Month, Bede Wrings on the Calendar". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  6. "Origins of Bishopwearmouth". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  7. Wearsideonline website (2008). "Ryhope Village". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  8. David Simpson (1991). "The North East England History Pages". The Millennium History of North East England. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  9. Tim Lambert (2008). "A Brief History of Sunderland". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  10. Richard Stonehouse (2005-10-23). "A rivalry with roots in kings and coal". The Guardian (London).,,1598572,00.html. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  11. "A History of Sunderland (second edition, 2001), Glen Lyndon Dodds, pp. 46–48". 
  12. Shegog, Eric. "Sunderland Minster". City of Sunderland College. Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  13. BBC website (2003). "BBC Diary of an Epidemic". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  14. Diary of an Epidemic (Cholera), BBC Radio 4, [1]
  15. Sunderland Council website (2005). "Who was Jack Crawford?" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  16. "Sunderland Wearmouth Bridge". Wearside Onliine. Retrieved 2006-09-24. 
  17. "SINE Project: Structure details for Queen Alexandra Bridge". University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Retrieved 2006-10-12. 
  18. "Sunderland: The Sundered Land". Sunderland and East Durham History. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  19. Kevin Clark (2006). "A Good Little Runner". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  20. "Rare images recall wartime blitz". BBC News. 2005-04-12. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  21. Sarah Stoner (2006). "Roker's 'cathedral of arts and crafts'". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  22. "History of Shipbuilding in the North East". BBC. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  23. "SINE Project: Structure details for South Dock: Hudson Dock". University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Retrieved 2006-11-22. 
  24. "Rise and Fall of Coal Mining". North East England History. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  25. "North honours fallen war heroes". BBC News. 2006-11-12. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  26. Hattenstone, Simon (2003-12-05). "The show must go on". The Guardian (London).,,1099724,00.html. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Sunderland)
Cities in the United Kingdom

AberdeenArmagh • Bangor (Caernarfonshire) • Bangor (County Down) • Bath • Belfast • Birmingham • Bradford • Brighton and Hove • Bristol • Cambridge • Canterbury • Cardiff • Carlisle • Chelmsford • Chester • Chichester • Colchester • Coventry • Derby • Doncaster • Dundee • Dunfermline • Durham • Ely • Edinburgh • Exeter • Glasgow • Gloucester • Hereford • Inverness • Kingston upon Hull • Lancaster • Leeds • Leicester • Lichfield • Lincoln • Lisburn • Liverpool • City of London • Londonderry • Manchester • Milton Keynes • Newcastle upon Tyne • Newport • Newry • Norwich • Nottingham • Oxford • Perth • Peterborough • Plymouth • Portsmouth • Preston • Ripon • Rochester • Salford • Salisbury • Sheffield • Southampton • St Albans • St Asaph • St David's • Southend-on-Sea • Stirling • Stoke-on-Trent • Sunderland • Swansea • Truro • Wakefield • Wells • Westminster • Winchester • Wolverhampton • Worcester • Wrexham • York