Our little city on the Northeast Coast is packed full of incredible history. Much of which, in my opinion, is not spoken about enough and there are no where enough places to experience it all. It wasn’t until I did some research for this post that I found out just how old the city dates back. Original settlers decided to call the modern day area of Monkwearmouth on the northside of the river home as early as 674 CE. That just absolutely baffled me when I read it!
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Perhaps one of the most famous aspects of our history comes from the religious influence thanks to Benedict Biscop and the monastery he built. In the very beginning of the settlements, St Peter’s Church was built for this monastery. St Andrew’s Church and All Saints Church were the first 3 built as part of it.
St Peter’s church is of course most famous for its contribution to Christian History. Thanks to the work from the monks who lived there, they wrote the Codex Amiatinus, which is now the earliest surviving copy of the bible written in around 700 CE. This bible was given to the pope in 716 CE and is now in display at a library in Florence. You can read more about the History of St Peters in another post I have written here!
Sunderland Minster and Minster Park are two more incredibly significant parts of this heritage too and are beautiful places to visit.
See also Minster Park, Sunderland City Centre
The stained glass windows fitted in St Peter’s church were the first glass windows made and fitted in England at that time. And many years later, Glassmaking became a huge contributor to our industry.
The Port of Sunderland
Before that, our position on the coast put us on the map. Hendon and the Eastend of Sunderland was once a fishing village. Today, (or at least post-covid) you can visit a museum dedicated to Sunderland Maritime Heritage in that area. I have never been, but I do think it would be interesting to visit and learn about our history. This is where the Port of Sunderland started, with herring and salmon fishing and transporting it. Later on, this included salt and of course coal (more on this later).
Ship building is a huge part of our history. The earliest ships were built on the Wear in around 1346 and the industry grew from there. At one point there were 76 shipyards on the river. Unfortunately, due to varying factors, the shipyards suffered following WW2 and the last yard on the Wear closed in 1988.
The Port of Sunderland still stands, however, it is no longer the industrial giant it once was. Some of the best views of it are from the other side of the river along St Peters way.
Considering how much of an influence this played in our history, I feel it is a very understated topic in terms of memorialising it. They were incredibly dangerous places to work and so many men lost their lives as a result. And I know for a fact, many lost their lives because of health reasons due to the conditions.
The main ‘attraction’ I can think of, is the Keel Line and Propellas of the City, located on Keel Square in the city centre. The Keel Line has over 9000 names of various ships built on the river, and the Propellas have over 500 photos of shipyard workers.
We simply cannot discuss Sunderlands Heritage without talk of coal mining. There is evidence of our coal mining history in every part of the city. There were a total of 18 in the Sunderland area at one point (Source). All of which were of course closed by 1994 (Thanks Maggie). I don’t know anyone who doesnt have at least one relative who was involved in the pits. It was such a huge part of our city and without it, there is a clear gap in both our economy and overall city.
Many of our greatest attractions in this city were built upon the remains of the pits. The Stadium of Light, Herrington Country Park and the Silksworth Ski Slope to name a few, all of which have references to their history.
With the coal industry booming, train lines to connect the pits were built all over the city. Many of which are no longer in operation however, they are now paved. The one in Ryhope is somewhere we walk regularly. Its always interesting to think about the past while doing so.
Mowbray Park is full of snippets of Sunderland’s history. From the Victorian Bandstand, to the statue commemorating the Victoria Hall Disaster to name only a few. There is so much history commemorated within that park. It is in fact one of the oldest in the city and was opened in 1857. It has won so many awards for its beauty and visitor numbers!
I think though my favourite part of the park is the walrus statue which is there to commemorate the links our city has to the famous Alice in Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll.
As soon as lockdown restrictions ease, I will be going to the park to take lots of photos of all the incredibly historical elements in there! I cannot wait to go for a walk through it in the spring!
Of course glass making is a huge part of the city. At one point there were over 1000 people in the city employed in the industry. We were fortunate enough to have lots of access to both limestone and sand which are the main elements of glass. One of the main things the glassworks were making was glass bottles, which were being produces at a rate of 60-70k a day at one point! (Source)
In none covid times, you can go and visit the National Glass Centre which was opened by Prince Charles in 1998 (I was 1 years old). Right now it is unfortunately closed. I haven’t been since I was a kid so it will be really interesting to go again once the world gets back to normal! Right now though, there are some nudges to this heritage along the St Peter’s sculpture trail.
World War 1 and 2
Perhaps one of the most significant parts of our history are the sacrifices our ancestors made during both the first and second world war. There isn’t a village in the city that doesn’t have some kind of memorial to the men lost.
It’s an old wives tale that Sunderland has the largest memorial day parade outside of London (i’m not sure if there is any truth in this). However this is always an incredible spectacle to behold. The Mowbray Park memorial is the focal point of the main ceremony. However, Seaham, Silksworth and many other parts of the city have their own ceremonies on remembrance day.
The Tommy Statue in Seaham is perhaps one of the most moving locally. We visited on Remembrance Sunday this year, and even in the lockdown we had at the time, there was still a great deal of people there taking a moment to remember.
Sunderland has some truly phenomenal history and I truly feel it is not shouted about enough. There aren’t enough statues, exhibits and outdoor elements that we could all experience right now. I do fear I may have missed some key parts so if there is anything you think I should include, please let me know. My social links are below.
Stay Safe, Happy Adventuring
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