A Brief History of Sunderland

Sunderland is a city on the north-east coast of England, an important hub of the Tyne and Wear region. The area has some stunning coastal views and some world-class scenery, while the city itself has excellent shopping facilities, as well as places to visit. The coast is attracting increasing numbers of surfers, who are drawn to the area by its impressive waves.

Sunderland’s history dates back to Anglo Saxon times, when the town fell within the area of Monkwearmouth. The name means ‘sundered land’,which refers to the separation from the estates of the monasteries of Monkwearmouth rather than a literal separation of the land. In 1719 Sunderland became its own parish, and in 1897 the situation was reversed and Monkwearmouth became part of Sunderland town. The official designation of Sunderland as a city occurred in 1992.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the population of the area increased tenfold as the wealth of Wearside coal and the need for ships to transport it made Sunderland into one of the biggest ship building towns in the world. By the middle of the 20th century, the town produced more than a quarter of the nation’s total tonnage of merchant and naval ships for World War Two. In 1988 the ship building industry finally left the banks of the River Wear, and the area is now home to the Riverside Sculpture Trail and National Glass Centre. Elements of the area’s former wealth can be seen in the architecture and parks of the city.

During the Civil War, nearby Newcastle had been staunchly Royalist, while Sunderland had supported the Parliamentarians under Oliver Cromwell. This rivalry was of strategic importance, as Newcastle supplied the majority of London’s coal. If Sunderland had also given the Royalist cause their support, the vital supply of coal to London would have been almost stopped and this may have led to a very different outcome to the conflict.

Although the area may have become wealthy due to coal and shipping, it also has a history going back to Anglo Saxon times as a centre of learning, creativity and culture. Sunderland’s patron saint, Benedict Biscop, established a centre of learning in the monastic settlement of St Peter’s and St Paul’s. Here the Venerable Bede wrote the first history of England, the Codex Amiatinus (Saxon Bible) was produced and the art of glass making was introduced to Britain. The quiet life of St Peter’s Monkwearmouth ended in the 9th century during raids by Viking pirates Hubba and Hingmar. The sites were later re-established by the Normans as monastic cells for the cathedral at Durham. St Peter’s Church and St Paul’s Church are part of the twin Anglo-Saxon monastery which will be the UK’s nomination for World Heritage Site status in 2011.

Today, Sunderland is a focus for local business, with the Rainton Bridge Business Park being launched in 2005 on a 55 acre park, providing offices in Sunderland to such companies as Nissan, Nike, Royal Sun Alliance (RSA), Barclays, EDF Energy and Arriva. N-Power moved to the site in 2009 in its own facility. The presence of such high-fliers is surely indicative of the well-documented regeneration efforts going on in Sunderland, which began in the 1980s and continue today.

Leave a Reply