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MARKET TOWNS OF DURHAM (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Sunderland in 1842

SUNDERLAND, a parliamentary borough, partly in the eastern division of Chester ward, but chiefly in the northern division of Easington ward, in the county of Durham ; 367 miles from the General Post-office, London ; namely, by railway to Warrington, 191 miles ; and from thence to Manchester, 19 miles; Normanton, 50 miles ; York, 23 miles ; Darlington, 44 miles ; and Stockton, 12 miles ; in all 340 miles by railway ; and from Stockton 27 miles by coach to Sunderland. The distance by the coach-road through Barnet, Baldock, Alconbury, Stamford, Newark, Doncaster, Boroughbridge, Thirsk, and Stockton is only about 269 miles.

The parliamentary borough of Sunderland comprehends the parish of Sunderland ; the townships of Bishop Wearmouth and Bishop Wearmouth Pans, on the south side of the river Wear, in Easington ward ; and the townships of Monk Wearmouth, Monk Wearmouth Shore, and Southwick, on the north side of the river, in Chester ward. The area of the borough is estimated at 5,095 acres (Report of the Commissioners of the Boundaries of Municipal Corporations), or 5,215 acres, according to the statement given in the Population Returns ; with a population, in 1831, of 40,735, thus distributed:-




Area in Acres






Sunderland parish







Bishop Wearmouth







Bishop Wearmouth Pans







Monk Wearmouth







Monk Wearmouth Shore





















Northern or Monk Wearmouth was a place of some note in the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman period. A monastery was founded here in the year 674 ; and it is probable there had been a previous monastic foundation here, but of short duration. The monastery was destroyed by the Danes in the ninth century, and the site remained desolate above two hundred years, till after the Norman conquest, when it was restored, but was soon after reduced to be a cell of the monastery of St. Cuthbert, Durham. The revenues of the cell at the dissolution were only £25, 8 shillings and 4 pence clear. The first notice of South or Bishop Wearmouth is in a charter of Hugh Pudsey, bishop of Durham, towards the close of the twelfth century, recognising a borough in the parish, and granting privileges to the burgesses similar to those of the burgesses of Newcastle. The borough is in the charter termed Weremue (Wearmouth), but it appears from its very origin to have had also the name of Sunderland. Towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth the shipping of coal began, and the town of Sunderland increased considerably. In 1634 it received a new charter of incorporation from Bishop Morton. In the civil war of Charles I it was garrisoned for the parliament, and several smart skirmishes were fought near it.

The parish of Sunderland, which was formed in 1719 by detaching a part of Bishop Wearmouth, occupies the point of land at the south side of the mouth of the Wear, and, with the exception of the town-moor or common of 70 acres, is covered with houses, all of them of considerable age. There is one street, broad and handsome, communicating with the High-street of Bishop Wearmouth, and lined with good houses : the other streets are merely narrow lanes, so densely peopled as to be dirty, and, apparently at least, unhealthy. Bishop Wearmouth was some time since a distinct town from Sunderland, but the progress of building has united them : the High-street of Wearmouth and of Sunderland form one line extending above a mile in length from north-north-east to south-south-west. The newer part of the town adjoining Sunderland has good streets and excellent houses : the wealthier classes reside here. Bishop Wearmouth is rapidly increasing ; several new streets have been recently built, or are in course of building. The principal streets in Sunderland and Bishop Wearmouth are paved and lighted. Bishop Wearmouth Pans comprehends a small but densely peopled part along the bank of the river: it has glass-houses and iron-works for the manufacture of articles required by the shipping. Monk Wearmouth Shore is immediately opposite to Sunderland and a part of Bishop Wearmouth: it has a dense population, but few of the higher class. Monk Wearmouth adjoins Monk Wearmouth Shore, but lies back from the river. On the bank of the river, half a mile higher up than Monk Wearmouth, and extending inland, is Southwick; and opposite Southwick, in the township of Bishop Wearmouth, is the hamlet of Deptford, which is from a quarter to half a mile distant from Bishop Wearmouth town.

The river is crossed by an iron bridge of one arch, erected near the close of the last century. The abutments are piers of nearly solid masonry, twenty-four feet in thickness, forty-two feet broad at bottom, and thirty-seven at the top ; the arch is of iron, and forms the segment of a large circle, having a span of 236 feet ; the height above low-water is 60 feet to the spring and 94 feet to the centre of the arch, so that ships of 300 tons pass under it very readily by lowering their top-gallant masts. The superstructure is of timber planked over, with flagged foot-paths and iron balustrades. The cost of this bridge was as follows:-







Obtaining act of parliament




Consulting architects




Purchase of ground and houses







Materials for the bridge




Labour, floats, boats, &c.







Interest of capital during building




Purchase of Sunderland ferry




Purchase of Pann ferry




Law expenses thereon







Total amount




Above the bridge, on the Bishop Wearmouth side, are very extensive staiths for shipping coals, belonging to the trustees of the late countess of Durham and the Hetton Coal Company ; and on the opposite side other straiths, belonging to Messrs. Pemberton and Co. Their pit is distant only a few hundred yards. It is the deepest in England, being 280 fathoms below the surface. A little way higher up are the bottle-works of Ayre’s Quay. The local staiths of the Durham and Sunderland Railway Company are situated on the lowest reach of the river on the Sunderland side. This Company conveys the coals of various collieries in the vicinity of the railway, which extends nearly to Durham ; and being connected with other railways in the southern part of the county, it has also a considerable traffic in goods and passengers. A wet-dock, containing an area of nearly eight acres, with a tidal basin attached to it of about one acre, has been lately constructed by a private company on the low ground between Monk Wearmouth Shore and the sea, on the northern side of the river, and near the entrance to the harbour. An opening has been made through the North Ric to communicate with the river. A branch railway from the dock joins the Brandling Junction Railway, which again is connected with the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway ; and thus a communication is established between the Irish Sea and the German Ocean.

Sunderland church is a spacious brick building, erected in the earlier part of the last century, with a square tower. There is an episcopal chapel, erected in 1769, near the east end of the town-moor ; and a new church has been erected within the last few years with the aid of the parliamentary commissioners. The church of Bishop Wearmouth was very much altered in the early part of the present century ; the chancel is ancient, and has a fine east window divided into five lights with tracery. There are three episcopal chapels in the parish : one of these is at Ryhope, not to the borough of Sunderland ; the others are within the borough. Monk Wearmouth church is a mutilated and irregular building, but has, especially in the tower, some very ancient features. There is an episcopal chapel in Monk Wearmouth parish. There are a considerable number of dissenting places of worship.

There are a custom-house, an excise-office, and an exchange: the last is a neat building, erected nearly thirty years since, and comprises a merchants’ walk, commercial-room, news-room, auction-mart, and justice-room. On the town-moor of Sunderland are extensive barracks. There are a theatre and an assembly-room. There are also baths adjoining the town-moor, and at Hendon, a little way south of the town, where bathing-machines are much used in the season. There are a commodious and spacious market, and water-works and gas-works on a large scale. A new cemetery has lately been formed in a deep ravine contiguous to the town of Bishop Wearmouth, called the Rector’s Gill. There has been lately erected in Bishop Wearmouth an elegant building, called the Athenaeum, containing a large hall, with lecture theatre, museum, library, and other apartments for literary and scientific purposes. It cost about £5,000.

The preservation and improvement of the port and harbour of Sunderland are entirely owing to the exertions of commissioners who have been appointed under successive acts of parliament for levying certain dues and applying them to the cleansing and improving of the harbour. Of late years the amount of these dues averages annually about £16,000. These works, and particularly the construction of piers on both sides of the mouth of the river, have had so great an effect in improving the port, that ships drawing from 15 to 18 feet of water can now enter and depart from the harbour with great safety. The building of the south pier was one of the first operations of the commissioners. It was commenced in 1723, and was extended in various lengths from time to time. In 1746 it was 333 yards long and 30 feet broad, built entirely of stone. The north pier was commenced in 1786 with timber or carcase-work, but a length of 700 feet of this pier was afterwards built with masonry upon piles. In the beginning of this century both piers were very considerably extended ; but being executed in a superficial manner, they soon showed symptoms of decay, and it was considered necessary to rebuild the eastern or seaward portion of both of them. In 1821 that celebrated engineer the late Mr. Rennie recommended certain lines to be adopted ; and 230 yards of the south pier wall was built under the superintendence of Mr. Mitton, then engineer to the commissioners, in a very substantial manner with ashlar masonry in blocks of stone varying from 5 to 7 tons in weight. This wall was properly backed with rubble-stone. The top of this portion of the pier is about 40 feet in width, divided into two parts the one raised about 2 feet above the other as a promenade. A handsome parapet divides the raised platform from the rubble backing, which is now having its exterior surface rough-paved with the largest and heaviest blocks. The whole breadth of the pier from the harbour-wall to the foot of the glacis, in the widest part, is 250 feet. The length of this pier to its present eastern extremity is 650 yards. The eastern part of the north pier has been for the last ten years in course of being rebuilt, under the direction of Mr. Murray, the present engineer to the commissioners, nearly in the same manner as the south pier just described, and the works are now rapidly drawing to a conclusion, The length of the north pier from its west to its east head is 590 yards. Near the termination of the north pier, in the year 1802, there was built an elegant octagonal lighthouse of polished stone, 62 feet in height from the cornice to the surface of the pier, which is here 12 feet above high-water of ordinary spring-tides. The top of the dome was 16 feet above the cornice, making a total height of 78 feet. Its breadth at the base was 15 feet, and 9 feet at the cornice. It was lighted with coal-gas from nine patent burners with parabolic reflectors. This lighthouse stood in the direct line of the new pier, and it was intended in the course of time to take it down and rebuild it in a proper situation. But in the beginning of 1841 an alarming breach took place in the old pier, contiguous to the site of the lighthouse, which made it imperative either to take down the building or to repair the pier in an expensive manner. Mr. Murray, the engineer, suggested to the commissioners the removal of it in an entire state to the eastern extremity of the new pier, a distance of nearly 150 yards. In April, 1841, the Board decided that he should commence operations. On the 15th of June the masons began to cut holes for the reception of a cradle, or platform of timber, which was threaded through the building balk after balk. This cradle was supported upon bearers with about 250 wheels of cast-iron of 6 inches diameter, which were made to traverse on eight different lines of rails. The shaft of the lighthouse was tied together with bands, and its eight sides were supported with timber braces from the cradle upwards to the cornice. On the 2nd and 7th of August the building was carried 28 feet 6 inches in a north-easterly direction on to the new pier : it then took till the 30th of August to shore up the timbers and change the direction of the rails to carry it the eastward. On the 4th of October it was finally brought to its destination in the centre of the new pier-head ; and the timbers have been since removed, and the masonry underset with solid stone and pozzuolana mortar. There is not the slightest appearance of a crack in any part of the building. The light was exhibited nightly during the operation of removal. The gross weight moved was 338 tons. This was effected by three winches fixed upon the pier a little way in front of the building, and these were connected with the cradle above mentioned by ropes passing through twofold and threefold sheaves. Ten men to each winch were employed to carry the building forward when it was required. The total sum expended on this work was £827. The original cost of the building, in 1802, was upwards of £1,400. Mr. Murray has, since the completion of this undertaking, received the thanks of the Board of Commissioners for his exertions, and a piece of plate of the value of £100 has been presented to him as a further acknowledgment of his services on that occasion.

The principal manufactures of Sunderland are of bottle and flint glass, anchors, chain-cables and other iron goods for ships, and cordage. Ship-building is carried on to a greater extent than in any other seaport of the British empire. Upwards of 300 ships of various burthens were launched during the year 1839. Pigot’s ‘Directory’ for 1834 enumerates about a hundred and thirty firms engaged in business in connection with this branch of industry, as ship-builders, boat-builders, chain-cable manufacturers, sail-cloth manufacturers, anchor and ship smiths, rope, sail, mast, block, or pump makers ; besides ship owners, brokers, and chandlers. Some of the ropewalks are on a very large scale. Brick-making, digging coal, and the quarrying of grindstones are carried on in the neighbourhood ; and there are copperas-works, brass-foundries, potteries, hat-manufactories, lime-works, timber-yards, saw-mills, flour mills, tan-yards, and breweries. The town is however more important from its commerce than its manufactures. In shipping coal it is exceeded only by the port of Newcastle, and lately perhaps by Stockton. The state of the coal-trade in 1838-9 was as follows:-





Shipped coastwise



Shipped to foreign parts






The export of lime is another principal branch of trade also the export of glass and grindstones. The imports are timber and iron from the Baltic ; butter, cheese, and flax from Holland ; and a variety of goods brought coast wise. A considerable fishery is carried on. The number of registered vessels belonging to the port in 1832 was 728, their tonnage 129,309 ; the number of men composing their crews 5,728. There are six banking establishments. The market, formerly held on Friday, is now on Saturday : there is also a cattle-market, and there are two yearly fairs.

The living of Sunderland is a rectory, united with the chapelry of the Episcopal chapel: the joint clear yearly value is £386, with a glebe-house. The living of Bishop Wearmouth is a rectory (to which one of the Episcopal chapels in the borough is united), of the clear yearly value of £2,899, with a glebe-house. The living of Monk Wearmouth is a parochial chapelry, of the clear yearly value of £225. Monk Wearmouth is in the rural deanery of Chester ; Sunderland and Bishop Wearmouth in the rural deanery of Easington : all are in the archdeaconry and diocese of Durham.

Sunderland was made a Parliamentary borough by the Reform Act ; and its boundaries (given above) were determined by the Boundary Act. It returns two members to parliament. The number of voters on the register, in 1835-6, was 1,484 : in 1839-40, 1,657.

The corporation of Sunderland had gone nearly into disuse at the time of the Municipal Reform Act : the corporate body consisted of twelve freemen and eighteen stallingers : they had no jurisdiction or municipal authority : they held the town-moor and some other property of little account : the paving, lighting, watching, and cleaning the town were executed under a local act. By the Municipal Reform Act, the parliamentary boundaries were adopted for those of the municipal borough, which was to have a commission of the peace, and to be divided into seven wards, with 14 aldermen and 42 councillors. The Commissioners of the Boundaries of Municipal Corporations have recommended a more contracted boundary, and a division into six wards instead of seven.

There were in the borough, in 1834, one infant and one dame-school, with 136 children (57 boys and 79 girls) ; ninety-seven day-schools of all sorts, with 4,253 children (2,465 boys and 1,752 girls, and 36 children of sex not stated) : two of the day-schools were also Sunday-schools, and were attended on Sunday by 505 children (301 boys and 204 girls). There were also twenty-five Sunday-schools, with 3,367 children, namely 1,617 boys and 1,750 girls. There were an auxiliary Bible society, a ladies’ church missionary association, a religious tract society, an infirmary, a dispensary, numerous almshouses, and friendly and benefit societies, a mechanics’ institute, a subscription library, a reading society, news-rooms, a law library and a Wesleyan library. Two weekly newspapers are published. at Sunderland.