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Αρχική English Edition Sunderland – A town of ships and coal

Sunderland – A town of ships and coal

By Maria Papagiannopoulou,

Sunderland is an industrial city and port in Tyne and Wear on the north-eastern coast of England. The original 7th century CE settlement combines three sites – Monkwearmouth, Bishopwearmouth and a fishing village called Sunderland, located towards the mouth of the river Wear that was granted a charter in 1179. Over the centuries, Sunderland grew as a port, specializing in ship-building and trading coal and salt.

Indeed, Sunderland was named as the “Greatest Shipbuilding Town in the World”. Ships were built on the Wear from at least 1346 and by the mid-eighteenth century, Sunderland was one of the chief shipbuilding towns in the UK. To allow the passage of high masted vessels into the river Wear, the Wearmouth Bridge was built in 1796, at the instigation of MP Rowland Burdon. This was the second iron bridge built after Ironbridge, but over twice as long and only three-quarters its weight. At the time of building, it was the biggest single span bridge in the world. The original Wearmouth Bridge was designed by Thomas Paine and opened in 1796. In 1805, the bridge was repaired, and between1857-1859 it was reconstructed by Robert Stephenson. It is the final bridge over the river before its mouth with the North Sea.

Photos taken from: http://www.seligman.org.il/sunderland_history.html#

Wearmouth Bridge

Sunderland developed into a town with a highly profitable business community, through the combined effects of the Industrial Revolution, the growth of the railways, the development of its harbor, its proximity to the sea, and being within 4 miles of the exposed part of the Durham coalfields. Thus between 1851 and the end of 1856, the quantity of coal exported from the Wear rose by 56 percent, and the export of coal increased to over 5 million tons annually from 1904 to 1929. The Port of Sunderland was significantly expanded in the 1850s with the construction of Hudson Dock. Between 1939 and 1945, the Wear yards launched 245 merchant cargo, a quarter of the merchant tonnage produced in the UK at this period. With the downturn in demand the shipyards slowly closed, the last in 1988. Furthermore, the century’s old coal-mining heritage of the Durham coalfield collapsed as the result of slipping demand following World War II caused mass unemployment. The last coal mine, Wearmouth Colliery, closed in 1994 and was rebuilt as the Stadium of Light, the new home of AFC Sunderland. The decline of the traditional industries required solutions and the last two decades have been marked by the growth of new industries based on electronics, chemicals, and paper manufacture.

Sunderland was heavily bombed during World War II. As a result, much of the town centre was rebuilt in an undistinguished concrete utility style, typical of the fifties and the sixties. 

The river that crosses Sunderland city has a remarkable history that captures traveler’s eyes. The River Wear begins at Wearhead in County Durham and runs through Bishop Auckland towards Durham, then through Chester – le – Street before travelling through Sunderland to join the North Sea at Roker. It is about 60 miles long. Much of the River Wear is associated with the history of the Industrial Revolution. Its upper end runs through lead mining country, until this gives way to coal seams of the Durham coalfield for the rest of its length. As a result of limestone quarrying, lead mining and coal mining, the Wear valley was amongst the first places to see the development of railways. The Weardale Railway continues to run occasional services between Stanhope and Wolsingham.

The city was rejuvenated by the building of new industries, the opening of the university and the National Glass Centre. Still, many fine old buildings remain. Religious buildings include the Holy Trinity built in 1719 for an independent Sunderland; St. Michaels’s Church, constructed as Bishopwearmouth Parish Church and now known as Sunderland Minster and St. Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth, dating partially to 674 CE, which was part of the original monastic complex from which Sunderland was established.

Except for the history, education also rose in the city of Sunderland. Founded in 1992, the University of Sunderland is an institution for higher education and research in North East England. Formerly established as the Sunderland Technical College in the year 1901, it offered courses in naval engineering and pharmacy. In 1969, the college merged with an art school, a teacher training college and a technical college, to become Sunderland Polytechnic. The institution was granted the university status under the Further and Higher Education Act.

Image source: https://motaen.com/wallpapers/view/id/59122

University of Sunderland in St. Peter’s

The university conducts educational programmes at four campuses; two in Sunderland and two international; one in Hong Kong and one in London. The two campuses situated in Sunderland are called Sir Tom Cowie Campus and City Campus. The Sir Tom Cowie Campus is home to the faculties of law and tourism, business, technology, arts and creative industries. It also has a library and lecture theatre. The City Campus features a library, administrative centre, design centre, gym, leisure spaces, a student centre, academic buildings of health sciences and education departments. The university opened the London Campus in 2012. It offers numerous courses in business, financial management, accounting, nursing, tourism and hospitality.

For over a century, the University of Sunderland and all its former iterations has set the pace in higher education and offers a remarkable experience of knowledge to both international and local students.

In general, Sunderland is a city full of joy and it is listed as a top destination for someone to visit and why not (?), explore their options of studying there too. As a Masters student in TESOL, I really enjoy being part of the university’s community and exploring the city even more.


Wikipedia, Tyne and Wear. Available here.

Wikipedia, Wearmouth Bridge. Available here.

Seligman.org.il, Sunderland History. Available here.

University of Sunderland, History of Sunderland – University of Sunderland. Available here.



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Maria Papagiannopoulou
She was born in 1999. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in English Language and English Language Teaching in New York College in Athens in cooperation with the University of Greenwich, UK. She is currently doing her Master's degree in TESOL at the University of Sunderland based in the UK. In her leisure time she practice her artistic nature in photography. She also enjoys travelling.