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Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, UK

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At the mouth of the River Wear in the north east of England, 438km (272 miles) from London, 217km (135 miles) from Edinburgh and 21km (13 miles) from Durham, lies Sunderland. Sunderland's recorded history dates back to the year 6741 with the building of St Peter's Church and monastery on the land to the north of the river. Its founder, Benedict Biscop, was soon granted more land to the south, land separated by, or 'sundered'2 by the river. Although the monastery was destroyed, first by the Vikings, then again by the Scots in 1070, the port of Wearmouth, and the sundered lands of Monkwearmouth on the north bank and Bishopwearmouth to the south, would eventually become the City of Sunderland. (Despite being the Northeast's largest population centre, Sunderland only gained city status in 1992.)


Growth came from the three industries of glassmaking, coalmining and shipbuilding. Glassmaking began in the monastery and is the only one of the three to survive today in the form of The National Glass Centre. Coal had been mined in the area since Roman times but started to boom, along with shipbuilding in the 13th Century.

A little further to the north, Royalist Newcastle had benefited from a royal charter, which until the civil war, had given it an advantage over its competitors in shipbuilding and the export of coal. On the side of Parliament, Sunderland acted as a naval base and took full advantage of the capture of its nearby rival in 1644. Had Sunderland sided with the Royalists, Cromwell's supply of coal would have virtually dried up and the civil war might have ended differently. The growth of shipbuilding continued and by the 1830s there were almost as many ships built on the Wear as in all of the other ports in the country combined. Sunderland had become the world's largest shipbuilding town.


100 years later however, the shipbuilding had all but ceased and one third of the town's population were unemployed. World War II brought business back to the shipyards, but the industrial importance of the area brought heavy bombing and although the bombed housing would be rebuilt, the shipbuilding industry continued to decline. In 1840 there were 65 shipyards on the Wear, by the end of the 1980s there were none.

Coalmining too was on the decline and 1994 saw the closure of Wearmouth Colliery, once the start of a six-mile journey to the coal face below the North Sea. Despite the closure of the pit, the site itself would continue to play a part in Sunderland's history. Standing only a few hundred yards from St Peter's, the site was chosen for the building of the Stadium of Light, home of Sunderland AFC3.

D'yer knaa? (Do you know?)

  • Kate Adie OBE4 , BBC Chief News Correspondent from 1989, has not only reported from some of the most dangerous places in the world, but was also born in Sunderland.

  • Sunderland-born inventor Joseph Swan demonstrated his electric light bulb in Fawcett Street on 19 January, 1879. Edison's version was demonstrated in December 1879.

  • The most famous bunch of bananas in Britain were sold in Sunderland.

1One year after the birth of its most famous scholar: the Venerable Bede, historian.2Sundered: divided or separated.3Sunderland Association Football Club.4Officer of the Order of the British Empire - an award given to folk for outstanding achievements in their field of work.

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