Sunderland North of the River

Fulwell: A giant and a windmill

Fulwell is an Anglo-Saxon name that means the ‘foul spring’ and historically belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral.

Fulwell windmill, Sunderland
Fulwell windmill, Sunderland. Photo © David Simpson 2018

It seems that Fulwell has been occupied since Roman times with the possible evidence being a skeleton discovered in a magnesian limestone quarry at Fulwell in 1759.

The skeleton, apparently of a giant, measured 9 feet 6 inches tall. Roman coins were found near his hand and it was assumed that he was either a Roman or at least someone who lived here in Roman times.

Later, in 1820, a small statue dedicated to a Roman god was found in a nearby quarry at Carley Hill. The small statue known as a Lar was of the kind often used to protect a house, a shrine at a crossroads or even a Roman family as they sat to dinner.

Fulwell’s most prominent landmark is Fulwell Mill, a windmill dating from 1808. Built of magnesian limestone, its early owners included the Swan family and it was utilised in the making of flour. On January 7, 1834, a tragedy occurred when a miller called William Wren arrived to repair a broken sail broken off during a storm.

There was a strong gust of wind and the rope that held him secure, suddenly snapped. Wren clung to one of the remaining sails which carried him three full turns before flinging him to his death over the roof of a neighbouring house.

Fulwell Mill’s last miller retired in 1949 when the mill was used in manufacturing animal feed. The mill is now maintained by the Friends of Fulwell Mill. Unfortunately, the sails and cap of the mill were damaged during a storm in December 2011 and were removed. They were not replaced until 2018.

Tall Ships Sunderland 2018
Sailing ship off the coast of Seaburn, Tall Ships Race, 2018. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Roker and Seaburn: Seaside Sunderland

Seaburn, home to a fabulous beach, is the most northerly coastal part of Sunderland and is named from a small stream that enters the sea here. The wonderful sandy beaches of Whitburn Bay stretch from Seaburn to Roker – two places which became ever more popular in the age of railways and trams that made them accessible to people travelling from further afield.

Railway companies printed posters and guide books promoting the delights of the Seaburn and Roker resorts with illustrations of pretty girls in bathing costumes to emphasise their delights. The meaning of the name ‘Roker’ is uncertain but probably refers to ‘carrs’ or coastal rocks of some kind.

Beach at Seaburn / Roker
Beach at Seaburn – Roker : Photo © David Simpson

Roker was once famous as the home to Roker Park, the former home of Sunderland Association Football Club for 99 years. The football ground has now gone with housing built upon its site. Clues to its former location can easily be identified in the names of Midfield Drive, Association Road, Clockstand Close and Goalmouth Close. For most of its history Roker Park played host to top flight football until the club experienced relegation for the very first time in 1958 with the club experiencing many ups and downs from thereon. Promotion Close and Promotion Close Park at the centre of the development would seem to be a nod to the later part of the Roker Park story.

In 1997, the ground was superseded by the Stadium of Light at Monkwearmouth to the south but there is another Roker Park, namely a public park near the coast just to the north east of the old football ground. This Roker Park, dating from 1880, is situated within a little valley called Roker Gill.

Roker’s beautiful church of St Andrew dating from 1907 is known as the ‘Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement’ because of the work it contains within by the artists William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones who both belonged to that particular art movement.

Roker church
Roker church. Photo © David Simpson

Southwick and Witherwack

Southwick is the most central of Sunderland’s northern river settlements with Castletown and Hylton to the west and Monkwearmouth to the east. The Anglo-Saxon name Southwick means ‘the southern farm or trading place’ and was a name given to two places called High Southwick and Low Southwick. High Southwick was probably older and developed around a village green. It may have been connected with the old monastic lands of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow.

The church of Holy Trinity in Southwick’s Church Bank, was formerly the Rectory of Southwick and was once the home to the Reverend Charles Collingwood who married Mary, the sister of Lewis Carroll. Lewis Carroll knew the Sunderland area well, being a frequent visitor to Whitburn where there are strong Alice in Wonderland connections. Carroll would have visited his sister here at Southwick and a blue plaque commemorates the connection.

The rectory is thought to have been the home to a stuffed walrus which is said to have inspired Carroll (who grew up at Croft near Darlington) to write The Walrus and the Carpenter in Alice Through the Looking Glass. A stuffed walrus in the Sunderland Museum is often connected with the poem but this arrived after Carroll had written his memorable piece.

Witherwack to the north of Southwick has a rather peculiar name that could derive from a Norse word ‘wither-woodland’. The second part of the name was probably originally ‘wick’ meaning a farm or trading place north of Southwick in which case perhaps Witherwack is the ‘North Wick’.

Hylton Castle
Hylton Castle. Photo © 2017 David Simpson

Hylton Castle

Today the two sides of the River Wear at Sunderland are linked by bridges but up until the eighteenth century Sunderland was only linked to Hylton and Monkwearmouth on the north side of the Wear by means of a ferry. One ferry operated from a site where the Wearmouth Bridge now stands while another major ferry crossed the river to the west at Hylton.

Hylton Castle, one of Sunderland’s most historic buildings stood guard over this ferry crossing of the Wear. A ferry operated here from at least 1322 and the castle was built by one William De Hylton around 1400.

Hylton Castle is most famous for its ghost called the ‘Cauld Lad o’ Hylton’. This ghost is said to be the spirit of a stable boy who was slain by a baron of Hylton in the sixteenth century. The unfortunate young man had been caught napping by the temperamental lord, who in a fit of rage brutally struck the boy with a pitch fork killing him instantly.

The ghost who may or may not carry his head under his arm, was occasionally seen and often heard by the domestic servants of Hylton Castle.

Like all good poltergeists the Cauld Lad’s favourite pastime was throwing dishes, plates and pewter, but this only happened if the Hylton kitchen was left in a tidy state. Curiously if the servants left the kitchen untidy, the Cauld Lad would tidy it up. Naturally the servants took advantage and always left the kitchen untidy.

The castle building was not the only place to be haunted by this mischievous ghost, for on occasions he is known to have impersonated the boatman on the Hylton ferry, where after accepting fares he would leave his passengers stranded in the centre of the river.

The pranks of the ‘Cauld Lad’ were finally ended by presenting him with a green cloak and hood which were laid before the kitchen fire. The Hylton servants sat up watching until midnight when the ghost finally appeared. He happily took the garments and then suddenly disappeared with the last words:

“Here’s a cloak and here’s a hood,
The Cauld Lad o’ Hylton will do no more good”

Though Hylton was occupied until the early twentieth century, what remains of the castle today is an impressive shell hidden in the north western suburbs of Sunderland. It is currently being developed as a working building and heritage led community resource that will benefit the local community and visitors.

The Hylton Family

One particularly notable feature of the castle are the stone carved coats of arms of various local families, which can be seen on its walls. They include the shields of the Hyltons, Lumleys, Percys, Greys Eures and the Washingtons. The Washington coat of arms consists of two bars and three stars and is believed to have been adapted by George Washington for the ‘stars and stripes’ flag of the United States.

Just north of Hylton castle was a medieval village called Hylton (the hill settlement) which had disappeared by the 1750s. One of many lost medieval villages in England, its site has been obliterated by later quarrying and is now occupied by a care home in the Downhill area. The Hylton family were named from this village.

Close by Castletown takes its name from its proximity to Hylton Castle while the Town End Farm area is named from the site of a farm that was just within the rural medieval ‘township’ of Hylton.

The Hylton (or Hilton) family who built Hylton Castle were Norman barons who took their name from Hylton village after settling here around 1072. The first Hylton family member was Henry De Hylton (Henry of Hylton) who built a home here that later became the site of the castle.

In medieval times the Hyltons were the most powerful family in the Sunderland area. They were quite a colourful family too. Three members were killed in the Crusades during Richard I’s reign, two were MPs for the whole of Durham during the 13th and 14th century. Another family member, Sir Thomas Hilton, rebelled against Henry VIII in 1534 but survived to become Governor of Tynemouth Castle. He thus commanded castles on both the Tyne and the Wear.

Over the centuries many prominent members of this family lost their lives in battles including Agincourt (1415), Bosworth Field (1485) and Flodden (1513). The last male heir of the Hylton (or Hilton) family died in 1739 and the castle was sold to Richard Musgrave who promptly changed his name to Hilton but then spoiled it all by selling the castle, ending forever the castle’s connection with the illustrious family name.

Old Sunderland | Monkwearmouth

Bishopwearmouth City Centre | Sunderland South 

Whitburn and South Tyneside Villages 

 Industry | ‘Mackems’ 

 Washington Penshaw  

Houghton-le-Spring Hetton-le-Hole

Seaham and Murton | Easington

South Shields | Bede’s Jarrow


North East England History and Culture