Sunderland south of the River


Hendon is on the coast to the south of the port of Old Sunderland with the neighbouring Sunderland docks close by. Shipbuilding was recorded here in the fourteenth century but there does not seem to have been a settlement in those earlier times.

The coast at Hendon
The coast at Hendon, Sunderland. Photo © David Simpson

Hendon’s name probably derives from ‘Hendene’ a possible old name for a little coastal valley that was later called Hendon Dene. It may be that it was in this dene, that Thomas Menville built Sunderland’s first known ship in 1346.

Most of this area was open countryside until colonised by Sunderland’s urban growth from the mid-nineteenth century. Before that time Hendon was a popular place of leisure for the people of the busy port of Old Sunderland to escape and enjoy bathing in Hendon Bay. An old rhyme probably gives a hint of the leisurely attractions of Hendon Bay:

“Fower Colliers lay in Hendon Bay,
At Anchor for the Tide,
The Saucy Jane and the Eden Main,
The Fox and the Rovers Bride”.

Grangetown, to the south of Hendon, takes its name from an outlying farm, probably Hendon Grange that was situated close by.

Ryhope Village
Ryhope Village : Photo © David Simpson

Ryhope: Rivendale

Alongside the coast just south of Grangetown, Ryhope just about manages to remain a separate village near the southern outskirts of Sunderland. Like Hendon, it is named from a dene (a little wooded valley). The dene can still be seen near the village and the name Ryhope is thought to mean ‘rough valley’ as ‘hope’ is another Anglo-Saxon word for a small valley. The Durham historian Robert Surtees writing in the 1820s thought it meant ‘riven dale’ which sounds rather like the Elvish settlement in Lord of the Rings.

Ryhope Colliery was the main industry in the village from 1859 until its closure in 1966. The nearby Ryhope Engines Museum occupies the impressive Ryhope Pumping Station nearby with its tall chimney, brick Gothic exterior and adjacent reservoir. It supplied water to Sunderland and operated from 1868 until its closure in 1967. Its engines are now the focus of the museum.

Ryhope Engine Museum
Ryhope Engine Museum : Photo © David Simpson

Tunstall and the Maiden Paps

Slightly inland, Tunstall is separated from other parts of Sunderland by the Tunstall Hills to its north and these hills still form a haven of open countryside within this part of Sunderland. The two prominent peaks of the Tunstall Hills are called the Maiden Paps or Maiden’s Paps from their apparent resemblance to breasts. They were used by sailors out at sea as navigational aids. Tunstall, incidentally is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘farmstead’.


Silksworth was the ‘worth’ (an enclosure) belonging to an Anglo-Saxon called Sigelac. Medieval owners of Silksworth included the Lords of Horden and the Middleton family. In 1775 it became the site of a large house called Silksworth Hall belonging to a Mr Cummings but passed to an important landowner called William Robinson-Robinson who was descended from the Middletons.

This hall and another called Silksworth House just to its west (later renamed Doxford House) both later belonged to the Doxford family who made their fortune as shipbuilders. Nearby Doxford Park is also named from this family.

To the north of Silksworth is New Silksworth which was first built to house the miners of Silksworth Colliery opened by the Marquess of Londonderry in 1869.

Herrington and Farringdon

Herrington’s name derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘haering-ton’ meaning ‘rocky place farm’. Close by, Herrington stretches across both sides of the A19 and over on the west side near Penshaw Monument is the lovely Herrington Country Park. Gilley Law features the Anglo-Saxon word law (a hill) and Gilley which may be a reference to some kind of valley. Farringdon was once called Farendon which means ‘the hill where ferns grow’. Thorney Close was originally the name of a farm hereabouts that was presumably enclosed within an area where thorns grew.

Pennywell and Barnes

Pennywell is named from a well that stood on land that once cost a penny to rent. Barnes probably takes its name from being the site of some barns. Back in the 1370s Barnes belonged to the Dalden family of Dalton-le-Dale near Seaham and then passed to the Bowes family of Streatlam in Teesdale who were ancestors of the present Queen. In 1673 the Barnes land was divided into High Barnes and Low Barnes.


Ashbrooke just to the south of the city centre is an attractive leafy part of town named from a house called Ashbourne House that once stood here, presumably close to a stream (a burn/bourne or brook) that flowed amongst the ash trees. Later, in the 19th century, a house called Ashbrooke House was built nearby. Backhouse Park and the nearby Ashbrooke Sports Ground add much greenery to this district. The Civic Centre and Mowbray Park are just to the north east.


Just west of Ashbrooke, Thornhill, takes its name from a Sunderland merchant, John Thornhill who purchased land here in 1764 and built a mansion. The land passed to a merchant from London called Shakespeare Reed in 1815 whose father, John Reed was a well-known dramatist born in Stockton-on-Tees.

Humbledon Hill to the south west is now a built up area. The hill, near Barnes Park has an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘Broken hill-hill’ and was inhabited back in prehistoric times. Further west, Plains Farm was actually named from a farm on a plain of land rather than a farm that was plain.

Queen Alexandra Bridge
Old postcard showing the Queen Alexandra Bridge

Deptford and the Queen Alexandra Bridge

The Millfield, Deptford and Ayres Quay areas of Sunderland were once a hive of industrial activity with several bottle works and glassworks in the locality. There was, in addition, a 19th century chemical works at Deptford that manufactured copperas and there were also several coal drops along the river bank. Ayres Quay was the home to a quay built by Robert Ayre in in 1649. The Ayre family had lived in Sunderland since the 1300s.

Deptford could be the site of a ‘deep ford’ across the river but most likely named from Deptford in East London, probably through the link between the North East coal trade and the London docks. Millfield is simply named from an old windmill that stood here on a site now occupied by St Mark’s church.

The impressive Queen Alexandra Bridge links Deptford with Southwick on the north side of the river. When it opened in 1909 it was the heaviest bridge in Britain and has two tiers. The upper tier was for locomotives and is no longer used but the lower road traffic tier is still used today. The bridge is named after Queen Alexandra of Denmark, wife of the English King, Edward VII.

Ford, Pallion and Claxheugh Rock

Pallion was first mentioned in 1328 where it was originally called Le Pavylion. It was some kind of pavilion or summer house. Pallion belonged to the Bowes family in these early times and the fishing grounds on the River Wear here were known as Bowes Water. The Bowes family sold Pallion to the Goodchild family in 1572 and they owned it until 1817. In the 1850s Pallion was home to 12 Sunderland shipyards.

A large house called Pallion Hall was the birthplace of the famed Sunderland inventor Joseph Swan in 1828. It was Swan who invented the light bulb just pipping the US inventor Thomas Edison in his development.

Nearby Ford is named from a ford that once crossed the River Wear hereabouts. Another significant house called Ford Hall once stood in the vicinity and was the home to the Havelock family. Havelock Court stands on the site. The Havelock family were noted shipbuilders and included the noted General Sir Henry Havelock (1795-1857) after whom many places, pubs and streets throughout the world are named.

Claxheugh Rock
Claxheugh Rock. Photo © David Simpson 2017

On the banks of the River Wear nearby is Claxheugh Rock. It is a limestone rock or hill spur (heugh) that is thought to have been named from a Viking called Klak.

Just downstream from Clakheugh Rocks is the Northern Spire, a splendid new bridge opened in 2018, crossing the River Wear and linking the Pallion side of the river to Hylton and Castletown to the north. As well as being a beautiful, elegant and iconic landmark it provides swift access to Sunderland city centre from the A19 to the west.

The Northern Spire
The Northern Spire bridge across the River Wear during construction in 2017. Photo © 2017 David Simpson

Monkwearmouth | Old Sunderland

Bishopwearmouth City Centre | Sunderland North

Industry | ‘Mackems’ 

 Washington Penshaw 

Houghton-le-Spring Hetton-le-Hole

Seaham and Murton | Easington


North East England History and Culture