Sunderland : South of the River Wear

Deptford, Pallion, Pennywell, Silksworth, Ashbrooke, Tunstall, Ryhope and Hendon

Here we explore the parts of Sunderland south of the river with the exception of Sunderland city centre and Old Sunderland which are featured on separate pages.

Queen Alexandra Bridge, Sunderland
Queen Alexandra Bridge, Sunderland, viewed from the Pallion Quay area © David Simpson

We start on the riverside at Deptford, heading west along the Wear to Pallion, Claxheugh and South Hylton. We then briefly explore the Sunderland suburbs to the south: Ford, Pennywell, Hastings Hill, Herrington and Farringdon. Then we head east to Silksworth and the village of Ryhope heading north up the coast to Grangetown and Hendon and inland west to Tunstall and the suburbs near the outskirts of the city centre: Barnes, Thornhill and Ashbrooke.


Starting our exploration of Sunderland south of the river we begin on the river itself at Deptford to the west of Sunderland’s centre. The Deptford and Ayres Quay area of Sunderland was once a hive of industrial activity with several bottleworks, glassworks and a ropery in the locality as well as shipyards.

Deptford was also home to a nineteenth century chemical works that manufactured copperas and there were several coal drops along the river bank here. Copperas, also known as ‘Green Vitriol’ was made from the crystals of iron sulphate and was used in a number of processes such as tanning textiles and in making ink.

Deptford could be the site of a ‘deep ford’ across the river but is most likely named from Deptford (of the same meaning) in East London, probably through the link between the North East coal trade and the London docks. A prominent northward pointing loop or meander of the River Wear marks out the river at Deptford partly forming an area called Ayres Quay. The eastern side of the meander was the site of the quay which was built by Robert Ayre in 1649. The Ayre family had lived in Sunderland since the 1300s.

The Saltgrass public house
The Saltgrass public house and drinking fountain, Deptford, Sunderland © David Simpson

The massive Sunderland engineering works of Liebherr on the former Laing shipbuilding yard specialises in the manufacture of specialist cranes, notably offshore cranes and cranes for ships. Here the works at Deptford tower above the neighbouring Saltgrass public house in Hanover Place at the centre of the River Wear meander. Dating to 1842 this is an establishment of great character and once satisfied the thirsts of workers in the neighbouring shipyard.

Deptford Drinking Fountain
Deptford Drinking Fountain © David Simpson

A drinking fountain just outside the pub (that once stood at the centre of the nearby road) dates from 1893 and was gifted to the people of Deptford by Deptford-born shipbuilder James Laing (born 1823) to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the shipyard by his father, the Scottish-born Philip Laing, in 1793.

The yard was originally located in Monkwearmouth but moved to Deptford in 1818. James Laing’s shipyard began the transformation from building wooden ships to iron ships in the 1850s and by the late nineteenth century was noted for building oil tankers. Laing was President of the UK Chamber of Shipping and a Director of the North Eastern railway.

Queen Alexandra Bridge and Ropery

Across the river to the east of the meander is the Sunderland Stadium of Light, prominently situated on the river bank in Monkwearmouth. To the west of the river loop is the impressive Queen Alexandra Bridge linking Deptford to Southwick on the north side of the river.

Queen Alexandra Bridge, Sunderland
Queen Alexandra Bridge, Sunderland from Webster’s Ropery © David Simpson

When it opened in 1909, the Queen Alexandra Bridge was the heaviest bridge in Britain. It has two tiers, the upper tier for locomotives is no longer used but the lower tier still plays host to road traffic. The bridge is named from Queen Alexandra of Denmark, wife of the English King, Edward VII.

Websters Ropery, Sunderland
Websters Ropery, Sunderland © David Simpson

Back in Deptford on the riverside to the east of the bridge is the impressive Webster’s Ropery, a building with a long history that dates back to 1793. It was the world’s first patent ropeworks and the building was extensively restored in the 1980s.

Websters Ropery, Sunderland
Websters Ropery, Sunderland © David Simpson

Nicely situated on the bank of the river with views of the nearby Queen Alexandra Bridge, this listed building now serves as a wedding venue. To the south of Deptford is the area of Sunderland called Millfield, simply named from an old windmill that stood here on a site now occupied by St Mark’s church. Millfield was also once noted for a limestone quarry and an engine works.

Websters Ropery, Sunderland
Websters Ropery, Sunderland © David Simpson


Pallion was first mentioned in 1328 and it was originally called ‘Le Pavylion’. It was some kind of medieval 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.

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 beating the US inventor Thomas Edison in his development.

Doxford Shipyard gateway
Doxford Shipyard gateway, Pallion, Sunderland © David Simpson

By the 1850s Pallion was home to 12 Sunderland shipyards and Pallion Quay was notably the site of the shipyard of William Doxford and Sons Ltd, which opened in 1857 and operated until 1989. The site of this busy and important shipyard is remembered by the re-erected shipyard gateway which was rebuilt in 2021.

Doxford Shipyard plaque
Doxford Shipyard plaque © David Simpson

Sunderland Cottages

The Pallion area is one of a number of places in the city of Sunderland where we can see many examples of what is known as a ‘Sunderland Cottage’. The Sunderland Cottage is an unusual historic housing feature that is widespread across the city.

Built from around 1850 to 1910, they are single-storey terraced bungalows built mostly for skilled shipyard workers but can also be found around Monkwearmouth Colliery. They are likely based on Durham pit rows which can be found in neighbouring eastern parts of County Durham and indeed colliery villages such as Silksworth and Ryhope, which have long since been absorbed by Sunderland, show examples of these.

Sunderland Cottages
Sunderland Cottages © David Simpson

The Sunderland Cottage was a solution to workers’ housing that was a similar concept to the  ‘Tyneside Flat’ except that the Tyneside flats were on two levels and housed two families each. Although the Sunderland Cottages may seem modest abodes today, they gave social status to the workers who lived in them and many were bought by their occupants.

Sunderland Cottages can be found on both sides of the river and many have been expanded with extended attic rooms. The area between Millfield and Barnes Park has a particularly dense concentration of these houses while the Sunderland Cottages clustered around Cairo Street in Hendon were known as ‘Little Egypt’. The examples shown above are in Pallion and the black areas on the map show the distribution of the cottages where they can still be seen today. Ancona Street in Pallion, one of the many streets in Pallion to feature the Sunderland Cottages is named from a city in North East Italy noted for its shipbuilding.

The Northern Spire, Sunderland
The Northern Spire, Sunderland © David Simpson

Ford and Claxheugh Rock

The most prominent and striking feature of the Pallion riverside area is the Northern Spire, a splendid new bridge that 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 © David Simpson

Close to Pallion is Ford, now mostly a housing estate but historically the area is named from a ford that once crossed the River Wear hereabouts. Street-names in Ford begin with the letter ‘F’. Ford Hall once stood in the vicinity and was the home to the Havelock family. Havelock Court stands on the hall’s site.

The Havelock family were noted shipbuilders and included General Sir Henry Havelock (1795-1857) after whom many places, pubs and streets throughout the world are named.

The Northern Spire, Sunderland
The Northern Spire, Sunderland © David Simpson

Continuing west, upstream from the Northern Spire, the river bank plays host to an unexpected curiosity in the form of the remaining hulk of the SS Cretehawser. Remarkably, this Screw Ship was built in 1919 of concrete and despite ‘being in the wars’ – as you might hear it said for something that’s been through difficult times – it is still afloat.

SS Cretehawser,
SS Cretehawser, Sunderland © David Simpson

The vessel was built over on the north side of the river, downstream at Southwick by the Wear Concrete Building Company and it is technically ferro-concrete. The peculiar choice of concrete as a building material reflected the shortage of iron during the First World War, although the war was over by the time of its launch in March 1919.

SS Cretehawser,
SS Cretehawser, Sunderland © David Simpson

Just before the Second World War it was purchased by the River Wear Commissioners and stationed at Hendon docks near the  river mouth where it was intended to be used in emergency should the breakwater piers at the river mouth of the Wear come to be damaged. In May 1943 it was hit by a German bomber at Hendon and sunk but it was subsequently raised and towed up river to the Pallion/Hylton area where it has remained ever since.

Claxheugh Rock
Claxheugh Rock © David Simpson

Continuing a little west upstream from the Cretehawser, the banks of the River Wear nearby take on the shape of Claxheugh Rock. This is a limestone rock or hill spur (heugh) that is thought to have been named from a Viking called Klak – which has certainly been identified as a typical Old Danish name of Viking times.

Overlooking the river on the western flank of Claxheugh Rock once stood the substantial works of the Ford Paper Mill which operated from around 1838 until closure in 1971. It was established by James and Robert Vint along with a William Hutton and by 1871 employed over 270 people of which more than half were women and girls. The workforce would go on to double but it did experience some disasters with an explosion in 1851 and a devastating fire in 1887. The building was demolished in 1975.

South Hylton and Pennywell

South Hylton on the south side of the river upstream from Claxheugh is flanked to its west by the A19 bridge across the River Wear and is regarded as a village. It has its own Metro station which is at the very southern terminus of the Tyne and Wear Metro system.

Inhabited since pre-historic times, South Hylton was principally known in more recent ages as the site of a ferry across the River Wear to Hylton. The riverside pub called the Golden Lion which dates from 1910 was sadly destroyed by a fire in 2019 and is awaiting redevelopment.

South Hylton riverside
South Hylton riverside Sunderland © David Simpson

Just west of the A19 bridge where the River Wear winds its way from Washington and Cox Green, the river and its wooded gorge form a particularly tight and steep meander that points southward to create a ‘heugh’ (a promontory or headland) known as Nab End. The steep rise on the outer east side of the nab is called the White Heugh and that on the outer south side at a sharp pointed end is called the Stony Heugh. On the meander’s west side is Offerton Haugh but note that this is a ‘haugh’ not a ‘heugh’. A haugh is a Northumbrian term for flat riverside meadow land.

The A19 bridge crosses the River Wear near Sunderland
The A19 bridge crosses the River Wear near Sunderland (looking south) © David Simpson

Pennywell, a Sunderland housing estate to the south of South Hylton flanks the east side of the A19 and is named from a well that stood on land that once cost a penny to rent. Given the proximity of ancient sites, it is tempting to connect the name with the ancient British and Welsh word ‘Pen’ meaning hill that occurs in the Yorkshire Pennine hill name of Penyghent and of in course in Sunderland at neighbouring Penshaw Hill. Street-names in Pennywell begin with the letter ‘P’.

To the south of Pennywell is Grindon (the name means ‘Green Hill’ though possibly Grim’s hill). Most of its street-names begin with the letter ‘G’. Nearby is Hastings Hill, a suburb named from a prominent local hill that is also a prehistoric site.

Hastings Hill, Sunderland
Hastings Hill, Sunderland © David Simpson

Hastings Hill, Herrington, Farringdon

Hastings Hill is an important prehistoric site that can be clearly seen from the nearby A19 marked by the white painted stone or trig point on its summit. The trig point belongs to a much more recent age, being used in the process of triangulation by surveyors plotting maps for the Ordnance Survey.

We explain the prehistoric importance of Hastings Hill (or Hasting Hill) on our page about North East England in prehistoric times. It was perhaps linked with other nearby prehistoric sites such as Humbledon Hill in Sunderland or Warden Law and Copt Hill (the ‘Seven Sisters’ near Houghton-le-Spring.

View from Hastings Hill, Sunderland
View from Hastings Hill, Sunderland with the Northern Spire bridge in the distance © David Simpson

Middle Herrington and East Herrington lie to the south of the open fields that encompass the full extent of the Hastings Hill prehistoric site. The name Herrington derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘haering-ton’ meaning ‘rocky place farm’.  Herrington in fact stretches across both sides of the A19. On the east side of the A19 East Herrington and Middle Herrington form suburbs of Sunderland along with nearby Farringdon.

Farringdon was once called Farendon which means ‘the hill where ferns grow’. Its neighbour to the north towards Grindon and the  Hastings Hill area is Thorney Close. This was originally the name of a farm hereabouts that was presumably overgrown with thorn trees or bushes. Street-names in Thorney Close begin with ‘T’ and include a Torrens Close, named from a Sunderland-built ship.

Gilley Law, Sunderland
High rise buildings at Gilley Law © David Simpson

The suburb of Gilley Law to the east towards New Silksworth is home to a group of prominent high rise buildings and its name is perhaps  a reference to some kind of valley or gill. Law is an Anglo-Saxon word for a hill that is associated with North East England and Scotland.

Out in the countryside beyond the A19 heading west, towards Newbottle, Penshaw and Shiney Row and still within the City of Sunderland is New Herrington where, near Penshaw Monument, we find the lovely Herrington Country Park. This beautiful park features walks, cycles, country walks and a model boating lake and was created from the reclaimed industrial landscape of Herrington Colliery.

Herrington Colliery had opened in 1874 and belonged to the Earl of Durham (Lambton) and then later Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries. It was under the ownership of the National Coal Board from 1947 until its closure in 1985.

Penshaw monument viewed from Hastings Hill
Penshaw monument viewed from Hastings Hill © David Simpson


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. The nearby suburb of Doxford Park is also named from this family but the suburb should not be confused with Doxford International – the substantial business park alongside the A19 on these western outskirts of Sunderland

Silksworth Lake
Silksworth Lake, Sunderland © David Simpson

To the north of Silksworth is New Silksworth which was in fact developed as a major area of housing before Silksworth as it was a mining village built to house the miners of Silksworth Colliery, a mine opened by the Marquess of Londonderry in 1869.

In 1891 during an industrial dispute, notorious ‘candymen’ were employed by Londonderry to evict miners from their homes at New Silksworth. In the early part of the following century the mine came under the ownership of Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries and then the National Coal Board from 1947.

Silksworth colliery banner at the Durham Miners' Gala
Silksworth colliery banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala © David Simpson

The colliery closed in 1971 but in time the colliery landscape would be transformed with the old slag heap converted into the Silksworth dry ski slope and its former reservoir converted into a pleasant lake at the heart of a park with a neighbouring sport complex.

Ryhope and Burdon

Ryhope, towards the coast to the east of Silksworth just about manages to remain a separate village near the southern outskirts of Sunderland. Like nearby Hendon, it is named from a dene (a little wooded valley).

Ryhope Village
Ryhope Village © David Simpson

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 famed Durham historian Robert Surtees (1739-1834), writing in the 1820s thought the name meant ‘riven dale’ which sounds rather like the Elvish settlement in Lord of the Rings. Surtees, incidentally was married to Anne Robinson of Herrington Hall.

Ryhope Engine Museum
Ryhope Engine Museum © David Simpson

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.

Along the coast to the north of Ryhope are Grangetown and Hendon while to the south is the wooded valley of Ryhope Dene from which Ryhope is named. Beyond the dene to the south we find coast and countryside as we approach the County Durham town of Seaham Harbour.

Out in the countryside near Burdon, Sunderland
Out in the countryside near Burdon with the North Sea in the distance © David Simpson

Inland, to the south west of Ryhope we are still out in the country and here we find the little farming settlements of Burdon and Old Burdon close to the A19. On the face of it, the name Burdon looks like it should be derived from ‘burh-dun’ meaning the fortified hill but it seems to derive from Byre-Dene, ‘the byre valley’ probably from the Burdon Dene which is an upper part of the Ryhope Dene.

Here to the west we approach Warden Law heading towards Houghton-le-Spring. Warden Law, a prehistoric site is the highest point in east Durham and Wearside and was noted in the nineteenth century as the site of a stationary engine used in the hauling of colliery wagons up the steep hill en route to the Sunderland riverside. The hill is also reputedly the place where the monks who carried St Cuthbert’s coffin received a vision on their journey to the saint’s final resting place at Durham.


Hendon is situated along the coast to the north of Ryhope along with neighbouring Grangetown. At the north end of Hendon we reach the docks and port of Old Sunderland at Sunderland’s ‘East End’ near the mouth of the River Wear. 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”.

Hendon Road, historically a lane called Hendon Lonnin was the main route south to Stockton through Hendon and was a country lane that became a toll road. Hendon began to develop as a Sunderland suburb from around the 1840s. From 1872 it was the home to a prominent paper mill works in Ocean Road. Employing around 400 people it was acquired by the Edward Thomson Group in 1981. It continued manufacturing paper until around 2006 after which it focused on printing but closed for good in 2014 and the works was demolished in 2018.

Bllue Hpuse Field. Hendon, Sunderland
Bllue House Field. Hendon, Sunderland AFC’s first ground © David Simpson

Hendon was the home to both the very first and the second ground of Sunderland Association Football Club. Their first ground (1879-1881) was called Blue House Field where a neighbouring pub called the Blue House served as the changing room. The football pitch at the Raich Carter Sports Centre (named from the famous Hendon-born Sunderland footballer) stands close to the site of the ground. Several years after the original football club had vacated the site, Blue House Field was for a time, the home to Sunderland AFC’s short-lived rivals Sunderland Albion who were formed in 1888 but ceased to be in 1892.

The second ground of the original Sunderland Football club, also in Hendon, was called The Cedars near a street of the same name. It only seems to have hosted four Sunderland games (1881-1882) before the club moved to Ashbrooke (see below).

The beach at Hendon stretches south to Grangetown near Ryhope. Grangetown takes its name from an outlying farm, probably Hendon Grange that was situated close by. The boundaries between Grangetown and Hendon are a little fuzzy – the `Hendon paperwork’s for example was located to the south of Grangetown’s Spelter Works Road. Spelter is a kind of alloy containing zinc, the works were situated to the north of the road.

Bridge across the Hendon Burn in Backhouse Park
Bridge across the Hendon Burn in Backhouse Park © David Simpson

Heading west from Grangetown and Hendon we find Backhouse Park (named from a notable Darlington banking family) and the Sunderland suburbs of Ashbrooke and Thornhill that lie on the southern fringes of the city centre.

Ashbrooke, Barnes, Thornhill, Tunstall

Ashbrooke, just to the south of Sunderland centre is an attractive leafy part of town named from a house called Ashbourne House that once stood here, presumably from being close to the stream (a burn/bourne or brook) called the Hendon Burn that must have flowed amongst the ash trees – the burn can be seen in the nearby Backhouse Park.

Backhouse Park, Sunderland
Backhouse Park, Sunderland © David Simpson

Later, in the nineteenth century, a house called Ashbrooke House was built nearby just north of the burn. Backhouse Park and the nearby Ashbrooke Sports Ground add much greenery to this district with Mowbray Park just to the north east.

The green area near the sports ground at Ashbrooke was once called Groves Field (there’s a nearby street called The Grove) and was the third home ground of Sunderland Football Club (1882-1883).

Across Ryhope Road from the eastern entrance to Backhouse Park is the former Sunderland Synagogue of 1928, designed by Marcus Kenenth Glass. Sunderland was once the home to a significant community of Jews dating back to 1755 though their numbers have fallen considerably in recent decades.

Former Sunderland Synagogue on Ryhope Road,
Former Sunderland Synagogue on Ryhope Road, opposite Backhouse Park © David Simpson

Further north along Ryhope Road on the east side of Ashbrooke is the impressive Langham Tower by the Sunderland architect William Milburn dating from 1889-91. The house was built for William Adamson, the son of a Sunderland shipbuilder but was later the home of Sunderland brewer, Cuthbert Vaux.

Langham Tower, Sunderland
Langham Tower, Sunderland © David Simpson

Langham Tower is now being developed as a multi-purpose venue. It has previously served as one of the buildings of Sunderland High School.

Langham Tower, Sunderland
Langham Tower, Sunderland © David Simpson

A little further to the north heading towards Mowbray Park is St Bede Tower, also by Milburn and built for the Sunderland solicitor, mayor and water company chairman, Anthony John Moore, who developed several of the neighbouring streets. Bede Tower now serves a place of worship but has previously been part of the University of Sunderland as well as having been home to an examination room and performance venue for Sunderland High School.

Bede Tower, Sunderland
Bede Tower, Sunderland © David Simpson

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.

Barnes just to the west of Thornhill probably takes its name from being the site of some barns belonging to a farm at Humbledon Hill. 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.

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, like Hastings Hill back in prehistoric times. Further west, Plains Farm was actually named from a farm on a level piece of land rather than a farm that was plain.

Tunstall, the extensive suburb to the south of Ashbrooke and east of Humbeldon Hill is separated from Silksworth to the south by the Tunstall Hills which  form a haven of open countryside within this part of Sunderland. However, the site of the original village of Tunstall is found in the Silksworth area where we find Tunstall Village Road and Tunstall Village Green.  The name Tunstall means ‘farmstead’ and the Wearside Tunstall is first recorded in the late twelfth century.

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’.

Monkwearmouth | Old Sunderland

Bishopwearmouth City Centre 

 Roker, Fulwell, Seaburn, Southwick, Hylton


 Washington Penshaw 

Houghton-le-Spring Hetton-le-Hole

Seaham and Murton | Easington





North East England History and Culture