The area now known as Sunderland was also historically known as Wearmouth, from its location near the mouth of the river Wear. North of the Wear was a parish called Monkwearmouth and south of the Wear was a parish called Bishopwearmouth. Sunderland started out as a small village south of the river, but gradually grew to absorb both Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth. Sunderland was made a borough in the 1180s, but remained within Bishopwearmouth parish. Sunderland became a parish in its own right in 1719, and was made a municipal borough in 1835. The municipal borough included Sunderland and large parts of the parishes of Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth, although they remained separate parishes within the borough until 1897 when both Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth were finally abolished as parishes. Other outlying areas have also been added to Sunderland over time.
The former parish church of Bishopwearmouth was renamed Sunderland Minster in 1998. Sunderland's city centre now covers both the former areas of the villages of Sunderland and Bishopwearmouth.
In the late 8th century, the Vikings raided the coast, and by the middle of the 9th century, the Wearmouth–Jarrow (St. Peter's) monastery founded in 673 had been abandoned. Lands on the south side of the river were granted to the Bishop of Durham by Athelstan of England in 930; these became known as Bishopwearmouth and included settlements such as Ryhope which fall within the modern boundary of Sunderland.
In 1100, Bishopwearmouth parish included a fishing village at the southern mouth of the river (now the East End) known as 'Soender-land' (which evolved into 'Sunderland'). This settlement was granted a charter in 1179 by Hugh Pudsey, then the Bishop of Durham.
From 1346 ships were being built at Wearmouth, by a merchant named Thomas Menville. In 1589, salt was made in Sunderland. Large vats of seawater were heated using coal. As the water evaporated the salt remained. This process, known as salt panning, gave its name to Bishopwearmouth Panns; the modern-day name of the area the pans occupied is Pann's Bank, on the river bank between the city centre and its east end. As coal was required to heat the salt pans, a coal mining community began to emerge. Only poor quality coal was used in salt panning; quality coal was traded via the port, which subsequently began to grow.
17th and 18th centuries
Before the English Civil War the north of England, with the exclusion of Kingston upon Hull, declared for the King. In 1644 the North was captured by the Parliament army. The villages that later become Sunderland, were taken in March 1644. One artifact of the English civil war near this area was the long trench; a tactic of later warfare.
In the village of Offerton, roughly three miles in land from the area, skirmishes occurred. Parliament also blockaded the River Tyne, crippling the Newcastle coal trade which allowed Sunderland coal trade to flourish for a short period. Because of the difficulty for colliers trying to navigate the shallow waters of the River Wear, the coal was loaded onto keels (large boats) and taken downriver to the waiting colliers. The keels were manned by a close-knit group of workers known as 'keelmen'.
In 1719, the parish of Sunderland was carved from the densely populated east end of Bishopwearmouth by the establishment of a new parish church, Holy Trinity Church, Sunderland (today also known as Sunderland Old Parish Church). The three original settlements Wearmouth (Bishopwearmouth, Monkwearmouth and Sunderland) had begun to combine, driven by the success of the port of Sunderland and salt panning and shipbuilding along the banks of the river. Around this time, Sunderland was known as 'Sunderland-near-the-Sea'.
In 1796 the world's second iron bridge was constructed in the city.
In the early part of the century local government was divided between the three parishes (Sunderland Holy Trinity, Bishopwearmouth St. Michael, and Monkwearmouth St. Peter) and when cholera broke out in 1831, the "select vestrymen", as the church councilmen were called, were unable to cope with the epidemic. Sunderland, a main trading port at the time, was the first British town to be struck with the 'Indian cholera' epidemic. The first victim, William Sproat, died on 23 October 1831. Sunderland was put into quarantine, and the port was blockaded, but in December of that year the disease spread to Gateshead and from there, it rapidly made its way across the country, killing an estimated 32,000 people.
Demands for democracy and organised town government saw the Borough of Sunderland created in 1835. Sunderland was situated on a plateau above the river, and never suffered from the problem of allowing people to cross the river without interrupting the passage of high masted vessels. The Wearmouth Bridge was built in 1796, at the instigation of Rowland Burdon, the Member of Parliament for County Durham, and is described by Nikolaus Pevsner as being of superb elegance. It was the second iron bridge built after the famous span at Ironbridge, but over twice as long and only three-quarters the weight. At the time of building, it was the biggest single-span bridge in the world.
In 1897, Monkwearmouth became a part of Sunderland. Bishopwearmouth had long since been absorbed.
The 20th century
As the former heavy industries have declined, so electronic, chemical, paper and motor manufactures have replaced them, including the city's Nissan car plant.
The public transport network was enhanced in 1900 with an electric tram system. The trams were gradually replaced by buses during the 1940s before being completely axed in 1954.
The First World War led to a notable increase in shipbuilding but also resulted in the town being targeted by a Zeppelin raid in 1916. The Monkwearmouth area was struck on 1 April 1916 and 22 lives were lost. Many citizens also served in the armed forces during this period, over 25,000 men from a population of 151,000.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Sunderland was a key target of the German Luftwaffe, who claimed the lives of 267 people in the town, caused damage or destruction to 4,000 homes, and devastated local industry. After the war, more housing was developed. The town's boundaries expanded in 1967 when neighbouring Ryhope, Silksworth, Herrington, South Hylton and Castletown were incorporated into Sunderland.
During the second half of the 20th century shipbuilding and coalmining declined; shipbuilding ended in 1988 and coalmining in 1993. At the worst of the unemployment crisis up to 20% of the local workforce were unemployed in the mid-1980s.
Some new industries developed in the area at this time, and the service sector expanded during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986 Japanese car manufacturer Nissan opened its Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK factory in Washington, which has since gone on to become the UK's largest car factory.
From 1990, the banks of the Wear were regenerated with the creation of housing, retail parks and business centres on former shipbuilding sites. Alongside the creation of the National Glass Centre the University of Sunderland has built a new campus on the St. Peter's site. The clearance of the Vaux Breweries site on the northwest fringe of the city centre created a further opportunity for development in the city centre.
Sunderland received city status in 1992.