A History of Sunderland in Ten Dates

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

Sunderland has a long history -- the home of Maidenscott Properties has also been home to bishops and colliers, industrialists and shipbuilders over more than a thousand years. Here’s a brief history of the city, in ten key dates.

674: A monastery is founded at Monkwearmouth This monastery still stands today in the form of St. Peter’s Church, parts of which date back to the original structure! This was where the Venerable Bede, the great Anglo-Saxon historian and scholar, worked and studied for most of his life, and is one of England’s oldest buildings.

930: Land on the other side of the river is granted to the Bishops of Durham This parish became known as Bishopwearmouth and traded in fish and salt; it included a small fishing settlement which became known as Sunderland, as it was land “sundered” from the monastery by the river.

1154: Sunderland is granted charter and becomes a town The Charter of Privileges for Wearmouth was issued by Bishop Pudsey of Durham and permitted the new town to hold weekly markets, among other privileges for its citizens.

1346: Thomas Menvill runs the first ship-building yard in Sunderland This is the earliest record we have of what would one day be a key industry in the area. Although not much is known about Mr Menvill, he was the first of many and by the 19th century Sunderland was considered “the shipyard of the world”, building a quarter of the world’s ships!

1589: Robert Bowes starts producing salt in Sunderland Salt had been produced in the area for centuries, but Bowes and his partners were the first to do so on an industrial scale. Their method involved burning coal to evaporate sea water in large pans -- this in turn led to an increase in coal production over the following decades.

1689: Sunderland coal exports exceed 180,000 tonnes annually A century after salt production began in force, coal was the major contributor to the Sunderland economy, alongside other trades like glass-making and ceramics. The port continued to grow as a result of this booming economy, and the industries with it.

1801: The first British census records the Sunderland population as 12,412

Although tiny by modern standards, it was still nearly ten times what it had been a century earlier, and less than a tenth of what it was a century later! The industries of Sunderland led to a population explosion as it became one of the industrial powerhouses of the UK.

1879: Sunderland gains a museum, a train station and horse-drawn trams! By the late 19th century, Sunderland was known as the “workshop of the world”. Its industries were at the height of their powers and the city was exporting coal, glassware and rope to every corner of the globe, as well as building a third of the country’s ships.

1986: Nissan opens its Sunderland plant

Another century on, and electronic and mechanical engineering had replaced coal and ship-building as the area’s main industries. On average, Nissan’s plant has built a new car every two minutes since opening, and has reached the amazing milestone of 10 million cars!

1992: Sunderland becomes a city! Finally, 800 years after receiving its charter, Sunderland was officially made a city as part of the Queen’s 40th jubilee celebrations. The same year, Sunderland Polytechnic officially became the University of Sunderland, and Sunderland AFC made it to the FA Cup final -- a pretty good year!

Today, Sunderland has a population of a quarter of a million and a dazzling future ahead of it in the form of its dynamic City Plan. People have been living here for over a thousand years, but could Sunderland’s brightest days still be ahead of it? Whatever tomorrow holds, it’s an honour to work in a city with such a rich history!

If you’re interested in investing in Sunderland or finding a new home here, please give us a call on 0191 5460 071 or email us at

Photo credit: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (historical photos). Photo of St. Peter's by R J McNaughton, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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