The City of Sunderland grew out of the merger of three separate settlements of Anglo-Saxon origin, although the fishing village that originally bore the name wasn’t officially recognised until a century after the arrival of the Normans. The name Sunderland probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon word soender, meaning to part or separate, and refers to the gorge carved by the River Wear as it reaches the sea. (The other two settlements were Monkwearmouth, site of a monastery since 674 AD, and Bishopwearmouth, founded in 930 AD when King Athelstan donated the land to the Bishop of Durham)
The first Wear Bridge in what was then a small town, was built in 1796 and was a catalyst in the development of the community. The present bridge is much more recent having been built in the 1920’s. Most people who cross the bridge will do so without noticing that there is a set of steps on either side giving direct access to the riverside. Those on the south side are gated and locked, but on the north side there is still access. In the heyday of shipbuilding this stairway would have seen a lot of use, giving easy access to what was North Sands shipyard. Nowadays it probably sees more graffiti artists, though I was surprised to see these lads dismount to carry bike and fishing tackle down, instead of the easier option of cycling slightly further downhill to the riverside.
Before beginning my first “real” job, I worked in the shipyards for about three months after leaving school. I spent most of my time at Deptford further upstream, where the vessels first took shape, though I also visited North Sands, where they were moored for fitting out after the initial launching. The SD14 cargo ships designed and built in Sunderland were produced on an almost monthly basis for 20 years.
All of that is gone now; the great concrete base of one of the cranes supports a sculpture representing the regeneration of the area. Etched into the ground, an anamorphic projection reveals the shadow of the crane that once stood in that spot.
This area of heavy industry is now given over to education and culture; the former being the St Peter’s Campus of Sunderland University, the latter in the modernist architecture of the National Glass Centre.
This is an appropriate location for the Centre; Sunderland has a long tradition of glass- making which goes back to that monastery established in 674. Part of the design of the building required specialist glaziers to be brought from France and this was when glass making was introduced to Britain.
Most of the visitors to the Centre probably give that little thought, being drawn primarily by the quirkily named “Throwing Stones” restaurant, and the glass roof which you are encouraged to walk upon. Those not of a nervous disposition can look down onto the diners two stories below.
Here it was that I met the Scots trio of Sarah, Allan and Bill just as they were leaving the building. Whilst I prefer solo shots I saw an opportunity to group them using the ramp to bring them close enough to leave no gaps in the composition. I fired a half a dozen frames as they laughed, but in one of them I caught this expression from Bill which I felt deserved to be processed as today’s main image. I trust his friends will forgive me.
* Lyric fromShipbuilding written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer, recorded by Robert Wyatt.