Long before Channel 4 unleashed Tony Robinson and the rest of the Time Team crew upon us I was interested in archaeology, (studying Latin and Ancient History at school has that effect) and so when there was a dig taking place locally I was excited to see what was going on.
This was in the mid 70’s, when a team led by the formidably-named Professor Rosemary Cramp of Durham University‘s Archaeology Department excavated the site of the former monastic buildings to the south of St Peter’s Church, the monastery that gave name to this part of Sunderland; Monkwearmouth. The site was 1300 years old.
I remember looking forward to visiting the dig one weekend, but when the day came it was cold and wet, miserable conditions for digging and scraping at ancient stones. I don’t recall whether it was my own reaction to the conditions, or the lack of geniality on the part of Professor Cramp et al, but I didn’t stay long!
Today, despite being one of the most historically significant buildings in the area (together with St Paul’s at Jarrow it is seeking World Heritage Site status due to their links with St Bede) St Peter’s is overlooked by many. In fact when I showed one of today’s photographs to my younger daughter she had no idea where it was. To many now the name is more associated with the nearby campus of the university and the sixth form college which adjoins it.
Visiting today I found similar conditions to the day of the dig. Whilst the church is intact, little of the original Anglo Saxon structure remains, other than the west wall and the porch, though the characteristic steep sloping roof profile is retained and continues to influence other buildings nearby. The intertwined serpents that once guarded the entrance arebarely visible, as it the statue set into the wall above the porch, which was presumably damaged during the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII. It’s a pity that this little gem seems so forgotten by the hundreds who commute past it every day.
Just beyond the perimeter I prematurely met today’s portrait subject; Winter. It was almost inevitable that I should meet an Asian student with the university so close at hand. I wonder if she has any idea of the history she was passing.
- Channel 4 consigns Time Team to TV history (guardian.co.uk)