city in Tyne and Wear, North East England

Sunderland is in North East England. It was a county borough, and is now part of the City of Sunderland in Tyne and Wear. It sits at the mouth of the River Wear.


Coat of arms of Sunderland City Council
Population277,962 (2016 Office for National Statistics)
OS grid referenceNZ395575
• London240 mi (387 km) SSE
Metropolitan borough
Metropolitan county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtSR1, SR2, SR3, SR4, SR5, SR6, SR9
Dialling code0191
FireTyne and Wear
AmbulanceNorth East
UK Parliament
List of places
Tyne and Wear

Sunderland started as three small villages:

  • Monkwearmouth was created in 674 when Saint Benedict Biscop started a monastery. Monkwearmouth is on the north side of the river.
  • Bishopwearmouth was founded in 930. It is on the south side of the river.
  • Sunderland, at the mouth of the river was a small fishing village. It was given a charter in 1179. The charter gave the people of the small town some rights which people outside the town did not have.

Sunderland grew as a port, mostly selling coal and salt. In the 1300s people began to build ships along the river bank. By 1835, the port of Sunderland was so important that its name was used when the three old villages became the a borough. Sunderland became a city in 1992.

A person born in Sunderland is sometimes called a Mackem.



Early history


In 674, Benedict Biscop built the Wearmouth (St. Peter's) monastery. He was given the land by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria. Biscop's monastery was the first monastery built of stone in Northumbria. Biscop brought glass makers from France. This was the start of glass making in Britain.

In 686, the community was taken over by Ceolfrid, and Wearmouth monastery and its other site in Jarrow became very important places of learning in Anglo-Saxon England. The library had about 300 books; all of them were hand written and painted.

St. Peter's Church in Monkwearmouth. Only the porch and part of the west wall are what remain of the original monastery built in 674.

The Codex Amiatinus, was written and painted at the monastery and was probably worked on by Bede who was born at Wearmouth in 673. Bede wrote the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) in 731. This is why he is often called The father of English history. In the late eighth century, the Vikings began to raid the coast, and by the middle of the ninth century, the monastery had been abandoned.

In 930, King Athelstan of England gave the land on the south bank of the river to the Bishop of Durham. This is why the area is still called Bishopwearmouth.[1]

By 1100, the Bishopwearmouth parish included a small fishing village at the mouth of the river (modern day East End) known as 'Soender-land', or Asunder-land which became Sunderland.[2] This settlement was granted a charter in 1179 by Hugh Pudsey, then the Bishop of Durham.

By 1346, ships were being built at Wearmouth. The merchant Thomas Menville started building ships so he could transport the things he wanted to sell.

In 1589, salt making started in Sunderland. Large vats, called ‘’panns’’, of seawater were put on coal fires. When the water boiled, the salt was left behind. This is known as salt panning. Today, the road leading to where the pans were is still called Pann's Bank. It is on the river bank near the city centre. As more coal was needed to heat the salt pans, coal mining started in the area. Only poor quality coal was used in salt panning; the best coal was sold and shipped out of the town. This is why the port began to grow. This put Sunderland in competition for the first time with its coal-trading neighbour Newcastle.

17th and 18th centuries

Holy Trinity church, built in 1719.

Before the English Civil War in 1642, King Charles I said Newcastle could be the only town in the east of England which could send coal by ship. This had a big impact on Sunderland, which was selling more and more coal. This created resentment towards Newcastle and towards the idea of having a king. When the civil war began, the mainly Protestant Sunderland sided with Parliament against the mostly Catholic Newcastle. This was good for Sunderland's business, because Parliament blockaded (blocked) the Tyne. This stopped the Newcastle coal trade and allowed the Sunderland coal trade to grow. When an army from Scotland came to fight the King, its base was set up in Sunderland.

The River Wear was not very deep, so the coal had to be loaded onto big boats called keels and taken downriver to the coal ships which were called colliers.

In 1719, Sunderland and Bishopwearmouth were too big for the only parish church, which was in Bishopwearmouth. A new parish of Sunderland was created and Holy Trinity, Sunderland parish church was built. The three original settlements of Wearmouth (Bishopwearmouth, Monkwearmouth and Sunderland) had started to join up. This was because of the success of the port of Sunderland as well as the salt panning and the shipbuilding along the banks of the Wear. Around this time, Sunderland was also known as 'Sunderland-near-the-Sea'.[3]

19th century




Local government was divided between the three churches (Holy Trinity, Sunderland, St. Michael's, Bishopwearmouth, and St. Peter's Church, Monkwearmouth). When cholera broke out in 1831, the "select vestrymen", as the church councillors were called, did not know what to do about the epidemic. Many were frightened to say that a disease has started because it might stop their businesses from making money. They printed notices which said there was no disease in the town, and saying that the doctors who said that there was disease did not know what they were talking about.

Sunderland was a big trading port at the time. It was the first British town to be affected by 'Indian cholera' epidemic.[4] The first victim, William Sproat, died on 23 October 1831. Sunderland was put under quarantine, so that people could not leave the town. The port was blockaded, so that ships could not spread the disease to other ports. But in December of that year, cholera was in Gateshead and it spread across the country, killing about 32,000 people.

Jack Crawford was one of the first to die in the epidemic. There are two statues honouring Jack, one in Mowbray Park near the Civic Centre, and the other next to Holy Trinity Church.

Sunderland got its first Member of Parliament after the Reform Act of 1832, and the Borough of Sunderland was created in 1836, although impatient citizens elected Andrew White to be Mayor in December 1835.

Robert Rawlinson was sent to Sunderland in February 1850 by the General Board of Health. His report showed the problems because there was no sewage system or drains.[5]


The Wearmouth Bridge

The river at Sunderland is in a narrow valley, and the town grew up on plateaus high above the river. This meant it never had the problem of allowing people to cross the river without stopping high masted vessels. Rowland Burdon MP pushed for the Wearmouth Bridge, which was built in 1796. It was the second iron bridge ever built. Only the famous Iron Bridge itself is older, but Wearmouth bridge was over twice as long and only three-quarters the weight of the Iron Bridge. Wearmouth Bridge was the biggest single span bridge in the world.[6] Farther up the river, another bridge, the Queen Alexandra Bridge, was built in 1910, linking the areas of Pallion and Southwick.[7] It was designed for trains to run across, too, but the railway section was never completed.

Victoria Hall Disaster


The Victoria Hall was a large concert hall on Toward Road facing Mowbray Park. On 16 June 1883, 183 children died.[8] During a variety show, children rushed down the stairs for treats.[9] At the bottom of the staircase, the door only opened inward and was bolted so that only one child at a time could get through.[10] The children pushed down the stairs to the door. Those at the front were trapped, and were crushed by the weight of the crowd behind them.

The Victoria Hall disaster is still the worst of its kind in Britain.[11] A memorial statue, which is a crying mother holding a dead child, is now back in Mowbray Park with a protective canopy.[12] The newspaper reports of the tragedy were so shocking that an inquiry was set up. This committee said that public buildings should have outward opening emergency exits. This led to the invention of 'push bar' emergency doors. This law still remains in full force to this day. The Victoria Hall was used until 1941 when it was destroyed by a German bomb.[13]

20th century to present


As the traditional industries have declined, electronics, chemicals, and paper making have replaced them. Some of these new industries, are in Washington, which has more space to allow purpose built factories. The Nissan car plant and the nearby North East Aircraft Museum are on the site of the old Sunderland Airport.

Sunderland - taken from Tunstall Hill, August 1989

Since 1990, industries along the banks of the Wear have changed a lot. Housing, shopping parks and business centres have been built where the shipbuilding yards were. The National Glass Centre is also there, next to the University of Sunderland’s new "St Peter’s Campus". On the south side of the river, the old Vaux Brewery site has been cleared so that new houses, shops and offices can be built close to the city centre.

Sunderland was the one of the most heavily bombed areas in England during World War II.[14] As a result, much of the town centre was rebuilt in a boring concrete style. But some fine old buildings remain. These include Holy Trinity, built in 1719 for an independent Sunderland, St. Michaels's Church, built as Bishopwearmouth Parish Church and now known as Sunderland Minster and St. Peter's Church, Monkwearmouth, part of which dates from 674 AD, and was the original monastery. St. Andrew's Roker, so-called "Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement", contains work by William Morris, Ernest Gimson and Eric Gill.

Civic history

Sunderland Civic Centre (right background) with Mowbray Park to the left

Sunderland was made a municipal borough of County Durham in 1835. Under the Local Government Act 1888, it was given further status as a county borough with independence from county council control. In 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, the county borough was abolished and its area combined with that of other districts to form the Metropolitan Borough of Sunderland in Tyne and Wear. See City of Sunderland.

Sunderland has the motto of Nil Desperandum Auspice Deo. This means Never Despair, Trust In God



Much of the city is on a low range of hills running parallel to the coast. On average, it is around 80 metres above sea level. Sunderland is divided by the River Wear which passes through the middle of the city in a deep valley, part of which is known as the Hylton gorge. The only two road bridges connecting the north and south halves of the City are the Queen Alexandra Bridge at Pallion and the Wearmouth Bridge just to the north of the City centre. A third bridge carries the A19 trunk road over the Wear to the West of the City.

Most of the suburbs of Sunderland are west of the city centre with 70% of its population living on the south side of the river and 30% on the north side. The city extends to the seafront at Hendon and Ryhope (on the south) and Seaburn (on the north).

The area is part of the Anglican Diocese of Durham. It has been in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle since the Catholic bishops returned in 1850.

Alphabetical street naming of suburbs


Some Sunderland suburbs have most streets beginning with the same letter:



Sunderland has cool winters and warm summers. Being on the coast, Sunderland is a little warmer in the winter than the national average, but a little cooler in summer. Average rainfall is below the UK national average due to an east coast location.

As with most UK east-coast towns, Sunderland sometimes gets sea fog known locally as Fret. This is most common in the summer months (April - September). These frets can be very dense, are often very localised, and can appear and disappear in a matter of minutes.


Population of Sunderland urban area

by ward - (2001 Census)[15]

Ward Population
Ryhope 13,852
Central 12,398
Silksworth 12,295
Pallion 10,693
Hendon 10,377
South Hylton 10,317
St. Michael's 10,267
Thornholme 10,214
St. Chad's 10,006
Thorney Close 9,938
Grindon 9,548
South total: 119,905
Castletown 10,322
St. Peter's 10,264
Fulwell 10,171
Town End Farm 9,381
Colliery 9,006
Southwick 8,690
North total: 57,834
City total: 177,739

Sunderland is the largest city, by population and area, between Leeds and Edinburgh.[16]

The City of Sunderland is the 22nd largest borough in England and the largest in the North East. However, as well as including the Sunderland it also includes a number of surrounding towns and villages, such as Washington, Houghton-le-Spring and Hetton-le-Hole.



98.1% of the population are white, with 1% Asian and 0.4% mixed-race.

In 2001, the most ethnically mixed ward of the city was the (now abolished) Thornholme area - just to the south of the city centre Thornholme included the suburbs of Ashbrooke and Eden Vale. Here, 89.4% are white, 7.8% are Asian and 1.3% are mixed-race.

The least ethnically diverse wards are in the north of the city. The area of Castletown is made up of 99.3% white, 0.4% Asian and 0.2% mixed-race.



According to census statistics, 81.5% of Sunderland residents class themselves as Christian, 9.6% have no religion, 0.7% are Muslim and 7.6% did not wish to give their religion.

Only 114 people of Jewish faith live in Sunderland. There was no Jewish community before 1750, but then a number of Jewish businessmen from across the UK and Europe settled in Sunderland. A Rabbi from Holland was working in the city in 1790. The Jewish community has been shrinking since the mid 20th century. Many Sunderland Jews left for bigger Jewish communities in Britain or to Israel.[17] The Jewish primary school, the Menorah School, closed in July 1983. The synagogue on Ryhope Road (opened in 1928) closed at the end of March 2006.

Culture and attractions


Literature and art


Lewis Carroll often visited to the area. He wrote most of "Jabberwocky" at Whitburn as well as "The Walrus and the Carpenter".[18] Some parts of the area are believed to be the inspiration for his Alice in Wonderland stories, such as Hylton Castle and Backhouse Park.[19] There is a statue to Carroll in Whitburn library. Lewis Carroll was also a visitor to the Rectory of Holy Trinity Church, Southwick, beforeSouthwick became a part of Sunderland. Carroll's connection with Sunderland, and the area's history, is documented in Bryan Talbot's 2007 graphic novel Alice in Sunderland.[20]

More recently, Sunderland-born Terry Deary, writer of the series of Horrible Histories books, has become famous, and many others such as thriller writer Sheila Quigley, are following his lead.

The Manchester painter, L S Lowry, was another frequent visitor, staying in the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland.[21] Many of his paintings of seascapes and shipbuilding are based on Wearside scenes.

The Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art on Fawcett Street and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens have exhibitions and installations from new and established artists alike. Sunderland Museum has a big collection of LS Lowry. The National Glass Centre on Liberty Way also exhibits a number of glass sculptures.

Sunderland has produced a number of musicians that have gone on to reach international fame, most notably Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. Kenickie, which featured Lauren Laverne on vocals, also achieved a top ten album and wide critical acclaim in the mid-to-late-1990s. In recent years, the underground music scene and the Sunderland Music Project have helped the likes of The Futureheads and Field Music gain national recognition. In 2004, music magazine NME put Sunderland came 8th in a list of the "coolest" music places in the UK.[22]

Other famous Mackem musicians include punk rockers The Toy Dolls, who broke the top five of the charts with "Nellie the Elephant" in December 1984; the lead singer of dance outfit Olive, Ruth Ann Boyle, who now works with Enigma; A Tribe of Toffs made number 21 with their cult hit "John Kettley is a weatherman" in December 1988; Alex Kapranos of the band Franz Ferdinand also grew up in Sunderland and South Shields.

On the 7 and 8 May 2005, Sunderland hosted the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend concert - the UK's largest free music festival. The event was held at Herrington Country Park, in the shadow of Penshaw Monument and was attended by 30,000 visitors.[23][24]

Sunderland does not have a big music venue such as the MetroRadio Arena or the Carling Academy in Newcastle. The Empire Theatre sometimes plays host to music acts, and has attracted Deacon Blue and Journey South to the city in recent years. McFly played there in April 2007. In the past it has also welcomed major bands such as The Beatles and The Kinks.

Independent, a city centre nightclub/music venue, satisfies underground music lovers, having previously played host to Keane, Franz Ferdinand, Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs, Maxïmo Park and Snow Patrol when they were largely unknown. More recently, Doves and Tim Burgess have performed DJ sets on club nights, and in summer 2007 the club hosted gigs from established bands such as The Zutons and The Maccabees. The Manor Quay, the students' union on the campus of the University of Sunderland has also hosted the Arctic Monkeys, Maxïmo Park, 911, the Levellers and Girls Aloud in the past three years.

Clint Boon sometimes deejays in indie venue Ku Club, and the Bluetones did a set there in 2006.

"CoSMOS", the City of Sunderland Millennium Orchestral Society’’ was set up in 2000 to mark the millennium.


The Sunderland Empire theatre.

The Sunderland Empire Theatre, opened in 1907, is the largest theatre in the North East. It reopened in December 2004, following a big redevelopment, making the stage bigger. Now it can stage West End shows such as Miss Saigon, Starlight Express and My Fair Lady. The Empire is the only theatre between Leeds and Glasgow big enough to put on such shows.[25]

The Birmingham Royal Ballet have a season at the Sunderland Empire every year, and it is thought of as the company's north-east home.

The Royalty Theatre is the home to the (amateur) Royalty Theatre group who also put on a number of low-budget productions throughout the year. Well-known movie producer David Parfitt belonged to this company before achieving worldwide fame.



Each year on the last weekend in July, the city hosts the Sunderland International Airshow.[26] It takes place along the sea front at Roker and Seaburn, and is attended by over 1.2 million people annually. It is the largest free airshow in Europe.

Sunderland also hosts the free International Festival of Kites, Music and Dance, which attracts kite-makers from around the world to Northumbria Playing Fields, Washington.

Every year, the city hosts a large Remembrance Day memorial, believed to be the largest in the UK outside of London.[27]

HMS Ocean, a Helicopter Landing Ship is Sunderland's adopted Royal Navy ship. The crew of HMS Ocean regularly visit the city.

At Christmas, Sunderland has a German market in the city centre selling German-made wooden goods, and German food. It also hosts a large ice rink in Mowbray Park, which is part of the wider, regional North East Winter Festival.



Traditional attractions for visitors to Sunderland include Penshaw Monument, the Souter Lighthouse (the first electrically powered lighthouse in the world[28]), the 15th century Hylton Castle, the Wildfowl park in Washington, and the beaches of Roker and Seaburn.

The National Glass Centre opened in 1998, reflecting Sunderland's distinguished history of glass-making. The centre has never been as successful as hoped.[29]

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, on Borough Road, was the first publicly funded museum in the country outside London. It was opened by Ulysses S. Grant shortly after he stopped being US President. The museum has a big collection of the locally produced Sunderland Lustreware pottery. The new City Library Arts Centre, on Fawcett Street, also houses the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.

The City of Sunderland has been commended several times on its commitment to preserving its natural environment. Sunderland has won awards from the Britain in Bloom group in 1993, 1997 and 2000.

Economy and industry

See: List of companies in Sunderland
Employment in Sunderland
by sector – 2004
Sector % Employed
Public Administration,
Education and Health
Distribution, Hotels
and Restaurants
Manufacturing 16.8
Finance, IT
and other business activities
Construction 4.4
Other services 4.3
Transport and Communications 4.2
Agriculture, Energy & Water 1.6

Sunderland is one of the most deprived cities in the North of England. 11 of the 25 wards featuring in the list of the 2000 most deprived wards in England.[31] The most deprived areas are Southwick to the north of the river and Thorney Close to the south - both with chronic levels of unemployment, although the city is performing better than the North East as a whole.[31]

Traditional industry


Once called the "Greatest Shipbuilding Town in the World",[32] ships were built on the Wear from at least 1346 onwards. The Port of Sunderland was expanded in the 1850s when the Hudsons Dock were built for the River Wear Commissioners. Robert Stephenson helped the engineers.[33] Competition from overseas caused a downturn in demand for Sunderland built ships toward the end of the twentieth century. The last shipyard in Sunderland closed in 1988.

Sunderland, part of the Durham coalfield, has a coal-mining heritage that dates back centuries. At the peak in 1923, 170,000 miners were employed in County Durham alone,[34] as labourers from all over Britain, including many from Scotland and Ireland, entered the region. As demand for coal fell after World War II, mines began to close across the region, causing mass unemployment. The last coal mine closed in 1994. The site of the last coal mine, Wearmouth Colliery, is now the Stadium of Light, and a miner's Stephenson lamp monument stands outside of the ground to honour the heritage of the site.

Glass has been made in Sunderland for around 1,500 years. But overseas competition has forced the closure of all of Sunderland's glass-making factories. Corning Glass Works was one of the last. It was in Sunderland for 120 years, until 31 March 2007[35]

Vaux Breweries was established in the town centre in the 1880s and for 110 years was a major employer. The brewery was finally closed in July 1999. Vaux in Sunderland and Wards Brewing Company in Sheffield had been part of the Vaux Group, when both breweries closed the group started to concentrate on its hotels which were in The Swallow Group. In the autumn of 2000 even this was taken over by Whitbread PLC.


The Echo 24 apartment building, built on the site of derelict riverfront warehouses

Sunderland's economy began to get better after the 1980s.

The giant Nissan factory moved in, and new service industries arrived. Doxford International Business Park, in the south west of the city, has attracted a host of national and international companies.

The former shipyard areas along the River Wear have also been transformed. Instead of the old industry new developments have been built, including:

  • St. Peter's Campus of the University of Sunderland;
  • North Haven, executive housing and marina at the old North Dock at Roker;
  • the National Glass Centre, by St. Peter's Church;
  • the Stadium of Light the 49,000-capacity home of Sunderland A.F.C.;
  • Hylton Riverside Retail Park, a large shopping outlet centre at Castletown.
  • Echo 24 luxury apartments near the city centre.

Sunderland Corporation's massive post-war housing estate developments, such as Farringdon, Pennywell, Grindon, Hylton Red House, Hylton Castle, Thorney Close and Town End Farm, together with earlier developments, have all passed into the ownership of Gentoo (once called Sunderland Housing Group), a private company and a "Registered Social Landlord". Since the transfer in 2000 there have been a lot of improvements to the quality of social housing in the city.

The central business district of Sunderland has also been redeveloped and improved. In 2000, The Bridges shopping centre was extended to attract national chain stores. In November 2004, after several years with no cinema, a Cineworld multiplex opened in the new River Quarter, an entertainment complex towards the east of the City Centre. The Cinema was taken over by the Empire Multiplex Cinema Company in mid 2006. The previous ABC Cinema, situated on the corner of Park Lane and Holmeside, had been derelict for a number of years until it reopened late in 2005 as The Point, with three bars and the Union nightclub.

The arrival of Roy Keane as Sunderland AFC's new manager in August 2006 has had a massive impact in Sunderland's once limited tourism industry. Keane has proved a big pull for the city in terms of attracting tourists to Sunderland, with the Tourism Office reporting a dramatic rise in the number of football fans coming to the city "mentioning his name"[36] as early as October 2006, just six weeks after Keane's appointment as manager. Airline Ryanair, moreover, recorded a 10% increase in passenger numbers travelling to Newcastle Airport on Fridays before a Sunderland home game, some 600 more than on other Fridays. The Tourism Office believes Keane's attachment to the city is causing a knock-on effect on local restaurants, bars and attractions in that more tourists are "making a weekend of it"[36] after watching the football.

Sunderland riverside at sunset



Sunderland station was rebuilt in November 1965 for football teams and officials from countries who were playing at Roker Park when England hosted the 1966 World Cup. It is served by Northern Rail services between Newcastle and Middlesbrough, and Grand Central services to York and London[37]

In 2002, the Tyne and Wear Metro system was extended to Sunderland. The local Metro ends at South Hylton after calling at Sunderland Rail Station and Park Lane Bus Station. Metro trains are quite frequent and travel between Newcastle International Airport and Newcastle upon Tyne in the north and South Hylton at the southern end of the line. However, the Metro extension has not been viewed as a huge success with frequency of services cut due to a lack of demand.

A multimillion-pound transport interchange at Park Lane was opened on 2 May 1999 by the then Brookside actor Michael Starke. With 750,000 passengers per year it is the busiest bus and coach station in Britain after Victoria Station in Central London,[22] and has won several design awards. A new Metro station was built underneath the bus concourse to provide a direct interchange as part of the extension to South Hylton in 2002.

There are a number of cycle routes that run through and around Sunderland. The National Cycle Network National Route 1 runs from Ryhope in the south, through the centre of the city, and then along the coast towards South Shields. Britain's most popular long distance cycle route - The 'C2C' Sea to Sea Cycle Route - traditionally starts (or ends) when the cyclist dips their wheel in the sea on Roker beach. The 'W2W' 'Wear-to-Walney' route, and the 'Two-Rivers' (Tyne and Wear) route also end in Sunderland.

Famous residents


Developer of the electric lightbulb Joseph Swan, agony aunt Denise Robertson, rockers 'The Futureheads' and Alex Kapranos of 'Franz Ferdinand', Civil liberty campaigner Chris Mullin MP, radio DJ and singer Lauren Laverne,[38] football manager Bob Paisley, actor James Bolam, movie producer David Parfitt, lead singer of 'Olive' Ruth-Ann Boyle, author Lewis Carroll, artist LS Lowry, journalist Kate Adie, and the Venerable Bede are a few of the many famous people born in or associated with Sunderland.



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