A great insight into Fulwell’s history

An old photograph of Fulwell Mill from 1963.
An old photograph of Fulwell Mill from 1963.
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Fulwell may be a thriving community these days, packed with desirable dwellings, top shops and restaurants, but how many people realise that it was originally bought for one pound?

Historian Norman Kirtlan, from the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, explains more.

Fulwell in 1962.

Fulwell in 1962.

Back in 1296, Fulwell was sold by the Prior of Durham for just twenty shillings.

The sum was probably a small fortune in those days, and while these records remain for all to see, the origin of the name still remains a mystery.

Over the centuries it has been recorded as, among other things, fule well, Fullwell and Fulwell.

All of these could indicate that its origin could have been a foul smelling well, or indeed it could have been an overflowing spring.

Over the centuries it has been recorded as, among other things, fule well, Fullwell and Fulwell. All of these could indicate that its origin could have been a foul smelling well, or indeed it could have been an overflowing spring

Norman Kirtlan

One of the earliest maps is dated 1796 and it is held at the Antiquarian Society.

It shows the lord of the manor to be a man named Robert Atkinson of Boldon.

The manor house of Robert Atkinson of Boldon stood opposite to the present day Sainsbury store.

At that time, there were two wells. One was in the Lord’s back garden and the other was near to the present library which can be found on Dene Lane.

Norman Kirtlan.

Norman Kirtlan.

Over the years, there have been a number of mysteries associated with the village, not least of which was the discovery of a giant.

Back in 1828, workmen were busy removing earth from quarries at Fulwell Hill, when they came across the man whose height was measured at an incredible 9ft 6ins.

Buried with the man were two Roman coins. The discovery led experts to believe that he was a Roman soldier – and certainly, he was not a man you would want to start any sort of an argument with.

Further discoveries were also made. For instance, when East House, which was once in the occupancy of the famous Abbs family, was re-roofed in 1901, a haul of old liquor bottles was discovered.

They bottles were found in a concealed cupboard, and some of the discovery dated back to the 1690s.

Speculation had mounted that the family had been involved in the smuggling trade. The word was also that ships would offload their cargo at Holey Rock from where the Abbs’ would spirit the precious liquor back home.

It would then be later sold without excise duties being paid.

Another ancient building – which is now much modernised, was the famous Blue Bell.

One old photograph still exists of the original Inn, and thanks to the efforts of a famous artist, we also know what the interior of the pub looked like a century and a half ago.

Prayer Time, which is a beautiful oil painting by the accomplished artist William Crosby, was believed to have been painted in the kitchen of the Blue Bell.

One wonders what the people of Fulwell would have made of such artistic shenanigans disturbing their lunchtime pint.

But perhaps the most famous historical landmark in Fulwell is the old windmill, and this too is steeped in some fascinating history – albeit some of it was quite tragic.

The present limestone building dates from the early years of the 19th century, but there would have been a mill here for centuries before that date.

However, perhaps the most tragic date associated with it was 1834.

In that year, when terrible storms swept across our region, a young man named William Wren lost his life.

His passing came as he was busy at work, trying to effect repairs to the wands of the mill.

Tragically, the ropes which were tethering the wands to the ground were blown free.

At the time William was perched high in the air and the loosening of the ropes meant that he was hurled into the ground and suffered fatal injuries.

But William is not forgotten. His death is marked each year in a ceremony which is held at the mill, and which provides an historical link between past and present.

Norman will give us more detail on Fulwell’s history in the second part of his focus on the area soon.

In the meantime, we would love to hear from Echo readers about any nostalgia they would like us to share.

Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk