Wearside Echoes: At home in the burbs

A horse and carriage outside Park Place.
A horse and carriage outside Park Place.
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THE development of Sunderland’s first suburb during the industrial revolution of Victorian times is to come under the spotlight in a special talk.

Local historian John Tumman will document the people and places of Ashbrooke, from Toward Road to Backhouse Park, Meadowside and Old Durham Road, as part of a Heritage Open Days event next month.

“My talk will outline what Ashbrooke was like in the 19th century, who the landowners were and the significance of Peggy Toward’s Lonnen,” he said.

“It was THE place to live in Victorian times, and I will be looking at the houses, places and people which made up the area – as well as how it developed over the years.”

Ashbrooke was tranquil countryside in the early 19th century, with only a few farmhouses and cottages, such as Holme Lands, dotted among the fields.

By 1830, however, development was starting to taking place and several large homes, including West House, Building Hill House and Thornhill House offered luxurious living for the wealthy.

“There was also Cresswell House in Tunstall Road, opposite where the convent is today,” said John. “This was moved to Alexandra Road in the late 1800s, and is now known as the Rosedene pub.

“There were two windmills, one on the east side of Durham Road, the other near Thornhill Park. But, generally, the area which was to become Ashbrooke was still open fields.”

The quiet farm tracks and peaceful fields gave way to further development in the 1830s, with homes such as Ashburne House, Ivy Cottage and West Hendon House built for affluent local families.

“The best known of the tracks was probably Peggy Toward’s Lonnen, which predates the 19th century development – though its origins are a little obscure,” said John.

The lane followed a route from what is now Borough Road, through Toward Road to South Back St Vincent Street, before travelling east to Back Salem Street and turning into the “Valley of Love”.

“Tradition has it that Peggy kept an inn, probably at the south end of the Lonnen, close to the Valley of Love, to catch the passing trade of the resort visitors,” said John. “That lane is the origin of the naming of Toward Road, but the question still remains, is Toward or Towards, as in the stone name shown on the gable of St Vincent Street?

“When the council actually named the street in 1857 it was Wellington Road from Borough Road to the railway bridge, then Toward Road without an ‘s’ to the south – but doubts remain today.”

The industrial revolution saw a boom in housing development, with wealthy merchants, shipbuilders, colliery bosses and factory owners all seeking homes in the now flourishing Ashbrooke suburb.

But it was not until the 1850s that large-scale building work really began, concentrated initially around the new Mowbray Park, with homes spreading south and gradually west towards Ashbrooke Road.

“The 1860s saw the Thornhill estate, to the north of Thornhill House, developed.

“This was followed by the breaking up of the estate in the 1870s, which led to housing on Tunstall Road,” said John.

The services of several architects, such as Frank Caws, were secured to create the more prestigious addresses, including Holmelands Park, which was built on the site of an old brickworks.

It took the death of Sir James Laing, in 1901, for streets such as Ashwood Terrace and Beechwood Terrace to be built – when his home, Thornhill House, was demolished and the land developed.

“These developments merged into one built-up area of predominantly large houses for well-to-do families,” said John.

Another estate to be redeveloped was owned by the Mowbray family. New houses were earmarked for the land as early as 1836, according to an article in the Sunderland Daily Herald.

It was not until about 1850 that any significant building work took place. Nicholson House, now Carlton House, was the first, followed by Bede Tower, home to Mayor AJ Moore.

“These houses reflected the earlier development in the vicinity, both being mansions in sizeable grounds,” said John.

“But Moore also bought land around Bede Tower for development, which paved the way for the creation of Douro Terrace, St Bede’s Terrace and Park Place, along with streets east of Toward Road.”

Park Place, built on a field behind St Bede’s Terrace, was described as “one of Sunderland’s finest squares,” with two MPs, John Candlish and Edward Temperley Gourlay, among the first residents.

Mowbray Road and Gray Road had been laid out by 1866, paving the way for the The Oaks and Mowbray Close.

“Moore, the developer of The Oaks, sued the North East Railway Company for £30,000 in 1876 for damage done to the front elevations during excavations for a railway tunnel,” said John.

“I don’t know what the outcome was, but £30,000 was a lot of money then. In 1889, a house in the street was worth about £800. On that basis the whole terrace would only have been worth £13,000!”

Another landmark Ashbrooke building, Langham Tower, was built just a few years later, in 1889, for coal-fitter William Anderson. The brewer, Cuthbert Vaux, later made the place his home.

“The site was originally part of the Carlton House garden. Unfortunately, it soon proved uneconomic as a house and became part of the teacher training college in the early 1920s,” said John.

Moore, a solicitor, also developed former Mowbray land to the east of Toward Road, creating Peel Street, named after Sir Robert Peel, as terraced homes.

The Avenue, The Elms West and Elms North, but not The Elms itself, were developed as grand three and four-storey terraces by Moore, but did not prove as highly desirable as he had hoped.

“Although grand houses, by the mid-20th century they were in multiple occupation and in poor condition. Rather than demolish them, the council modernised and converted them into flats,” said John.

Other estates to be swallowed up by Sunderland’s first suburb included The Grange, where streets such as Grange Crescent, The Esplanade and St George’s Square were built.

Land owned by the original Sunderland Infirmary, in Chester Road, was auctioned off in the 1860s, with developments including The Cloisters, Ashmore Street, The Esplanade West and The Elms.

Several fields owned by a Mr Hunter was sold off for “fairly modest” developments, including Ennerdale, a mix of houses and cottages, and Tunstall Vale.

“Today much of the area forms the Ashbrooke Conservation Area, and a considerable number of buildings are listed as of architectural or historical importance, including a number of the terraces. The area is therefore an important part of Sunderland’s historic and built environment,” added John.

l Find out more about the development of Ashbrooke by attending John’s talk, which will be held at 2pm, on September 7, at Sunderland City Library. Call 553 2000 to book a place.