Blue plaque unveiled in memory of man who transformed Sunderland’s port

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A lasting tribute has been unveiled to the man who transformed Sunderland’s waterways to help the city become the biggest shipbuilding town in the world.

A blue plaque funded through the city council’s East Area Committee now commemorates John Murray in recognition of his outstanding engineering achievements on behalf of the River Wear Commission.

Mr Murray - who was born in 1804 in Kelso in Scotland and died in 1882 - played a significant role in the city’s history, which included straightening and deepening the river, new constructions to control the tides and the outstanding engineering feat of transporting an existing lighthouse onto the then new North pier.

Born in Kelso in 1804, Mr Murray was employed by the River Wear Commission, formed in 1717, to make the natural waterways and harbours at the mouth of the river more accessible to boats and ships.

The commissioners were responsible for opening the city to international trade, through the import and export of goods and cargo from the port and harbour.

As the direct successor to the River Wear Commission, the Port of Sunderland is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its formal establishment as a harbour authority this year.

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Plaque commemorating John Murray The Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Doris Macknight with former mayor Barry Curran and Jack Curtis (R)

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Plaque commemorating John Murray The Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Doris Macknight with former mayor Barry Curran and Jack Curtis (R)

The unveiling of the new plaque at the River Wear Commission Building, in St Thomas Street, was done by Mayor of Sunderland Coun Doris MacKnight and maritime historian and author Jack Curtis.

Coun MacKnight said: “John Murray was a remarkable man, an outstanding civil engineer whose contribution to making the river Wear such an international maritime centre for trade can never be underestimated.

“The East Area Committee is delighted to fund the commemorative Blue Plaque recognising his achievements, and his role in helping the River Wear Commissioner’s transform the riverside and harbour areas of Sunderland into the thriving Port it is today.”

Mr Curtis said: “Mr Murray wasn’t born here, but there is no finer man who has walked through the streets of Sunderland when you consider what he did for this city.”

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Plaque commemorating John Murray The Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Doris Macknight and Jack Curtis

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Plaque commemorating John Murray The Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Doris Macknight and Jack Curtis

The plaque unveiling part of a wider programme of events celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Commission.

An exhibition on the history of the port will open in September at the city’s Museum and Winter Gardens and run until February, while a series of community lectures will also be held in the coming months.

The River Wear’s development to meet the need to transport coal from the Durham coalfield, led to Sunderland becoming one of the UK’s leading coal exporting ports and achieving international recognition as the largest shipbuilding town in the world.

City council leader and chairman of the Port Board, Coun Paul Watson, added: ​“For me and for a large number of people from in and around Sunderland, being close to the waters of the Wear is a proud reminder of our past, and a time Sunderland was world renowned for shipbuilding and heavy industry.”

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Plaque commemorating John Murray The Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Doris Macknight and Jack Curtis

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Plaque commemorating John Murray The Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Doris Macknight and Jack Curtis

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Paque commemorating John Murray

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Paque commemorating John Murray

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Paque commemorating John Murray

River Wear Commissioners 300th anniversary Blue Paque commemorating John Murray