ON THE WATERFRONT: How rail shaped the docks

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This week, we conclude the story of how the railways shaped the East End’s landscape in reaching Sunderland’s South Docks.

By 1854, rail connections to the coal drops were well-established, with three lines converging on the Town Moor; namely the ex-Durham and Sunderland line from Shincliffe via Ryhope, the former Newcastle and Darlington Junction Penshaw Branch - both then operated by the North Eastern Railway (NER), and the independent Londonderry, Seaham and Sunderland Railway.

In 1858, the NER closed Sunderland Moor Station and replaced it with the new Hendon Station nearby.

With Sunderland Dock Company being taken over by the River Wear Commissioners (RWC) in 1859, the RWC were keen to establish a link to allow locomotives to run between their own dockside railway system and that of the NER.

An inefficient incline allowing wagons to be rope-hauled by a stationary steam engine was already present, but a locomotive incline proposed by the old Dock Company had not materialised.

In constructing its railway across the Town Moor, the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway had been required to pay considerable compensation - but to who?

The question of the Town Moor’s rights and ownership was extremely complicated and subject to ongoing legal disputes between the Bishop of Durham and the Freemen and Stallingers of the Ancient Borough of Sunderland.

Eventually, the matter was settled when both parties agreed to give up their respective claims to allow the compensation to be paid to the Principals and Governors of the Sunderland Orphan Asylum, a charity established under an 1853 act of parliament.

As land for constructing a locomotive incline to the docks had then fallen under control of Orphan Asylum trustees, lengthy negotiations followed to obtain permission to do so.

This was forthcoming in November, 1865, and on June 13, 1866, the NER advertised for tenders for construction of “a branch railway from the Town Moor sidings to the Docks at Sunderland.”

The opening of the new incline by October, 1867 led to increased trade opportunities for the port with direct rail access to quayside warehouses and the newly constructed Hendon Dock.

Today, this incline still provides an interface for transporting rail freight between the docks and the national railway system.

On October 6, 1900, the Londonderry, Seaham and Sunderland Railway, was transferred to the NER.

A scheme linking Sunderland and its docks with the North West was proposed in 1903, when plans to build the Sunderland to Barrow Railway were publicised.

Although never realised, these ambitious proposals would have resulted in a direct line between Sunderland Darlington, then up the Swale Valley to connect with the Furness Railway.

The scheme’s promoters also intended to build new deepwater quay and warehousing facilities at Sunderland.