What county is Sunderland in: Do you say Durham or Tyne and Wear instead?

The issue of which county Sunderland is in these days, if any, remains a vexed one.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Sunday, 22nd September 2019, 12:33 pm
The tomb of the Venerable Bede, thinker, theologian, saint and Mackem, is in County Durham. It would be nice if his home town was back in it too.

The confusion is understandable. Some older people maintain that the city is in County Durham and care not a jot for anything suggesting otherwise.

Younger people may be unaware that Sunderland was ever even part of County Durham. After all, it’s 45 years since it was legally so.

In 1974 the Local Government Act came into force, creating the soulless sounding “metropolitan counties” and pop went over a thousand years of history.

Durham Castle is a World Heritage Site and, until 1974, we lived in the same County.

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This meant that Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside were booted out of County Durham and into something called Tyne and Wear, along with North Tyneside and Newcastle.

The new arrangement brought good cheer to precisely no one. Consequently the new county ceased to exist in any meaningful sense in 1986 when Tyne and Wear County Council was abolished. Politically Sunderland rules itself as a metropolitan district council.

No one lives in Tyne and Wear. There’s no such place any more. However, when you give details online, some websites insist you give Tyne and Wear as Sunderland’s home county, even though it doesn’t really have one any more.

Postcodes provide more confusion. Houghton is part of Sunderland but has Durham (DH) postcodes. Similarly Washington has Newcastle (NE) postcodes. Seaham and Peterlee have never left County Durham, but have Sunderland (SR) postcodes.

We thank the Royal Mail for this clarity.

Fortunately, neither the postal service nor companies selling bath taps online get to decide which county this city is in. Unfortunately neither do we.

Why wouldn’t Sunderland wish to be re-appropriated by Durham? It would regain its connection with the castle, cathedral, Cuthbert and cricket. Durham could re-include St Peter’s, Bede (buried in Durham, but a Sunderland lad), over 600 years of shipbuilding history and the Beaker people of 2,500 BC.

They also share a beautiful river; Roger Whittaker’s ignorance on the matter notwithstanding.

More to the point, Sunderland quite obviously belongs to County Durham. Anger at what happened in 1974 is literally dying out. But why should we accept the situation, merely because the grievance is rather old now?

This is about identity. Upon entering County Durham, visitors see road signs emblazoned with the slogan: “Land of the Prince Bishops,” thereby reflecting the glorious historical importance and heritage of “our” county.

It’s a sexy slogan conjuring up images of chivalrous derring-do and sounds a bit Game of Thrones.

We could try to match it with: “Sunderland: Land of the metropolitan district council”, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

Obstacles hinder a return to a real county. But none of them are insurmountable. Sunderland needn’t be ruled from County Hall in Durham after a friendly annexation.

There could still be the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and Metro, reflecting where they operate geographically, rather than pretending they serve an actual county.

We’ve had about 1,300 years to give Northumbria (as opposed to Northumberland) proper borders. But no one has got round to it, therefore Northumbria Police needn’t be affected by Sunderland’s return to Durhamness.

For obstacles read quibbles.

Let’s put it another way. Hull demanded its way back into Yorkshire in 1996. Sunderland can do the same with County Durham.