Shiney Row is a village in the outer area of the city of Sunderland, located in the region what is known as “the coalfields“. Situated between New Herrington, Penshaw, Houghton Le Spring and Philadelphia, Shiney Row owes its heritage to being a colliery village which emerged in early the 19th century (1823), with its population having worked in pits in the above listed towns.
However, the name of the village has long been a source of curiosity amongst residents of Sunderland. A popular story circulates that “Shiney Row” is derived from an unspecified Royal Visit during its creation in the 1820s where the Queen at that time reportedly remarked “What a shiny row of houses!” (as that’s all the initial settlement was at that time) and that is apparently what it was known as ever since.
However, SGM understands this story to be a little more than a local myth that lacks serious evidence and evolved from a logical attempt at trying to explain the name. After all, there is no apparent record that such a visit ever occurred, and royal visits are always well documented events. Instead, it is important to first remember that most place names in the North East are far, far older than what people tend to realize and often have origins in the Middle Ages.
For example, one might be surprised to discover that the names Herrington, Farringdon, Grindon, Silksworth and Ryhope (just to name a few) are all derived from Old English and existed since at least the Norman Era. Critical to understanding these names is reminding ourselves that due to a lack of a printing press for many centuries, as well as other linguistic changes, is that their spelling and pronunciation change over time meaning how the place name “appears” today may not reflect what it exactly means.
Again, Farringdon’s true name is theorized by scholars to mean “The Hill of Faer or his sons” whilst Grindon is a “Green Hill” and Silksworth is “The worth of Sigelac“. Therefore, when we are seeking out the meaning of “Shiney Row” we must understand it in historical terms and not through what it appears to represent in modern English.
Yet, what is believed to be its historic meaning is not far off from how it appears anyway. It is believed that the name originates from the old English term scien raew which means a “beautiful row of trees”. Such a name makes sense as the area around it would have been historically heavily forested due to its proximity to the River Wear (and the adjacent Lambton estate still is).
There is archaeological evidence that Shiney Row indeed has such a background, being part of the historic Penshaw township. In 2000, an iron age “single-ditched rectilinear enclosure with interior round houses” was discovered in visible cropmarks. A Medieval water mill also existed on the area of the Herrington Burn flowing through it, mentioned in the historic 1183 Boldon Book.
As a result, Shiney Row is likely (as per other places in Sunderland) to have been a local name which was attributed to an area of land which persisted for centuries, which likewise as the modern estates did today, took upon itself this name when it was developed into a mining village. Cutting past a mythical Royal visit name origin story reveals a much deeper history, with a lot more to be discovered.