Pictured: a reconstruction of a map of Sunderland in the Middle Ages, detailing “Hendon Bay” to the Southeast
When you think of a “Bay”, you think of a place of natural seaside beauty, often an iconic location. The name has embedded in itself a sense of romanticism, for example “San Francisco Bay”, “Tokyo Bay”, “Robin Hood’s Bay” in Yorkshire, or even “Whitley Bay”. After all, a bay is described as “a broad inlet of the sea where the land curves inward“- so it’s often somewhere ideally placed to enjoy the sea and relax.
Long ago, Sunderland once had its own bay. This bay, known on old maps as “Hendon Bay“, was a gulf running down the south coastline of the town which is now occupied by the Port of Sunderland. What is left of the coastline next to where this bay once stood is of course, Hendon Beach. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Hendon Bay was in fact a luxurious tourist resort which pre-dated (and was ultimately replaced by) Roker, which was ultimately swallowed up and built over by the booming town of Sunderland, mandating its transformation into an industrial port.
Before the conurbation of Sunderland ballooned outwards and swallowed Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth, it was a small town situated on the South Bank of the River Wear in the area we now know as “The East End”. To the immediate South of the town, the area of Hendon (purported to derive from Old English for “The Valley of the Monks”) had not been built on and was a series of agricultural and open grass land. It was at the time a place of beauty, known for its iconic “Valley of Love” in what is now Backhouse Park, and of course its beautiful coastline which was Hendon Bay.
As Sunderland grown and attracted wealthy business people, the area of Hendon Bay became an 18th century seaside and leisurely resort. The area become famous for its spas, in particular the venue known as the “Hendon Bath Hotel” which was known nationwide for its hot paths, described as “being south of the old moor” (which is of course, South Moor). In addition to this, Hendon Beach had many “bathing machines”, wooden carts that allowed people to get changed and roll into the sea privately, with males and females seeing each other in bathing suits being strongly scorned upon during this era.
You might call this period “The Golden Age of Hendon”, but of course Sunderland was changing. The rapid expanse of the town pushed construction southwards, while the growing demand for shipping and exports ultimately culminated in the construction of the Port of Sunderland in 1848. In order to facilitate the port and its connecting railways to the southward, land was reclaimed from the sea. This meant that the “Bay of Hendon” was removed from the map in its entirety and replaced with an industrial area which owing to the port and railways, became inaccessible to the public. This killed Hendon as a resort.
However, the demise of Hendon Bay was a direct catalyst in the emergence of Roker as its replacement. No longer able to visit the sea at Hendon, the wealthier classes of Sunderland turned their eyes to the area north of the river, now accessible because of the recently built Wearmouth Bridge. Thus, within years of the Port of Sunderland being built, Roker avenue emerged, and the area became the town’s newest beach resort, a position it has now held on for over 150 years.