The “Sunderland Town Moor” is a stretch of open land located in the old East End of the city. It is surrounded by the Holy Trinity Church, the Port and its railway and Trafalgar Square. But what is its purpose? And why is it there? At first glance, the Town Moor seems to be an empty and useless patch of land in an area which is otherwise quiet and lifeless. But looks can be deceiving, and this conceals the fact that the Town Moor is a land which holds an enormous history. Here, as part of our “five things you never knew” series, we aim to shed a light on how this area has been a hub of life, industry and industriousness for thousands of years.
The Romans Were Here
The old Town Moor has been the site of evidence that suggests a Roman Presence on Wearside. According to the 19th century book by Jeremiah William Summers “The History and Antiquities of Sunderland” when the Sunderland Docks were being constructed in this area, remains of Roman Pottery as well as a Mill structure were found. Other sources describe that Roman Coins were also found on the Town Moor too. Although there are no records of a Roman settlement in Sunderland, what has been Town Moor suggests something otherwise.
The Town Moor as We Know it Begins in the 12th Century
In the 1100’s, Bishop of Durham Hugh De Puiset granted a character to the borough of Sunderland, a small village situated in the East End of which at that time was under the parish of Bishopwearmouth. As part of this charter in 1180, he set apart the large common land known as “The Town Moor”- which would be for shared economic and sporting activities. Of course the Moor back then was a lot larger than what it is now, of which has been vastly reduced in size by industrialisation and urbanisation. Its traditional boundary spanned all the way to the River Wear, the Sea and to an unknown stream referred to as “Robinson’s Dene”
It once had a railway station
As you can see from the old tracks near the docks, Sunderland Town Moor was once connected to the broader “North Eastern Railway” in the 19th century and had a station accompanying it. The station was opened in 1836, although only lasted 22 years. The remnants of the station are marked by a heritage blue plaque next to the Town Moor.
It used to a host a Medieval ballgame known as “Shrovetide Football”
The modern sport of association football had many predecessors that eventually evolved into it, and one of these early variants was known as “Royal Shrovetide Football” where a ball is thrown around in a giant group. It has less rules than the modern game and spans a much broader space. This game was often played on the Sunderland Town Moor during the medieval ages. In the 17th century, a game on the Moor resulted in the death of a man called Richard Watson.
It was also a hub of games, hunting and gambling
Over the centuries the Town Moor also hosted all kinds of other games and activities, including bull, badger and bear baiting (up until they were banned in 1822), horse racing, cock-fights, wrestling, archery and then as late as the 19th century, cricket. For a location that is mostly empty now, it seems in times gone by there was otherwise not a quiet moment on the Town Moor. This was the heart of the town of Sunderland, yet now its relevance to the city is bleak at best.