Pennywell is a part of Sunderland famous for often the wrong reasons, or should we say “notorious”. We however contend it is not as bad as people think these days, the area has changed a lot. Here in this article we aim to present a different perspective of Pennywell by identifying five interesting facts about its history, as we have for other areas! These are the things you should know about this estate!
Pennywell’s Name is Celtic, meaning “The Well on a Hill”
The word “Pen” or “Penn” is of Celtic origin and means “hill”. Similar to Penshaw, the name of Pennywell is of course associated with the hill it is built upon, and meant “the well on the hill“. 19th century maps show the area as being referred to as the “Pennywell Spring“- which is indicative of how this name was obtained evolved throughout history.
It was part of the Battle of Offerton in the English Civil War
Although the existence of the A19 makes it seem far away, Pennywell is of course right next to the village of Offerton and it was the scene of a battle for this village between Scottish and Royalist forces in the year 1644. Historians stated tThe Royalists are said to have shown themselves on top of a hill 3 miles from Sunderland. Mitchell locates the event in a large field west of Hylton Road – “the field is still known as the ‘battlefield’, and the remains of the trenches on the high ground at the south are locally known as the rifle pits”. The Ordnance Survey commissioners declared this to be the field known as Penny Well, now built over.
There is a long lost Ghost legend set here
A 19th century book, the Tales and Ballads of Wearside, one of the earliest compilation of literary works in the Sunderland dialect, speaks of a ghost story in Pennywell that appears to have been lost to history. It goes: “Then there’s your Cauld Lad o ‘ Hilton , an ‘ yer Penniwell Ghost . Why , there’s naebody wi ’ just a single grain o common sense wad believe in them ; an ‘ there ye stand , an ‘ winna believe in traditions o ‘ your ain family — traditions that’s been kenn’d in your ain house ,”– However, no other reference to this story appears to exist.
The Anglo-Saxons did something here
A 6th century Anglo Saxon bead, coloured red and white, was discovered in Plawsworth Square in 1965. It was submitted to Sunderland museum. Given there are few medieval records of this area existing, it is interesting to contemplate what may have existed here. We know what Farringdon, Grindon, Silksworth etc consisted of during the middle ages, yet beyond being a “field” Pennywell’s earliest story appears to be unwritten.
Pennywell had World War II Pillboxes to defend Sunderland from Northbound attack
In World War II, the area of Pennywell was of strategic importance to war planners as it was situated on a hill which overlooked the River Wear. As set out in our Sunderland defenses article, Pennywell was situated with Pillboxes in order to block a potential German advance southwards from Tyneside, turning the hill and river into obstacles in order to stifle their advances. These former pillboxes are located in the forest area near the A19 just above the Industrial estate. Thankfully these were never needed…