In the Middle Ages, the North Side of Sunderland (East of Hylton) was known as the Parish of Monkwearmouth. Founded by the priory of which its name was derived and St. Peter’s Church, the settlement itself and village green was situated around the Wheatsheaf area. In addition to that, as likewise with Bishopwearmouth, the parish had several smaller “townships” on its periphery. To the north, sat the village of Fulwell and to the west was situated another village, Southwick.
By the 14th century, the lands of Monkwearmouth continued to be owned by the Priory of Durham. The priory held a travelling series of “courts” which overseen administration of the land, including the appointment and management of tenants. By extracting taxation and rent from tenants and peasant labour, the priory gained great wealth.
As stated by Glenn Lyndon Dodds in his “History of Sunderland” Book, the village of Southwick was in fact the most valuable possession of the priory, which was worth £6, 9 shillings and 2 pence a year! Why was Southwick so valuable? First of all, due to its proximity to the river wear, the village held fishing rights. Secondly, Southwick possessed a mill used to grind corn. The location of this former mill is identifiable today through the name of the street “Old Mill Road” in the suburb.
However, with medieval farming rights and the division of land and labour, came disputes. In the autumn of 1365, a number of Southwick residents became enraged that their “draught animals” (animals used for ploughing land) had been impounded at the manor of Fulwell. The records of the Monkwearmouth priory court, known as “halmote” detailed how an angry Southwick mob, led by a John Reid and Hugh Rainaldson, decided to launch an attack on the Fulwell Manor to seize back the animals.
Carrying weapons and staves, the stereotypical medieval mob broke down the gates of the Manor by force and retrieved the animals, setting off a dispute that went to the court. Thankfully, the punishment they received was incredibly lenient for Medieval standards. You might automatically think they’d get executed for such a crime, but nope… they were fined 40 pence.
Three years later, there was more trouble at the Fulwell Manor too. In the Middle Ages, the supply of white bread was a luxury, and not available to peasants. The priors of Durham possessed another manor up the road in Westoe (South Shields) and had ordered for themselves three loaves of white bread which was produced in Fulwell from the Southwick Mill. However, several servants of the Fulwell Manor stolen the Prior’s bread. The Prior responded by fining not the servants themselves, but the tenants of the manor John Gray and a woman named Agnes.
In conclusion, the middle ages represents an extraordinary era in Southwick’s history. It is a village that has held a sense of community and belonging that has outlasted many parts of Sunderland. Instead of following negative stereotypes of the village, it is important to look at the bigger picture and look at the area’s deep abiding heritage.