The History of Thorney Close You Never Knew: From Saxons to Shipyards

Thorney Close is a estate in Southwest Sunderland. Boarding the Durham Road, the suburb is one of the largest postwar schemes that was built in the city having been erected in the late 1940s. But what was there before it? What is the story of the area prior to the modern estate? Here, as we have done with Farringdon and so many other places throughout Sunderland, we will reveal to you the “The Forgotten History of Thorney Close“- and explore how this suburb’s story spans back centuries.

Unlike neighbouring Farringdon, there are fewer records pointing to where the Thorney Close estate came from. However it may surprise you that the linguistic origins of its name go right back to the early Anglo-Saxon era. The word “Thorney” is a modern transliteration of the Old English world “þorn” (which reads as Thorn). In Westminster, London, there is a location known as “Thorney Island” which has the same name origin. When this name was used in the Saxon era, it of course meant a place that has thorns, and thus this name also became associated with “Thorney Close”.

For most of the middle ages, it is unclear as to whether Thorney Close was part of the Farringdon Hall estate or was part of another estate known as “Clowcroft” which was reportedly next to Grindon but it’s exact location has been lost to history. Nonetheless, by the end of the Middle Ages and Tudor times, a manor estate had appeared on the land in the 1500s which would last up until it was demolished in 1953. This was estate called “Thorney Close Hall” and was administered under the township of Silksworth. It was located on what is now Tay Road and around the Square areas next to it. It also became famous for having an orchard. By the late 19th century it also hosted a quarry too.

Thorney Close on a 19th century Ordnance Survey Ma, showing the Orchard, Quarry and the neighbouring Grindon Hill

Many influential and wealthy people occupied the Thorney Close property over the centuries. In the late 18th century, a man named John White lived here, was a Sunderland shipyard (His company was known as A. White & Co) and Mine Owner, his son Andrew White would become the first elected mayor of all Sunderland. The senior white would have also a ship constructed known as the “Thorny Close” which was listed up until 1833. It was a “snow” class of ship which was “a square-rigged vessel with two masts, complemented by a snow- or trysail-mast stepped immediately abaft (behind) the main mast”. The Thorney Close ship was to service a route to America before it disappeared.

The last owner of the Thorney Close manor was called Violet Bulkley, who was a descendent of these families. Having lived alone with no apparent heir, there were no obstacles to the Sunderland Corporation of the 1950s buying up the land for their new estate and demolishing the manor. These days, it would be scandalous to simply level a building from the 16th century, yet that was the end of an era in Thorney Close ushering in the estate as we know it today. There is of course a lot more research on the estate to be done, we’ve only scratched the surface with this and we will have to it to you as it progresses!