The Last Family of Old Thorney Close, And Their Involvement in the Irish Troubles

Before the modern housing area was built, Thorney Close was a manor estate which had stood since at least the Tudor times. At the top of the estate sat the former Thorney Close Hall, of which was demolished in 1952. Its last occupant was a spinster named Violet Bulkley, who died on that same year aged 76. Her death brought an end to an entire era of history, but it might be asked: Who was she? What was her family background? And why was she significant?

Violet Bulkley hailed from an aristocratic family who in fact played a role in managing the Irish troubles in the late 19th century, at a time where Irish Republicanism against the crown was going. This led to an unusual origin. Although not an inmate, her life effectively began “in prison”. In 1875, Violet was born on the facility of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois, Ireland. It was a maximum security prison which was in fact entirely political, its inmates were those convicted as members of the Irish Republican Army.

The father of Violet Bulkley, Arthur Cashel Bulkley (1839-1892) was the governor of this prison, descended from a landed military family in London, he married Blanche J. Bulkley in 1872, of which Violet would be one of his many children. Arthur however, died whilst still governing the prison in 1892.

At this point, the manor of Thorney Close appeared to be owned by the extended family. A Brother of Arthur’s, known as Major Henry William C. Bulkley (1844-1909) was recorded as having died in the manor, passing it to his sister younger Andrina Davina Bulkley (1847-1934). It appears none of them had any children, for when Andrina died the estate was recorded as being willed to the younger Violet, who also having never married, lived out the last of her days there.

But before Violet even died, change was underway. Following the end of World War II, the government of Clement Attlee pursued an enormous expansion in affordable social housing, and in the city of Sunderland numerous developments were pursued. One of the first would involve the creation of the new estate of Thorney Close in 1947, which was built around, as opposed to in place of the manor, which stood around the area of Tay Road and Tadcaster Road. The aging Violet found her estate being acquired and built on, and ultimately in the end the story of Thorney Close Manor died with her.