The Lost History of Grangetown, a fortress? a Roman Road, and a Medieval farm

Grangetown is a suburb to the Southeast of the city of Sunderland. Immediately to the south of Hendon and the City Centre, and to the north of Ryhope, the suburb emerged during the late 19th and early 20th century as the urban area of the town rapidly expanded southwards.

First becoming the site of “Sunderland Cemetery” as Holy Trinity Churchyard in the East End overflown, the area of Grangetown was largely rural land before it was built over. Its name of course always suggests that it was a “Grange” or farm. However, little known to many, is that Grangetown bore the remnants of a much older and lost history which long-predates modern times, giving much speculation as to what its purpose was.

Long ago, in the Mid 19th century before Sunderland Cemetery was completed, an unusual feature appeared on old Ordnance Survey Maps described a series of fields as the “Chester Stones“. Nobody of course knows what the “Chester Stones” actually were, yet the name of the area, passed down generations, is of Roman origin, hence “Chester Le Street”. This has given speculation that once upon a time there was something Roman on the site, a fort of some kinds perhaps? Unfortunately, as most of the “Chester Stones” land is now the cemetery, it is impossible to excavate it.

But this isn’t the only evidence of a supposed “Roman” presence in the area. The Sunderland Antiquarian Society have long maintained that the remains of what may be a Roman Road exist underneath St. Aidan’s Terrace in Grangetown, with cobbles having been found. It is hypothesized that this road went straight North to South Shields. However, this claim remains unverified and again, the problem of it being underneath housing persists.

Beyond the Roman era, it is also clear that there was a medieval presence in what would become Grangetown, quite likely as part of the township of Ryhope in the parish of Bishopwearmouth. East of the Cemetery, and perched upon Ryhope Road, there is a small and empty unused field which was part of the “Chester Stones” arrangement. The field bears the historic scars of the medieval farming technique known as “Ridge and Furrow” carving out small lines and ditches in the field. These are still visible today, especially on Google Maps.

In conclusion, there is a lot still yet to be discovered about Grangetown, however the pace and extent as to which it has been built over poses significant obstacles, perhaps the empty field next to the Cemetery can be a starting point, providing it does not end up becoming housing in the near future…