The name Villiers Street came from the link between the families of the Villiers and Lambtons. The street was built upon land that was owned by the Lambton family and, on the 19th June 1791, William Henry Lambton married Lady Anne Barbara Frances Villiers. The Villiers held high positions under the Stuart kings as Master of the House and Lord Marshall of the Household and the street, when built, was named after Lady Villiers.
Before 1800 the area was part of the Lambton's Pann Field, bounded on the north by a stone wall extending from Sans Street to Norfolk Street.
The first development began in 1794 when a dispensary was built, funded by voluntary contributions from the neighbourhood. Construction of the rest of the street did not commence until 1802 but within two years most of the houses were completed, the street consisting of large properties with coach houses at the rear. It was one of the first to be built on the gardens situated west of the Parish of Sunderland.
The wealthy surgeons, solicitors, shipowners and coal-fitters living in the crowded, poorer streets of the East End were soon attracted to the new, substantial, elegant houses and one of the very first residents was John White, the father of Andrew White, Sunderland's first Mayor.
The high status of the street was confirmed over the next few years. It became the first street to be paved under the 1809 Sunderland Improvement Act and two churches and a bank were built in the street. In 1817 the Bethel Independent Chapel was built at a cost of £3000. It seated 1000 worshippers and had a small cemetery attached. In 2010 remnants of an old burial area were found on this site and investigation work is currently on-going. In November 1835 St George's Presbyterian Church, was opened in the street at a cost of £4000 and in October 1829 the Union Stock Bank, better known as Chaytor's Bank opened at No. 2 Villiers Street. This lasted only seven years before amalgamating with the Newcastle, Shields and Sunderland Joint Stock Bank.
In 1831 residents in the street included Lady Peat and Sir Cuthbert Sharpe. Lady Peat was, before her marriage, a Miss Smith of Herrington. She married Rev. Robert Peat, the chaplain to King George IV. Following her husband's death she lived in Villiers Street until the age of 90, dying on 26th November 1842. Sir Cuthbert Sharpe was at that time the Collector of HM Customs in Sunderland. Knighted in 1814, he was a leading local magistrate and local dignitary.
In 1849 St George's Presbyterian School, designed by Thomas Oliver, opened next door to St George's Chapel. Catering for the children of the upper working and lower middle classes, it was known locally as ‘The Academy' taking up to 300 pupils.
After 1860 the street began to deteriorate as the movement west of the commercial centre of the town saw the more wealthy professionals move out of the street. Many moved to Fawcett Street and John Street but even these streets were to have an exodus of residents in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century as shops and offices took over the area. One of the properties at the north end of Villiers Street was altered to become the Villiers Hotel, joining over a hundred pubs situated in the area at that time. In 1900 The Villiers was but one of a dozen local pubs owned by John Vipond.
In 1882 No. 23 Villiers Street was demolished and new premises for the Royal Institute for the Blind built on the site. In 1897 the adjoining premises, No.24 were purchased for the Institute.
Although most of the premises in Villiers Street had a change of use, a number were still retained as dwelling houses. However, in the first half of the twentieth century most of these became overcrowded and the deterioration of this once elegant street accelerated. Both Churches in the street closed. St George's became the Junior Technical School for a while and the Bethel Chapel was used as business premises. The Villiers Hotel closed in the 1970s.
By the close of the twentieth century few of the original Georgian buildings remained and the street retains little evidence of its once elegant past with small business units having replaced many of the houses.
The Villiers Hotel and 10 Villiers Street. This once elegant Georgian house was once the residence of solicitor Christopher Hutchinson.