Work has continued to ensure that the Society's website will be on line from 1st April. Our site has been designed by Mango and a small group was formed from interested members of the Society to work on site construction and content. Thanks must be expressed to Philip Phipps, Peter Stoddart, Norman Kirtlan and Bill Hawkins whose sterling efforts over the past few months have ensured that the website will be one of the best of its kind in the country. It can be accessed after 1st April at:

Once established, work will be on-going to make accessible a wide range of the archives, articles and photographs of the Society. Do be patient with the site as it will take a little while to grow but we feel that this will be a major step forward for the society. A Webmaster will be required and if there are any members who feel that they have the necessary expertise to assist with this then do please contact the Secretary.


The Annual General Meeting will take place at The Minster on 14th April 2009 commencing 8pm.  In accordance with the Society's Constitution, all Office holders will retire and be eligible for re-election. Any paid-up member of the Society may nominate themselves for election to any office on the Council. This should be done by 31st March . Nomination forms may be obtained, on request, from the Secretary.

Time permitting; this meeting will be followed by slides of Old Sunderland shown by Ron Lawson



Our evening talks are held at The Minster on the second Tuesday of each monthThe Society's archives as usual will be open for research fortnightly on Saturday mornings 10am - noon with the next being on 14th March. Future Saturdays will be 28th March, 11th April, 25th April, 9th May, 23rd May......


The Grange School

Sunderland's Public School

It is not generally known that there was, in the nineteenth century, once a well-known public school in Sunderland. This was the Grange School run by James Cowan, a Scottish schoolmaster. In its heyday it had more than 160 boarders and as many day scholars. It was, in its time, the largest and best-known boarding school in the north of England.

   James Cowan taught in a Quaker school in Darlington before coming to Sunderland and, when he set up here, he was supported by the Quaker fraternity who were then very strong in the town. He opened his first school in William Street in 1822 with 20 scholars.

   The school grew and in 1824 Cowan moved to much larger premises in Green Street whilst at the same time his sister opened a school for girls on the opposite side of the street where the Co-operative Store was later built. For Classic studies boys and girls were taught together. The school soon gained a reputation for sound education and most of the leading families of Sunderland sent their children to study alongside the many who travelled in from outside the town.                                       

    The school day then began at 7am and ended at 8pm with the day being divided as follows: 7-8am work, 8-9am breakfast, 9-12pm work, 12-2pm dinner, 2-5pm work, 5-6pm tea, and 6-8pm work - A lot different from present day hours in schools. Wednesday and Saturday afternoons were free.

    Playground accommodation was small and this was a great frustration to Cowan, who was a great believer in sport and physical activities. However, the school flourished and, as he was receiving more applications than he could cater for, he began to look for larger premises.

    In 1830 Cowan purchased the Grange estate and moved in. Today we would consider this to be in the centre of the city but in those days it was on the outskirts, with few houses in the nearby vicinity.

   The mansion house of the Grange had been built in 1780 by John Maling, the well-known owner of the pottery works at Hylton. It was surrounded by high walls. The north wall ran along a line afterwards taken up by Cowan Terrace, the west wall ran south along Ryhope Road and the east wall south from the end of what would later become Park Lane. These east and west walls met at a point just opposite Christ Church, which of course was not there then. In the middle stood the mansion house.

   Beyond the north wall were two fields or closes as they were called, which were also part of the estate. On one of these fields Park Lane Bus Station now stands whilst the other one was bought by George Hudson, the Railway King, when he was laying down his branch line from Penshaw to the Docks in 1852. The total area of the estate was 13 acres. Near the north wall was a two-storey coach house. This Cowan fitted out as classrooms and built more to the west of it. This became the School House and the mansion house became the residential quarters of Cowan and the boarders.


   The Grange School opened in 1830 with about 50 boarders and as many day scholars. There was now plenty of playground space and great stress was laid upon sport with football being introduced as an organized game. Perhaps this was the very start of this in the Sunderland area. Cricket and handball were also played and the School Prospectus emphasised that safe sea bathing under proper supervision was available. The food, which was prepared by Dr. Cowan's mother, was reported as good and substantial.

   In 1833 James Cowan visited Glasgow University to see four of the school's old boys, including Tom Taylor of Sunderland. They were presented with the sixteen top prizes of the year. This enhanced the reputation of the school north of the border and from then on a large percentage of the boarders were Scottish boys mostly from influential families. The University's Professor of Languages sent his three sons and the Grange went from strength to strength becoming the most important boarding school in the north of England. Sunderland at that time was in a favourable geographical position for Scottish scholars as there was no railway then from Scotland to the south of England where most of the public schools were. To get to Sunderland, the boys from Glasgow used to take a coach to Edinburgh, then by sea from Leith to the Tyne and, finally, another coach from Newcastle to Sunderland. They only returned home in the summer break, other holidays being spent at the Grange.

   By 1845 the school was at the peak of its popularity, having 160 boarders and turning down scores of applications every year. It seemed as though everyone wanted their son to be educated by Dr. Cowan. The fees were high and Cowan was able to purchase an estate near Kirkcudbright in Scotland.

   Then tragedy struck. On Wednesday, 15th October 1845, a party of 38 boys and 4 masters went on a bathing expedition. They left the grounds by the east gate, crossed over by the quarry on Bildon Hill and went down to Hendon Beach where they stripped and went into the sea. Three masters, all strong swimmers, went in with them with one remaining on the beach to supervise. It was a fine day, the sun shone and the sea was smooth; an ideal day for bathing. Suddenly, for some unknown reason, the sand moved under their feet and all were thrown off balance. The master immediately called them all ashore but it was seen that one of the older boys, further out, was in difficulties. A master and three boys went out to his aid. What exactly happened is not clear; two boys and the master were swept away and the other two boys were brought ashore. They were rushed to the Hendon Baths nearby but one was dead before arrival. The other three bodies were found later. Two of the boys were brothers, the sons of Sir David Baird of East Lothian. The third was also from Scotland. The parents came and took the bodies home for burial and the master, whose name was Special, was buried in the Quaker burial place in Nile Street.

   This tragedy proved a body blow to the school, forcing James Cowan to retire and in 1846 he sold the school and estate and retired to Kirkcudbright.

   His successor, Dr Iliff, from Liverpool, was a capable schoolmaster but seemed to carry little luck. In spite of the tragedy, most of the Scottish boarders returned and a small number had followed Iliff from the Liverpool area. However, in his very first year, an epidemic of fever broke out on the school and one boy died. The school was closed and all the boys were sent home. This was the final blow; this time many of the boarders did not return.

   Iliff struggled on for a few years but was forced to sell out in 1853. Shortly afterwards, the estate was laid out for building sites and The Esplanade, Grange Crescent, St. George's Square and later Cowan Terrace came into existence. The School House served as a school for some years before being taken over by a coach builder and the Mansion House itself became a school. It was still in use as such until the outbreak of World War ll in 1939 but later West Park Central was built adjoining the Mansion House on its east side. Today most of the estate is taken up by the Civic Centre.

   It can, of course, only be conjecture - but who knows?  But for that tragedy on Hendon Beach in October 1845 and the subsequent retirement of James Cowan, Sunderland might today have a prominent public school to match the likes of Eton and Harrow.



The Civil War

Sunderland coal trade had grown so rapidly that, by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, the Wear was producing almost a quarter of that produced on the Tyne and Sunderland had become the second most important coal port in the country. It was now a place of prime importance in the English economy and was to play a key role in the forthcoming struggle.

   Before the war broke out both sides made preparations and in June 1642 King Charles I appointed William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle, to the position of Lord Lieutenant of both Northumberland and Durham. He was thus in charge of the military forces of both counties and in July he placed a Royalist garrison in Newcastle. All those opposed to the King were removed from positions of authority. The great majority of the people of Newcastle were in favour of Parliament but they were helpless in the face of the military strength. As soon as war started all the key points in both counties were taken over by the King's forces and the magistrates of each county met and formed themselves into Commissioners of Array to raise transport and supplies for the King. The only voice at Durham against this move was that of George Lilburne, the Mayor of Sunderland. He was at once cast into jail as an enemy of the King, where he was to stay for two years, initially in Durham and then York. Sunderland was therefore in the hands of the Royalists from the start.

   The supply of coal to London was immediately banned but the Royalists expected to sell coal to Scotland, Ireland and the continent and so be able to purchase munitions of war. Unfortunately for them, the Navy declared for Parliament and the Tyne and Wear rivers were blockaded. The trade of Sunderland practically came to a standstill with mines being allowed to run down and become flooded and derelict.

   For the first eighteen months the war went steadily against Parliament. Several schemes were devised to get hold of the coal ports but they came to nothing. Then Sir Harry Vane of Raby took a masterly step. He came to an arrangement with the Scots whereby they would raise an army on the side of Parliament and, in exchange, a Presbyterian form of government would be established over the English Church.

   The Scots crossed the border at the beginning of 1644 and the Royalists retreated in front of them. Then finding Newcastle garrisoned and prepared to resist behind its strong walls, the Scots by-passed it, crossed the Tyne and captured Sunderland on 4th March 1644. This not only gave them possession of the second most important coal port in the country but also provided them with a harbour to supply their own army. Sir William Armyne, the Parliamentary Commissioner came in with the Scots and set up his headquarters in the town. The Scots army encamped on the West Pann Field which later would become Bridge Street and Gillbridge Avenue.

   In order to get the coal trade moving, Parliament bargained with the Royalists for the release of George Lilburne. They offered a prominent Royalist prisoner in exchange. This was accepted and George returned to his home. He found the mines in a terrible state but did all he could. The chief mine at Harraton was not brought back into production until three years later in 1647.

   The Royalists made several attempts to dislodge the Scots from Sunderland. Several skirmishes took place a few miles from the town but they were indecisive. At last the Royalists were forced to retire south and the Scots followed them, leaving a strong garrison in Sunderland.

   As soon as the main Scottish army left the district the Royalists at Newcastle, led by the Earl of Montrose, took the offensive, initially taking Morpeth and Shields before turning on Sunderland. However, the keelmen and seaman of the town armed themselves, placed cannon in position and, under the leadership of Colonel Charles Fairfax, routed the enemy and drove them back in confusion to Newcastle.

   When the news of this engagement reached Westminster, the members were delighted and on 3rd June 1644, they voted the Sunderland seamen £200 for their ‘affection and fidelity.' This notice appears in the Commons Journal Vol III.

   On 2nd July, the Royalists were defeated at the great Battle of Marston Moor, outside York and the main Scots army was able to return to Durham. In August the siege of Newcastle began and in October it capitulated and the two northern counties then came under the control of Parliament. In Newcastle, Royalist supporters were replaced by Puritans and the policy of the city became bitterly opposed to the King's cause. Their Member of Parliament, John Blakiston, was one of the 59 men who signed the King's death warrant.

   Sunderland settled down to a normal life and George Lilburne became one of the chief Parliamentary agents in the County.

Recent Donations

Mrs E. Shutt                              Glaholm & Robson Ltd - reference 1918 rope factory

Mrs Lythgoe, Scarborough       Family Tree of James Wolfe, 

Mrs M. Milburn, Sunderland    Collection of notes, books to be known as G.E. Milburn Collection. Election cartoons and two portraits of James Laing

Mrs Bown, Sunderland             Framed Photograph of Sunderland Albion 1889

Fred Skinner                              Chester Road School class photos 1947 and 1952

Marcus Bedingfield, Kent         Booklet - The Chatham Air raid 3rd Sept 1917 with local northern casualties.

Brian Dolman                                Photographs of old Sunderland           

For Sale

One of the Society's members, Michael Bute has recently published his latest book - The Olympian.  It is the story of boxer Tony Jeffries and his coach and also covers the history of local boxing in the east end of Sunderland. It currently retails at £12.99 but is now available for members of the Society for £10.00. Order from Michael Bute, 153 Lynthorpe, Ryhope, Sunderland.

Council Members

President: Mr D.W.Smith

Vice Presidents: Mr F. Lowes, Mr R. Lawson, Mrs C. Davison

Secretary/Editor: Mr P. Curtis

Treasurer: Mr R. Hope

Newspapers/photographs: Mr R. Lawson, Mr P. Phipps

Librarian: Mrs C. Davison      Map Archivist: Mr Norman Kirtlan

Donations Secretary: Mr George Prince

Membership Secretary: Mr R. Davison

Minutes Secretary: Mrs M. Saunders

Council Members:  Mr D. Bridge, Mr P. Cramm,  Mr J. Cheeseborough,             Mr M. Chadwick, Mr C. Metcalf,  Mr C. Slater, Miss P. Tate


   Membership subs are paid annually. They are £15 for an individual and £25 for husband and wife.  If your subs are due in April please forward same to the Treasurer, Mr R. Hope, 25 St. Gabriel's Avenue, Sunderland, SR4 7TF. This entitles you to 6 bi-monthly newsletters per annum, a programme of events/talks and a free booklet on an aspect of Sunderland's History (published annually).  There will also be varied membership access to the website in due course. New members are most welcome and should send subs to Treasurer who will arrange a welcome pack to be sent out.