Old Sunderland


Going to Sunderland to look for the tall ships introduced me to a very different side of the city – the Georgian remnants of the old town, much closer to both the river and the original seafront than the modern town centre.

The first glimpse was a lovely terrace that I walked past on the way to the museum – maybe the early Victorian tail end of an originally Georgian development, but not something I expected to see there, anyway!

Georgian Terrace

Sunderland was officially part of Bishopwearmouth, further up the river, until it became a separate parish with the building of Holy Trinity Church in 1719, on the edge of the Town Moor.

Holy Trinity church

The church was holding a Georgian Festival as part of the tall ships events, although there wasn’t very much going on there by the time I turned up – you couldn’t get into the church itself except as part of a guided tour, as there is work going on to turn it into a community venue, but there were various stalls in the garden, and I was sad to see I’d missed a Collingwood talk the day before.

Next door are the buildings of the Donnison School, opened in 1798 to provide free education to poor girls.

The Donnison school

Next door again is the most striking Age of Sail landmark, the Trafalgar Square almshouses.

Trafalgar Square almshouses

These are really early Victorian, built in 1840 as housing for retired seamen and their dependents – but the style is still perfectly Georgian, no Victorian ornamentation.

Trafalgar Square plaque

The fancy arms are essentially Nelson’s – the sailor and lion as supporters are his, and the crown and ship and chelengk at the top, however unrecognisable, and the left hand oval with the Nelson cross and the motto of the Order of the Bath around it, and his own motto at the bottom – but the right hand oval, with apparently three sheep’s heads and the back of a possible elephant, eludes me.

Trafalgar Square trustees

A more recent addition is a monument to the men of Sunderland who served at Trafalgar, listed by their ship – this dates to 2010, which presumably makes it part of the Collingwood celebrations, rather than the Trafalgar bicentenary 5 years earlier.

Trafalgar memorial

The tall ships in Sunderland


In all this month’s running about I did manage an afternoon at the tall ships in Sunderland – helpfully arranged for a weekend when I had to be in Newcastle anyway, although sadly I was busy at the time of the parade of sail.

I’m never quite sure if this counts as an Age of Sail experience or not – so many of the ships are so new, in design as well as build – but it is nice to see a harbour full of masts.

Wear bridges

I was pleased to see that some of my old friends were there. Sørlandet was built in the 1920s, and is made of steel – but she’s beautiful, and apparently the oldest full-rigged ship still sailing. Plus I’ve still got a soft spot for anything Norwegian – I first met her in the southern part of Norway which she’s named after.


Shtandart is something quite different from most of the other ships around, a replica of a Russian frigate from 1703 with the modern engines and so on kept well out of sight. I really lost my heart to her when she was the only ship making any attempt to *sail* in the parade of sail at Kristiansand, but she’d already been putting on a good show before that.


And I always seem to end up taking a picture of Alexander von Humboldt, because of the beautiful green sails – but it’s an Age of Sail name, too. (There was also a small ship called Captain Cook, but I didn’t manage to get a good photo of that.)

Alexander von Humboldt

It’s always interesting as well to get to wander about parts of a harbour that you usually don’t – I got much closer to this old building than I did when I was walking the coast, although I’m still not sure what it was used for.

Old harbour building

The local museum was running an Age of Sail exhibition to tie in with the visit of the ships, so I went up there – although advertised as Nelson and Collingwood there was a bit more of a Nelson focus than I expected in the north-east, but then in a place that has always been in competition with Newcastle that’s maybe not surprising at all!

Museum exhibition

The star of the show was the famous Nelson portrait, borrowed from London – they also had the Collingwood portrait from the Discovery Museum, and some quite impressive paintings of the battle. Apart from that there was less than I was expecting – local reports, and the silver kettle presented to Collingwood by the Corporation of Newcastle – but it was all interesting to see.

Hutton Memorial Garden


I am regularly surprised by the number of secrets Edinburgh manages to conceal – the latest being a little memorial garden to the geologist James Hutton, tucked away just behind one of the university sports halls, where I’ve delivered exam papers dozens of times, but invisible until you know it’s there.

Hidden garden

Hutton was born and brought up in Edinburgh, attending the Royal High School and the university before going to study medicine in Paris and Leiden, although his family had Berwickshire roots, and it was while living on a family farm in the Borders that he first became interested in geology.

He returned to live in Edinburgh in 1770, to a house in St John’s Hill on the site of the current garden, which was a fashionable area on the edge of the old town at the time. (It’s just on the edge of respectability now – St John’s Hill itself is all fairly new flats, but the garden has university buildings on one side and the road running up to the Dumbiedykes flats on the other.)

Hutton plaque
Memorial garden description

The main block is carved with Hutton’s most famous statement, ‘no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end’ – geological processes, as he saw them, were never in a finished state, but constant – rocks were being worn away now to be deposited elsewhere later, as today’s rocks had been deposited in the past, while pressure and heat were distorting and transforming rocks in the same ways as could be seen in ancient rocks.

Hutton inscription

The smaller rocks are from locations where he had made discoveries supporting his ideas – schist from Glen Tilt with granite veins running through it, where the granite has penetrated older rock while molten, and conglomerates from near Dunblane containing pebbles of older rocks.