Monkwearmouth and its Records

Historical Background of Monkwearmouth and its Records

by Ken Coleman

Originally built as a monastery, much has been written about Monkwearmouth St. Peter’s, and its fame and reputation as the seat of learning and religion during the Saxon ages may be viewed as a legitimate object of historical research. However, as the focus of this review is to deal not with the Church but more with its parishioners who resided around the mouth of the river Wear, it is felt that a potted history will suffice.

Around 674 AD, in the fourth year of the reign of Egfrid, King of Northumberland, Benedict Biscop obtained a grant of land on the north bank of the river Wear, on which he built a monastery and dedicated it to St Peter, the chief of the Apostles. The ground is believed to have been quite considerable in extent, amounting to some 15 square miles. In about 689, at the tender age of seven a young boy named Bede was brought to the monastery and committed to the care of Benedict, under whom and his successor Ceolfrid he was carefully instructed for twelve years. At the age of nineteen he was ordained deacon and became exemplary at that early age for his piety and studious life. Ordained a priest at thirty, he published his ‘Ecclesiastical History’ in 731 at the age of forty nine, and died in 735 having being bestowed with the title of Venerable Bede.

In the latter part of the eighth century, the Danes in one of their many predatory incursions, subjected the monastery at Wearmouth to merciless avarice, destroying every ornament of the church, slaying the monks and setting the building on fire. At this time, Christianity was almost extinct; very few churches were built for nearly two hundred years afterwards. After a degree of reparation, the monastery once again suffered extensive damage, firstly from the vengeance of William the Conqueror on account of the murder of Robert Comyn, a Norman baron whom the Northumbrians had slain during an insurrection, and then shortly afterwards in 1070 when Malcolm, King of Scotland laid waste the whole neighbourhood.

In 1084 in the eighteenth year of his reign, King William the Conqueror decreed that the monks of Jarrow and Wearmouth be received by the bishop, and their liberties, customs and dignities be restored. From this period Wearmouth became a cell for three or four monks only, at the Benedictine order, subordinate to the Abbey of Durham.

It was during the rule of Bishop Pudsey of Durham (1153-1197), that the parishes of Monkwearmouth and Bishopwearmouth were integrated under a charter of privileges. Through the unification of these two settlements sundered (eroded) from each other by the river Wear, the town of Sunderland came into being.

In 1358, Bishop Hatfield leased the borough of Sunderland with the fisheries in the Wear to Richard Hedworth of Southwick for twenty years. For many years religious life continued relatively uninterrupted in the area against the background of the Hundred Years war with France; intermittent wars with Scotland and Wales, and the Black Death.

In 1384, Richard II, on account of his devotions to St Cuthbert the titular saint of Durham, granted leave to export coals from the mines without paying any duties to the corporation of Newcastle. This was speedily taken advantage of and in 1395 coals were shipped to Whitby in Yorkshire from Sunderland and neighbouring ports at a rate of three shillings and four pence per chaldron of thirty-six bushels. In the year 1421, it was enacted that the ‘keels’ (an ancient Saxon word for a ship or vessel) carrying coals to the colliers (coal-carrying ships) should measure exactly twenty chaldrons, to prevent fraud in the duties payable to the King. In 1464, Edward IV granted the borough with the passage of the river, and the fisheries to Robert Bertram to which the King provided his lease with a ferry boat.

For centuries small wooden sailing ships came to the Wear for coal, glass and pottery and as they arrived on the tide and moored up, they would be served by the keels which were flat-bottomed craft carrying a variety of buckets, skips and slings. The ship’s crews and the keelman would unload the tons of sand ballast from far-away beaches. As each keel was filled it made its way to the bank where the sand would be dumped on dry land.

In 1590, Bishop Hutton leased the borough, the ferry boats and the fisheries to Ralph Bowes Esq., of Barnes. After the statute of Henry VIII by which the palatine jurisdiction was restrained and mutilated, Sunderland became a place of considerable note; and about the latter end of the reign of Elizabeth, the coal trade began to find its way into the Wear. It may be of interest to note that in 1609 Sunderland exported 11,648 tons of coal.

Seventeenth Century

Shortly after Charles I was crowned in Edinburgh in 1633 Bishop Morton desirous of encouraging the rising trade of the borough, incorporated the burgesses and inhabitants by the title of Mayor, twelve Alderman and Commonality of the Borough of Sunderland, and granted the privilege of a market and annual fairs. Previous to this incorporation, the borough had been governed by a Bailiff appointed under the Bishop. The charter states “…that Sunderland had beyond the memory of man been an ancient borough known by the name of the New Borough of Weremouth, containing in itself a certain port where ships had plied….that the trade was then greatly increased by reason of the multitude of ships that resorted thither, and the borough anciently enjoyed divers liberties and free customs, as well as by prescription, as by virtue of sundry charters from the Bishops of Durham confirmed to them by the crown; which from defect in form proved insufficient for the support of the ancient liberties, privileges, and free customs of the borough.”

The gentlemen incorporated under this charter were (alphabetically) as follows:

MayorSir William Belasye, of Morton House, Kent

Robert Bowes, of Biddic-Waterville, Esq;
George Burgorn, of Wearmouth, Gent;
George Gray, of Southwick, Gent;
Richard Hedworth, of Chester Deannery, Esq;
Francis James, of Hetton, Esq;
Sir William Lambton, of Lambton, Kent;
William Langley, Gent;
George Lilburne, of Sunderland, Gent;
George Walton, Alderman, of Durham;
Hugh Walton, Alderman, of Durham;
Thomas Wharton, Esq;
Hugh Wright, of Durham, Esq

Common Council Men:
Thomas Atkinson; Adam Burdon; William Caldwell; Robert Collingwood; Christopher Dickenson; William Dossey; William Freeman; John Hardcastle; Humphrey Harrison; John Harrison; George Humble; William Huntley; John Husband; Thomas  Lacie; Edward Lee, of Monkwearmouth, Gent; Clement Oldcorn; Thomas Palmer; William Potts; Thomas Scarborough, William Thompson; William Wycliffe of Offerton, Gent; William Watt and Robert Young.

In 1641 a resolution of Parliament requested all males aged over 18 to take an oath in support of the Crown, Parliament and the Protestant religion, to oppose the “plots and conspiracies of priests and Jesuits” that were allegedly subverting the kingdom. Lists of those taking the oath in each parish were sent to Parliament in 1642. Most men took the oath and those who refused to sign (mostly Catholics) were sometimes also listed. The Protestation Return’ for Monkwearmouth taken on 24 February, 1641 are set out below:

Addison, John Cuth(e)bert, Richard Harrison, William Rockwood, Robert Thompson, Thomas
Addison, John Daile, George Henderson, James Rockwood, Tabat Thompson, Thomas
Ager, William Dayle, Robert Hesley, William Rockwood, Thomas Todd, John
Ammond, John Denninge, Richard Heworth, John Rowland, Francis Todd, Thomas
Amory, John Dickeson, Thomas Hickes, Richard ** Roxby, William Todd, Thomas
Anderson, Thomas Ditchburne, Ralph Hilton, John Sanderson, Ralph Todd, William
Atchinson, Edward Dodg(s)on, Thomas Hilton, Ralph Scurfield, Bernard Tongue, William
Atchinson, Edward Doweson, Richard Hilton, Robert Scurfield, William Trumble, Usward
Atchinson, Robert Drydon, Richard Hilton, Robert, Jun Seemar (?), William Trumble, Usward
Atchinson, Thomas Emmerson, John Hopper, Edward Shepherdson, Christop’r Ushaw, John
Bee, Bernard Errington, John Humble, Alexander Smith, Duke Vas(e)y, Ralph
Bell, John Fawcet, John Hunter, Thomas Smith, John Vas(e)y, Ralph
Bell, John Field, William Hunter, William Sparrow, John, Snr Wade, Richard
Bell, John Foster, John Kitchinge, Thomas Sparrow, John Wake, Richard
Bell, Nicholas Foster, Matthew Langley, John, Sparrow, Thomas Wake, Thomas
Bell, Robert Foster, Thomas Locky, John Spence, Andrew Watteson, John
Bell, Robert Foster, Thomas Lumley, Ralph Stoddard, Nicholas Wear, Anthony
Boomer, Ralph Gardiner, Richard Lumley, Thomas Story, Thomas Wear, John
Bowry, William Garret, Cuthbert Maddison, John Symy/Simey, Michael Wetherall, Richard
Brough, George Garret, Cuthbert Matthew, Toby Symy/Simey, William Whittingham, Edward
Browne, Thomas Gibson, John Matthew, William Taylor, Anthony Whittingham, Matthew
Browne, William Gibson, Thomas, Snr Miles, Nicholas Taylor, Edward Wilkinson, Cuthbert
Bubby (?), Richard Gibson, Thomas, Jun Moody, Williams Taylor, John Wilson, Robert
Burlye, William Gowland, Richard Mushtian, John Taylor, John Woods, Thomas
Calvert, Christopher Grainger, Ralph Ourde, Henry Taylor, Michael Wrangam, Henry
Cocke, John Gray, George, Snr Page, Thomas Taylor, Nicholas Wright, Lancelot
Cole, William Gray, George, Jun Pierson, John Taylor, Richard Wudel, William
Colison, Ralph Gray, John Porrat, Thomas Taylor, Thomas Wygam, Christopher
Collyer, Thomas Gray, Thomas Rea(y), John Teasdale, George Young, John
Cooper, Daniel Green, William Rea(y), Lionel Teasdale, Thomas Young, John
Cotterall, Henry Haderick, Robert Reed, Thomas Thompson, Cuthbert
Cotterall, John Hall, John Reed, William Thompson, John
Cotterall, Richard Hall, William Rickaby, William Thompson, John
Cummin, Nicholas Harrison, John Robinson, William Thompson, Robert

The names of persons refusing to take the protestation, and those at sea:

  • Melcher Hickes, at sea
  • John Hilton, Jun, absent

Papists: George Simpson, Cuthbert Wilkinson, John Coleson, Henry Dickinson, and Ralph Grainger, who is absent.
Minister: Richard Hickes** Baptized at Whitburn 9 Nov 1604, son of John Hickes, rector of Whitburn, by his wife Alice Blakiston, of University College, Oxford. Licensed to the Perpetual Curacy of Monkwearmouth 13 Sept 1638. First marriage to Dorothy Heath on 15 Dec 1631. Second wife Alicia buried in Washington on 6 May 1673. Resigned in 1662, died in 1669.
Churchwardens: Thomas Collyer, Thomas Rockwood
Constables: Christopher Shepherdson, Robert Rockwood, John Young, Thomas Wake
Overseers (for the poor): John Fawcet, Michael Symy

The Protestation Returns’ for Bishopwearmouth are also available but have not yet been transcribed.

By mid-August 1642, all hope had faded of King Charles I and Parliament mending their differences, and the end of August saw the outbreak of the English Civil War. During this unhappy contest between king and Parliament, many of the leading families within the County of Durham supported the king; whilst the middling and lower orders, for obvious reasons, warmly espoused the cause of Parliament. In 1642 the manor of Monkwearmouth had become the property of the parliamentarian Colonel George Fenwick of Brinkburn in Northumberland. His youngest daughter Dorothea (later became the Dame Dorothy after whom the street was named), married Sir Thomas Williamson. The Williamson’s came from East Markham near Nottingham and had been penalised for their support of the Royalist cause in the Civil War. Throughout the conflict, the borough of Sunderland remained entirely devoted to parliamentary interest; a circumstance which may be attributed to the commanding influence of the Lilburne family who possessed a far greater share of both property and interest than any other private family within the borough. The first of the Lilburne family who settled in Sunderland was George Lilburne. During the civil wars he acted as the only civil magistrate within the limits of the borough.

In May 1660 sees the formal restoration of the monarchy in England when Charles II is proclaimed King at the age of 30. However, for decades long before the restoration of Charles II, there were many who objected to the national church, and imbibed the principles of dissenters. From the passing of the act of uniformity in 1662, until the revolution in 1688, as many as refused to conform to the established worship, were denominated Nonconformists. Among these were about 2,000 clergy men who left the church on St Bartholomew’s day in 1662.

By the mid 1660’s, the export of coals from Sunderland had greatly increased, much to the jealousy of Newcastle men. With an intention of balancing the trade of the two ports, a fee of one shilling per chaldron (approx 1.4 tons) was imposed on all coals exported from Sunderland. In the year 1665, during the plague of London the disease was imported to Sunderland by shipping. An entry in a local parish register states:

  • “Jeremy Read, Billingham in Kent, bringer of the plague, of which died about thirty persons out of Sunderland in three months – July 5th, 1665”.

No attempt was made to organize proper harbour facilities on the Wear until the mid 17th Century, and the river’s edges were untidy-looking, especially the north bank. Before the first piers were built, the shore at Monkwearmouth was wide open to the sea, scoured by every tide, silted-up and then washed down again. Year after year, coal went out in the collier brigs and thousands of tons of sand came in. Navigation through the sand banks and mud banks was apparently not the only hazard, for it is recorded that in June 1667 “a fleet of 100 light colliers coming from Southward and in sight of Sunderland were struck by a storm with at least one half of them lost”.

In matters of religion, the country witnessed many turbulent years. Some years after Charles II secretly agreed to declare his conversion to Catholicism and subsequently to restore it to Britain, he issued his Declaration of Indulgence (March, 1672) permitting freedom of worship and assumed the right to cancel all penal legislation against both Protestants and Catholics.

Against the background of intermittent wars with Holland and France, a number of parliaments of Charles II were began and dissolved; plots of his assassinations discovered, culminating in his death in 1685. He was succeeded by his brother as James II of England and VII of Scotland. In 1688, James II issued his Declaration of Liberty of Conscience which, although professing toleration for all religions, clearly favoured Catholics. The ‘Glorious Revolution’ began when a son, James Stuart was born to James II, opening up the prospect of a succession of Catholic Kings. To counter this, Tory leaders invited the King’s son-in-law, William III of Orange, to save Britain from Catholicism. He accepted and Parliament subsequently offered the Crown to William and his wife Mary as joint sovereigns. On their accession in 1689, the name of Nonconformist was changed to that of Protestant Dissenter.

In the year 1689, Dame Dorothy, wife of Baronet Thomas Williamson bought the Monkwearmouth estates from her nephew. Upon her death in 1699, she gave the following charities, yearly, to the poor of the towns of : North Weremouth Town – 1 Pound; North Weremouth Shore – 3 Pounds; Sunderland – 2 pounds

Monkwearmouth burials, 1683-1706

  An article entitled ‘Monkwearmouth Registers, 1683-1706’ appeared in the Wearmouth Magazine for December 1882. It was written by Edward J. Taylor F.S.A. who was lent a copy of the burials from the original register by W.H.D Longstaffe, Esq F.S.A. of Gateshead. The list contains 333 burial entries over a 24-year period (an average of 14 burials per annum!), indicating the small population of the five townships.


Year Period No of burials
1683 April 6 – March 23 11
1684 April 28 – March 21 15
1685 April 19 – February 21 12
1686 April 21 – March 20 14
1687 April 3 – March 24 18
1688 April 13 – March 11 12
1689 May 6 – March 23 12
1690 March 29 – March 16 14
1691 June 25 – March 14 11
1692 April 2 – March 24 31
1693 May 6 – February 20 9
1694 April 20 – November 23 6
1695 April 23 – February 2 20
1696 April 19 – March 21 12
1697 April 4 – March 11 9
1698 April 29 – March 12 19
1699 April 27 – February 19 11
1700 June 2 – March 9 15
1701 April 14 – March 4 11
1702 May 10 – March 19 12
1703 April 13 – February 19 17
1704 April 30 – December 26 8
1705 April 2 – March 16 16
1706 March 26 – March 24 18

By the close of the seventeenth century, the export of coals from Sunderland had been greatly increased, despite the numerous tax impositions by parliament on coal exports. In 1695, five shillings per chaldron (thirty six bushels, Winchester measure) were ordered by parliament to be levied on coals. In the following years, a petition for the owners of ships were brought into parliament against this imposition; and at the same time set forth that, by a late storm, they had lost nearly two hundred sail of ships, worth upwards of two hundred thousand pounds.

Between 1704 to 1710, the average exportation of coals from Sunderland annually was 65,760 chaldrons (approx. 92,000 tons). It is interesting to compare this to the 11,648 tons a century earlier.

The River Wear Commissioners were established in 1717 to ensure that the Wear was navigable from the mouth as far as Biddick; finance for this was provided by a duty on coal and cinders (coke) loaded onto vessels on the river. The first engineer in the employment of the Commissioners was a Mr James Fawcett who, in 1719, prepared a plan of the mouth of the River Wear. This plan showed the hazards for ships entering the river to collect their cargoes of coal, lime, salt and glass. The Commissioners began construction of the South Pier in 1723; additions and alterations continued throughout the 18th century.

In 1727, the coal-owners in the county of Durham signed a seven year agreement not to sell coals to any fitter for less than eleven shillings and sixpence per chaldron. In 1738, a petition was presented to the House of Commons by the glass makers, brewers etc., of London, protesting against the excessive price of coals. On this occasion, counter petitions were sent from the coal-owners of Durham, Sunderland and Newcastle, and the fitters of these places. A rapid increase appears to have taken place in the export of coals from Sunderland between the years 1710 and 1748; the number of chaldrons shipped in the latter year amounting to 147,403 (approx. 206,000 tons). It is estimated that by 1750, there were between 500-600 keelmen on the Wear.

As previously stated, the parish of Monkwearmouth is divided into five townships viz Monkwearmouth, Monkwearmouth-shore, Fulwell, Southwick and Hilton. The township of Monkwearmouth is of great antiquity and has been universally held under lease from the Dean and Chapter of Durham. Sir Hedworth Williamson was lord of the manor and proprietor of majority of the buildings which were erected under lease from him. He died in 1789, aged about 65.  Monkwearmouth-shore is comparatavily of modern date, and owes its consequence to the extensive shipbuilding yards which during the Napoleonic war were established there. Nothing remarkable is recorded in history regarding the township of Fulwell, other than the discovery in 1759 of a gigantic human skeleton measuring nine feet six inches in length, and some Roman coins, on what was called Fulwell Hills. The township of Southwick, situated about one mile from Monkwearmouth, was an extremely pleasant village commanding fine views of the surrounding country.  The township of Hilton is situated about three miles from Monkwearmouth. Hilton Manor, with the castle, was the possession of the family of the Hiltons before the Norman Conquest, and continued over seven hundred years, to the time of John Hilton Esq., the last male heir who died there in 1746.

The Fire

The Revd. Thomas Gooday (son of Bartholomew Goodday of Penrith) was Perpetual Curate of Monkwearmouth St. Peter’s church from 1742 to 1768. He was an admirer and close friend of John Wesley the evangelist and founder of the Methodist Movement, who preached a number of times in Monkwearmouth church. The Revd. Goodday died in January, 1768 and was succeeded by the Revd. Jonathan Ivison who also welcomed Wesley. Jonathan Ivison had previously been the curate at Whitburn under Edward Hinton, rector, since 1753. In August 1774, aged 57, he married Isabella, aged 17, the youngest daughter of Mr Edward Watson, surgeon. They had several children, most of whom died in infancy. Notwithstanding the demands of his earlier years in the curacy, none could have been so torturous as 1790 when, during the early hours of a April morning,  it is believed that a candle knocked over by him had started a fire in his homely residence in Monkwearmouth Hall. The matter weighed heavily on him and possibly contributed to his death in 1792, aged 75.

The following statement appears in the inside cover of a church book entitled ‘Copy Birth Register, 1702-1790’.

Parish of Monkwearmout
County and in the Diocese of Durham 

     Be it known unto all Persons concerned that on the Twelfth day of April in the Year of our Lord One Thousand seven hundred and ninety, a terrible fire broke out in the Dwelling house of the Reverend Jonathan Ivison, Minister of Monkwearmouth in the said County which entirely destroyed the same, together with all the Household Furniture therewith belonging, and amongst other Articles, the Registers of Marriages, Christnings, and Burials belonging the said Parish (being of great Antiquity) were totally consumed, Except the Registers of marriages from the Sixteenth day of October in the Year of our Lord One Thousand seven hundred and eighty five, the Registers of Christnings from the Second day of September One Thousand seven hundred and Seventy nine, and the Registers of Burials from the First day of January One Thousand seven hundred and sixty eight, down to the time when the above fatal Accident happened.

     And Whereas at a meeting of the Principal Inhabitants of the said Parish held at the Vestry on the Fourth day of January One Thousand seven hundred and ninety one it was deem’d necessary to take the Opinion of a Learned Council in the Law, together with the Opinion of the Arch Deacon of the Diocese, what Mode was to be adopted to replace such Registers so Destroyed by the Fire, when they propos’d an Advertizement to be inserted in the Newcastle Newspapers for every person concern’d to fetch Copies of such Private Registers as they had in their Possession to the Vestry where Attendance was given by the Church Wardens and several of the Principal Inhabitants of the said Parish every Tuesday for the Purpose of Entering the same in this Book.

     We the Minister; Church Wardens and Principal Inhabitants whose names are hereunder Subscribed do upon Oath testify to the Truth of the Premises as Witness our Hands the Eighteenth day of February in the Year of our Lord One Thousand seven hundred and ninety one. Sworn at Sunderland the 18th day of February One Thousand seven hundred & ninety one. Before us:

(signed) Chrisr. Hull Jonathan Ivison Curate, Thomas Gibson Subcurate, Thos Bell &
Willm. Ettrick Joseph Yellowly (Church-Wardens); Geo. Longstaff, Thomas Burn,
Wm. Robinson Thos Cole, John Davison, Jos. Tulip Parish Clerk – parishioners

So it was that a register of births was started in January 1791, each of the churchwardens entering birth and/or baptismal information as received. Two separate registers were started, one on 25 January, the other on 8 February, 1791. Both ran concurrently throughout 1791. All the entries were made by either one of the churchwardens or by the curate Jonathan Ivison, and later by his successor, Thomas Gibson who married Jonathan’s widow Isabella.

As one would expect, the replacement entries are incomplete – after all, only a tiny minority of the population would read the Newcastle papers of the day; family Bibles might be few or memories short and, of course, as in any age, many people would simply not bother to come forward. A few notations had been inserted by the church wardens Matthew Brod(e)rick and John Avery as late as 1797.

The front cover of the register book (EP/Mo.SP 6 in the Durham Record Office) measuring 23.5 x 15cm has a label boldly marked ‘Copy of Registers for Births’ and within it a faint notation: ‘By witnesses after fire’. The “first” register begins on page 5, the previous four being blank. An example of the format showing signatures in the attested entries, is shown below:

Register of Births, Page 5

1775     Ambrose son of Edwd. & Mary Kipling of Monkwth Shore
Feb 5    Cordwainer Born Feby 5th 1775.

1777     Robt. son of the above Born July 5th 1777.
July 5

The above taken from a copy in my possession Jany 25th 1791 –
Witness my hand (signed) Edward Kipling

1765       Anna Sophia Abbs daughter of the Revd. Cooper and Ann Abbs
Dec 1     of Monkwearmouth Born Dec 1st 1765.

1769        George Cooper Abbs son of the above
Jun 23     Born June 23rd 1769

1771       Bryan Abbs son of the above
Apr 23     Born April 23rd 1771

The above taken from a copy in my possession Jany 25th 1791 –
Witness my hand (signed) Cooper Abbs

1767        Forster the son of George & Hannah Spurs of Monkwearmouth
Oct 13     Shore, mariner Born Oct 13th 1767

The baptism entries for Monkwearmouth St. Peter’s that are available on the Durham Records Online web site are a combination of entries in the surviving baptismal registers, Bishop’s Transcripts, and the various birth registers started after the 1790 fire in an attempt to recapture the earlier births.