A Sunderland Waterfront Walk Click on thumbnail to enlarge image, view caption and use slideshow options. To return to this page click on the image background This wrought iron bowstring truss bridge was constructed for the North Eastern Railway to designs by Thomas Harrison and opened in 1879. It linked that Company’s’ new Victorian-gothic Sunderland Central Station to Thomas Moore’s elegantly classical 1839 Monkwearmouth Station built across the river as a terminus to the Brandling Junction Railway.Originally constructed to carry railway tracks above a road leading to the waterfront docks at Hendon, this stone and brick bridge now shelters standing water and the inevitable dumped and wind-blown refuse.Decaying industrial buildings back what had once been an extensive area of railway sidings above the Victorian era docks, to which some curved down through cuttings to take trains to ship level. Its timber and red-rusted sheet iron works less successfully in black and white than in other structures in the coloured ‘Corrugated Iron’ gallery elsewhere on the site.Steel rail and heavy timber buffer stops once closed each railway siding. This partly burned survivor stands amongst drying grasses and a sprinkling of wild flowers.Railway tracks once ran through curving concrete walled cuttings to connect the quayside to storage sidings on the high ground above and to the national rail network beyond. Those wood-shuttered surfaces rising to some fifteen feet provide long galleries on which graffiti artists create complex and colourful compositions on a grand scale.Sunderland’s Hudson North Dock opened in 1837, the South Dock followed in 1860 and Hendon Dock in 1868. Here, the ‘Border Thistle’ passes through the narrow link between the latter two. Much of the area is the waste ground from past usage and industry from which some structures survive alongside more recent developments.A 3,248 gross tons oil tanker, the ‘Border Thistle’ was launched by the Dutch shipbuilders Scheepswerf Damen in 2005. When photographed in 2007, it was owned by Darwin Shipping, sailed under the British flag and was registered in Douglas on the Isle of Man.The fishing village of Sunderland at the mouth of the River Wear was granted a Royal Charter in 1179. Recorded shipbuilding began in 1346 and came to an end in 1988: few traces remain. In the mid-nineteenth century there were over sixty yards along the river. Sunderland was thought to be the world’s largest ship building town when during WW2 it built over a quarter of all British ships.From 1820, J.L.Tompson & Sons built ships in their North Sands yard towards the river mouth. In the 1930’s they produced a simple coal-fired, steam powered, cargo ship to a standard design that sold well. In 1940, Britain contracted construction of 60 of them to American shipyards where its simplicity was developed further as the basis for the 2,751 ‘Liberty Ships’ built by 1945. Two operational vessels survive.Coal was mined extensively in the northeast and transported by sea from Sunderland and Newcastle. Iron railed wggonways and steam locomotives were developed to link collieries to riverside coaling staithes. These last were timber structures that decanted coal from the trains of chauldron wagons into the holds of waiting ships. The ‘Tanfield Railway’ gallery shows a surviving stretch of track that once linked its Colliery to the River Tyne.Shanks & McEwan was incorporated in 1880 as a construction company but in recent years operates as a waste management company, shedding the ‘McEwan’ in its title. Their steel skips, perhaps used to contain metal scrap, have themselves been consigned as waste to be recycled.An immense pile of sheet aluminium scrap was one of a number sorted by metal and form such as steel cable and heavy castings from old machinery. The crane grab lay idle for the day, better to show its sculptural form.A couple of relatively new and quite slender cranes also idled, their long-legged undercarriages running on railway tracks set into the dockside concrete. This is a detail from one of the two counterweights of the pivoting jib straddling the cabin. I liked the enhanced contrast that the crisp edges and the strong blue and yellow colours brought to the crane’s component shapes and forms.The shipyards have gone and most of their sites have been redeveloped. On the opposite bank, part of the Sunderland University campus and The National Glass Centre stand on what was once the North Sands site of the J.L.Thompson & Sons yard. Looking over the promenade railings at low tide it is possible to see remnants of the slipways on which their ships were built and launched.Two cranes stand aligned, both sections in the composition allowing a mental reconstruction of a complete machine.The Liberty and Boy Daniel are two small fishing vessels. The crew of the former was busy loading equipment and supplies as they prepared to put to sea. Similar vessels and smaller coble boats used extensively for inshore fishing were moored nearby. Image 17 shows a detail from one of them and its stack of wood-framed lobster pots.The coble is a wooden clinker-built open fishing boat peculiar to the coast of northeast England. Its high bow and curving sides aid seaworthiness and its flat bottom allows easy launch and return on a sloping beach. Motor driven, its propeller below the flat undercut stern is protected by twin keels. A spar can be rigged from prow to mast as support to a canvas awning set to protect its crew from the elements.Thomas Wilson was the engineer who designed the site’s first bridge that opened in 1796. Its cast iron span of some 240 feet was then a major engineering achievement and lasted until heavily overhauled by Robert Stephenson in 1857. The current steel arch bridge designed by Mott, Hay & Anderson (the designers of Newcastle’s contemporary Tyne Bridge) was constructed over and around its predecessor and opened in 1929.