The lovely burg of Sunderland, found at the mouth of the River Wear, is one of the most beautiful and historic areas of Tyne and Wear. Many English towns have origins that date back over a thousand years into the days of Norman Conquests and Saxon lords. Sunderland, however, beats nearly every town in the United Kingdom in terms of history with its vast age dating back to the Stone Age! In other words, Sunderland was inhabited during a time when most of the world was still covered in ice and civilization as we know it was a distant dream in the Neolithic minds of our ancestors.
One of the most awe-inspiring locales of Sunderland actually lays just outside of the town limits. Hastings Hill is a suburb of Sunderland but one wonders if the residents that live there now are fully aware of what Hastings Hill used to be. Over five thousand years ago early settlers used the area as a ritual burial ground and many, many dead bodies were buried beneath what are now strip malls and parking lots. An Indian burial ground is one thing but a caveman burial ground?
Sunderland didn't become a town in the true respect until around the 1200s. This is when ship-making began to become the main business of the town although in those days that part of the town was known as Wearmouth. Either way, the town quickly rose in prominence as more and more merchants crafted better and better ships. The town also discovered a rather brilliant form of coal panning and this contributed further to the fortunes of the town.
Unfortunately, every town has its own special tragedy that occurred within its walls and Sunderland has a doozy: The Victoria Hall disaster is one of the most horrific scenes in English history and it took place right within peaceful Sunderland. The Victoria Hall, a beautiful, ornate concert hall, entertained and enthralled the citizens of Sunderland consistently until the fateful day in June of 1883 when the unimaginable happened: Over one hundred and eighty children died within the Hall. In truth, the event is rather strange. Apparently a bunch of children were allowed into the Hall because of some youth-oriented variety show. There was a staircase that led down to a door that only opened wide enough to allow one child to slide through at a time. For some reason the children were promised candy that was stored on the other side of the door and the children all bum-rushed the door. The kids in front were crushed and couldn't move and many of them suffocated to death. The ages ranged from as young as three to as old as thirteen but nearly two hundred children died in this very strange and very tragic event. If there is a bright side, it is that the event caused a revolution in safety across the world and created the law that insists upon a push handle emergency exit. Sunderland is a town that is filled to the brim with wonder and, although some of it is rather morbid, it is simply a testament to how well-rounded the town is.
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