Port of Sunderland

Aerial view taken using a drone of the roundhouse and turntable © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Fragments of transfer-printed biscuit ware pottery ‘wasters’ © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Interior of one of the excavated inspection pits © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023

In 2021-22, Archaeological Research Services Ltd undertook archaeological excavations on the site of Hendon Sidings at the Port of Sunderland Enterprise Zone on behalf of Esh Construction prior to the commencement of engineering works, including alterations to existing access routes and reprofiling of the area. The site, covering c.5.73ha in total, is located within the east end of Sunderland and the South Docks of the Port of Sunderland.

The Port of Sunderland was first established in the late 12th century but grew significantly in the early 17th century with the exportation of salt and the coal trade. The opening of the Durham and Sunderland Railway in 1836 facilitated the extension of the Durham Coalfield, providing demand for a more substantial dock. In 1846, construction of the South Dock began, which was opened in 1850. It was extended further to the south with the addition of Hendon Dock in 1859. By this time, it served as the main port for the Durham Coalfield and became the most successful port on the north-east coast. The engine turntable and roundhouse were constructed in 1875 to replace an earlier, smaller engine shed and likely included an additional boiler house, as well as workshops, offices and storerooms. The County Series Map from 1897 shows the roundhouse (‘Engine Shed’) and the ‘straight’ engine sheds to the west (also labelled ‘Engine Shed’) which were both located during the archaeological investigations. At this time, the site was also occupied by a network of railways and a goods station known as ‘South Dock Station’.

The excavations revealed the remains of the sub-square roundhouse and its associated turntable, which had been constructed in 1875 to replace an earlier, smaller engine shed. No remains survived of the pre-roundhouse structures. The site was initially reclaimed in the 1840s and built up using material brought into the site, which included biscuit-fired ‘wasters’ and fragments of kiln furniture from the nearby Sunderland Pottery. The below-ground remains were found to be well-preserved and included the iron fittings associated with the mechanical structures of the turntable pit, inspection pits for any engines or carriages, culverts, and three ‘straight’ engine sheds and associated structures constructed in the late 19th century.

In the late 1960s the roundhouse was demolished and the engine sheds underwent reconstruction and refurbishment as steam engines were completely replaced by diesel engines—which were too large and heavy for the turntable. Later, the sidings gradually fell out of use resulting in the demolition of many of the ancillary structures and removal of the tracks.

A report on the results of the excavations in Industrial Archaeology Review was published online on 15 November 2023: https://doi.org/10.1080/03090728.2023.2266952

To find out about the features and finds discovered at the site please use the links to the right. You can also use the ‘Links and Downloads’ page to access the project report.


Location and site plan - Port of Sunderland © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Plan of the roundhouse, turntable and engine sheds © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Photogrammetric image of the roundhouse and turntable © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
The bed for the tracks within one of the engine sheds © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Archaeological Research Services Ltd