Site review – 18th August 2017


Dave Jackson explaining findings

Visitors and volunteers attended the site at 1pm  on 18th August, to hear Dave Jackson, the lead archaeologist from Wardell-Armstrong explain the site findings at the ‘close of dig’ meeting.

A fuller explanation of Wardell-Armstrongs findings will be published as soon as we receive the report.

The site excavation produced lots of finds mostly dating from the 1800’s and 1900’s consisting of bricks, small shaped stones, clay pipe fragments, bits of pottery, glass and rusted metal items (that look like big nails or tools).  Dave explained that the river must have been used by Romans due to their activity in South Shields and Chester le Street, but on this initial site excavation no evidence of Roman activity had been found and there were no finds unearthed dating to the period of the Romans in Britain . He realised that would disappoint many people, but explained that what had been found was very interesting.

Washing finds (M.Rainford)

Volunteers washing and looking at finds (M.Rainford)

The archaeologists produced a detailed drawing of the stones they had excavated along the river bank and reached the conclusion, along with the findings of Gary Bankhead (Durham University) that this was the site of Wighams Ship Repair yard.

There is lots of information on the Searle Sunderland site about Wighams Ship Repair yard and the information can be found by following this link : Wighams Ship Repair

Drawing of excavated site prepared by Wardell – Armstrong

Dave explained that he hoped that with the re-discovery of this site that there would be renewed interest in this the history of South Hylton and this site and that knowledge of Sunderland’s very important history of ship building and ship repair would be expanded.

Dave explained that all along the river he could see evidence of Sunderland’s industrial past just slowly rotting and being over taken by vegetation.

Dave explained that while the dig was in progress so many visitors to the site had talked to him and explained their memories of the river and the industry – shipbuilding – potteries and glass making – and that he had been impressed with the level of interest in the project and with the potential to discover more about the River Wear in Sunderland.

Volunteers attending the end of site meeting agreed, especially as the Tall Ships visit Sunderland next year and Sunderland has entered a bid to be City of Culture. Everyone felt that tis project is very relevant to both of these events.

Dave explained to the group that this dig needed further follow up, especially after the findings in the river by Gary Bankhead earlier in the day. Gary found some interesting artefacts in the river that need to be followed up.

Gary Bankhead getting ready for his dive. ( K.Cockerill)

Gary with The Shipwrights in background ( K.Cockerill)

Gary found (on the south side near to the dig site)  that there are huge timbers with railway lines attached extending some 21 meters at an angle from south west to north east.  It is thought that this rail line was for hauling ships up on to the bank for repair and slipping them back into the water.

He also found a huge circular timber in the centre of the river and we don’t know what this was used for or who placed it there.

Gary’s  most exciting find was some intact large worked stones on the north side of the river and it may well be that these are Brigg Stones still in situ but they need further investigation to confirm what they are. Theses stones are along from, but on the same river bank, as the location shown on the old map below.

Map Bridge Stones

We have now been able to put some video of Gary at work on our Facebook page Sunderlands Forgotten Stones and on our Twitter stream Briggstones@Norman 2225.

The meeting finished with a discussion of the next phase of the project which will take place in October (probably the week before half term and the week of half term) in a field in North Hylton located near to Ferry Boat Lane.

Dave showed everyone a photograph that had been taken during the 1970’s with some interesting crop marks and it will be this field that will be investigated.

More news will follow concerning this site when we receive the itinerary from Wardell-Armstrong.

Thanks to…

Many thanks to the staff of Wardell-Armstrong, Gary Bankhead and the volunteers who have helped to start to make sense of this site. It was not the best site to work on as it was very wet and muddy. Sometimes due to the time of the low tide the archaeologists and volunteers reached home very late and had to set off again very early the next day.

Thanks to the volunteers who helped along side the professionals with the actual dig and then with sorting and cleaning the finds.

Thanks to the volunteers took photographs and posted them to Facebook, or sent them to this site so anyone who could not make it down to South Hylton could still keep up with what was happening.

We must also mention and thank the visitors who brought cups of tea, sweets, and biscuits. The staff and volunteers working on the river bank really appreciated the care and thoughtfulness.

Hopefully, we can do it all over again in October when the next site becomes active – please keep watching this website for more news.