Be it for good and evil, Farringdon is well known as one of Sunderland’s estates. Home to the city’s most popular and successful pub, the Dolphin, the area is known for its colorful character and sense of community. Most perceive the area as having emerged as a postwar public housing state in the 1950s and 1960s, which was indeed when “Farringdon” as we know it was built. On that note it is also assumed its name was appropriated from a London suburb of the same name. However, there is more to this than meets the eye. The Farringdon area has in fact a much longer and more established history than people realize, one which due to the small significance of the estate has largely been forgotten and given little attention by historians. In this case, here in this piece we reveal that the estate actually has a little known medieval history spanning at least 600 years, with a continuous name which evolved over time.
Our journey to confirm the existence of the historical Farringdon begun with an old map of county durham dated from the year 1611. The map lists a number of present locations in Sunderland but with differing spellings, which was normal before the printing press came into existence and configured the notion of permanent statically spelt names. On this map, we first discovered a location next to East Herrington (Harrington), Silksworth (Silksworth) and Ryhope (Riop) titled “Farnton Hall“. This is the location of the contemporary Farringdon estate. Looking this up, Google books helped highlight a number of obscure texts and parish records which detailed the presence of a Medieval Manor estate which was part of what was then Bishopwearmouth (as Sunderland in its modern conception did not exist at this point).
There were a number of sources to indicate what was present on this historic estate. A Book published in 1848 titled a “A Topographical Dictionary of England” by Samuel Lewis, describes it as a “hamlet and estate” which was “Parcel of the possessions of the Monastery of Hexham”- as well as noting that “the monks of Durham had possessions in Silksworth”. The estate and manor itself however, appears to have had a number of historical owners traceable through various records. In the year 1571 it was owned by a man named George Blakiston. Then in the year 1612 it was purchased by a family known as the Peppers, originally from Yorkshire.
The Surtees County Durham record uses the term “Farrington” as an alternative description of the land. Yorkshire history books also point out the Pepper’s ownership of the estate. We still found yet even earlier records, with a Sunderland History book from 1858 “The History and Antiquities of Sunderland” detailing the presence of Farnton Hall in the year 1440, where a man named “Robert Jakson” served as a local baliff, also owning lands in Lancaster. In this century, owners of the land also paid tribute to the Bishop of Durham, with a figure known as “William Billyngham” of “Farrington Hall” paying “100 marks” to the Bishopric in 1460.
We also found the records of some individuals who lived on this estate around the 16th century. In the year 1596, a man called “John” (no second name given), described as a servant at the manor, was executed on June 20th as a criminal. His crime was not specified. Some may obviously look back on this one with amusement. Other than this, records of the area were largely scarce. At some point, the estate was then sold to Sunderland borough council after World War II and the modern housing area was created as we know it, with both schools, shopping areas and the famous Dolphin emerging in the early 1950s as we found in Sunderland Echo archives. In the decades that followed, the history and legacy of the area has largely been lost save for a few obscure 19th century reference books, or incidental references in other books and records.
This is of course, leaves us to conclude with more questions than answers to we started with. History is a gradual process of discovery which comes in a little pieces scattered all over the place. In this article, we revealed a few fragments but certainly not a full story, revealing that a medieval estate lasting hundreds of years was present on Farringdon, with a name that was largely consistent albeit with a few variations. But where was the historic manor and where did it go? When was it first allocated and built? Who else lived here? What religious activity took place on the land? Are there any lost buildings yet to be uncovered and found? In searching offline records, lost maps, and other books, we can only conclude by acknowledging there’s so much waiting to be discovered on what we would assume had no existence beyond the 1950s.