The accompanying sketch (for which we are greatly indebted to Mr. J. G. Brown, of Sunderland) is from an old painting purporting to represent “the delightful vill of South Wearmouth,” as it appeared some seventy or eighty years ago. The painting was copied by a working painter named Richardson from an original picture by Thomas Milton, who was resident engineer of the River Wear Commissioners from 1817 to 1831. Mr. Milton was a clever artist, and painted other works besides the one we reproduce — Lambton Castle, Croft Bridge, &c.
Mr. Milton’s picture must have been executed subsequent to 1807, as Bishopwearmouth Church, which was rebuilt in that year, is represented precisely as it now appears. The old church which it superseded, and on the site of which it stands, is said to have existed ever since the days of Athelstan, the first who called himself “King of the English,” and who, on an expedition against Constantine, King of Scots, about the year 930, visited the shrine of St. Michael, on which occasion he restored to the church the ancient possessions of which it had been unjustly deprived, granted to it additional lands, and confirmed to it all its ancient privileges. By the end of last century the old church had become “so ruinous and uncomfortable” that it was determined to take it down; and the present edifice was raised upon its foundation, partly at the expense of the pewholders, and partly at that of the parish. The only part of the old church left was a portion of the chancel end. While the new church was being built, the bell was hung upon an adjoining tree, and divine service was held in a temporary structure.
The old rectory (seen to the left of the sketch) stood on the opposite side of the High Street, in the midst of shrubberies and gardens. A wall towards the north separated the ornamental ground from the extensive Rector’s Park, which stretched down towards the river Wear. The only part of the rectory buildings still left is what is said to have been the coach house, which was some time ago used as a slaughter house and joiner’s shop. Across the street, nearly opposite, was a flight of steps, now built up, leading to the church, and the bishop, at confirmation times, walked in procession this way from the rectory to the church.
In the foreground of the picture we have the rocky ravine known as Galley’s Gill, which was a very solitary place less than a century since, traversed by a rivulet commonly called the Howle-Eile Burn, which was arched over when part of the Gill was converted into a cemetery. The old Durham road, up which a man is seen driving some sheep, crossed this burn, formerly, by a wooden bridge; but at the date of our view it had been completely arched over, both where the road crossed it and for a good way further up; and the water is seen rushing down the steep bank from the mouth of the archway, through which the boys used to walk, by way of amusement, entering at the upper end and coming out at the lower, where they sometimes pushed each other down the slope into a filthy pool formed by the water at the foot of the fall. The name of Hind’s Bridge, still borne by that part of the street, is said to have been derived from a man of that name having occupied or owned some land in the neighbourhood. Most of the gardens which slope down to the Gill have long since been built upon. The whole appearance of the Gill, indeed, has been quite transformed since the time when the coal trimmers could come straight up through it from their labours, and sailors could walk down it to join their ships.