The First Mayor of Sunderland

Andrew White Esq MP

Andrew White, of Frederick Lodge, Sunderland, and Tunstall Lodge, county Durham, first and three times Mayor of Sunderland, Member of Parliament, Borough and County Justice, and a Deputy-Lieutenant for the county of Durham, was born in Sunderland in the year 1788. He was a son of John White, of Thorny Close, Durham, the most extensive shipowner in Sunderland at that time, a colliery owner, and the proprietor of the Bishopwearmouth Iron Works a gentleman of large means and philanthropic spirit, who built at his own cost the Wesleyan Schools in Hendon Road.

After receiving a sound education (he was a pupil of Rev. John Hayton), Andrew White early entered upon a business and public career. Together with his brother Richard, he was taken into partnership by his father, and the firm became John White and Sons. Endowed with more than average ability, and the happy possessor of a genial and polished manner, he was not long in making his influence felt in the good town of Sunderland. When in 1835 an agitation arose for taking advantage of the Municipal Reform Act, he was the chosen champion of the Municipal party. Although Bishop Morton had in 1634 vested the government of the town in a “Mayor, twelve Aldermen, and Commonalty” all duly elected and acknowledged by the State the charter had fallen into disuse, and a strong faction now objected to the formation of a council without a special Act of Parliament. Mr. White, however, presided at a meeting on the 16th December, 1835, and, strengthened by the opinion of the then Attorney-General, the meeting unanimously resolved to take advantage of the Act. An opposition meeting was held on the 17th, when Mr. R. Pemberton, Mr. Fenwick, and Mr. Featherstonehaugh, together with some of their friends, strongly opposed the resolution adopted at the previous meeting. Their objections were, however, overruled, and on December 26, 1835, the first election of councillors for the newly-constituted borough of Sunderland took place.

The subject of our sketch was returned at the head of the poll for two wards the Bishopwearmouth and the West Wards his brother Richard being returned for the Ward of St. Michael, also at the head of the poll.

The first meeting of the Council was held on December 31st, and at a subsequent meeting on New Year’s Day, 1836, Mr. Andrew White was chosen first Mayor, and Mr. Ritson Town Clerk. On this occasion the ladies of Sunderland presented the Mayor with an elaborate silken banner on which was emblazoned in letters of gold the statement that he was “the pride of his native borough.” This banner, at a later date, Mr. White presented to the Corporation, and it now occupies a conspicuous position in the New Municipal Buildings.

The chief magistracy, however, was not to be an enviable position, for on the first occasion that Mr. White took his seat at the head of the Bench he was hustled, and a demonstration was made, more against the office than the occupier of it. The county magistrates declined to recognise the Mayor’s authority, and the battle waged long and furiously; but Mr, White held his court at a different hour to the opposition until he was left in undisputed possession of the field. He was re-elected Mayor on the 9th Nov. 1836, but retired in July, 1837, to fill the more important position of Member of Parliament for the borough. The new member sat in the Whig interest, his colleague being Mr. Thompson, a Conservative. As showing the contrast between past and present elections, it may be mentioned that Mr. White’s election expenses on that occasion amounted to £16,000!

From this time new honours came thick and fast. Mr. White was made a deputy-lieutenant of his county, was present at the coronation and marriage of his Sovereign, and presented her with a congratulatory address from the borough of Sunderland on the occasion of the birth of the Princess Royal. For many years he held a prominent position in the county, taking a leading part in all philanthropic movements. It was an annual custom of his at Christmas time to entertain to dinner in his town house, Frederick Lodge, the whole of the chimney sweeps of Sunderland a portion of the community at that time in anything but affluent circumstances.

Severe losses in winning coal came upon him in the closing years of his life, and he retired from all public work. Mr. White, who died in 1856, had no offspring, and the only male representative of his family in the North of England is Mr. John White, of Claremont Terrace, Newcastle, who is the only son of Andrew’s brother and partner, Mr. Richard White (Mayor of Sunderland in 1840). Some younger brothers went to reside in the South of England early in life, and many of their progeny now occupy exalted positions in the Church and Army.

Our portrait is taken from an engraving of Bewick’s painting of Mr. White whilst Member for Sunderland, now in the possession of his great-nephew, Mr. J. Holmes White, of Newcastle.

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