[Source: Alan Young]

Date opened: 1.6.1853

Opposite Mowbray Extension Park

Company on opening: York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway
Date closed to passengers:


Date closed completely: 4.8.1879
Company on closing:

North Eastern Railway

Present state: Although the station has been demolished the entrance and gate posts survive. A council blue commemorative plaque is mounted on wall by the entrance.
County: Durham (now Tyne & Wear)
OS Grid Ref: NZ397566
Date of visit: 16.5.2013

Notes: This station was the eastern terminus of the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway’s route from Leamside and Penshaw. A year after it opened, in 1854 the line became part of the North Eastern Railway (NER) system, as did the route of the former Brandling Junction Railway from Gateshead to its Sunderland terminus at Monkwearmouth – a remarkable edifice built in the manner of a Grecian temple. Although the NER decided not to spend lavishly on the building at the recently-opened Fawcett Street terminus it was provided with a handsome classically-inspired single-storey brick building, with sandstone quoins and decorative detail. Bill Fawcett (2003) refers to the seven-bay entrance front with moulded architraves to the windows, with cills borne on shaped brackets, the centre three bays breaking forward slightly and featuring an entrance with a well-proportioned Tuscan doorcase; the whole was topped by a well-detailed cornice with a plain stone frieze below, running round the entire building. Fawcett considers the platform frontage to be a misfit, ‘as if designed for a trainshed which did not materialise. A pair of wings thrust forward and framed a modest covered area. ‘Alongside the fine cornice and quoins were plain window openings with visually inappropriate stone lintels; later this front was extended at either end in connection with providing a platform shed, by brick screen walls terminating in rusticated stone piers.’

Eventually Sunderland was to be provided with a single principal station in the town (now city) centre. This enterprise included a new bridge over the River Wear and cut-and-cover tunnelling. Although the former terminus at Monkwearmouth was retained, in Biddle’s (1973) words, ‘it became a mere suburban station, stranded like some handsome ship in a breaker’s yard’. The Fawcett Street terminus closed on 4 August 1879 when the through station, Sunderland Central replaced it, and its building was converted into housing. After about a century in this new role Fawcett Street station building was demolished.


Despite its name the Durham & Sunderland Railway (D&S) – not via Leamside – never did reach Durham City. Its route from South Dock, Sunderland, extended through Murton to Haswell (where the Hartlepool Dock & Railway Company already had a terminus) which opened in 1836, with a branch from Murton through Hetton, Pittington and Sherburn House to Shincliffe, two miles south-east of the Durham City centre, which opened in 1839. The North Eastern Railway eventually diverted the line from Shincliffe to terminate in Durham at Elvet station in 1893.

In an Act of 27 July 1846 the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway (see ‘Old Main Line’ history) was authorised to build a line from Pensher (later known as Penshaw) to join the D&S Railway at Sunderland. The line was known as the Painshaw Branch (another variation on the spelling of Penshaw). From Sunderland as far as Penshaw the line followed the River Wear valley but its route was generally some distance from the river to avoid a meander near Hylton and to serve the communities which were growing south of the river. The line opened on 20 February 1852 for goods traffic and 1 June 1853 for passengers. The terminus in Sunderland was Fawcett Street station, which opened on the same day on the southern edge of the developing commercial centre of the town.

The Bishop Auckland branch from Leamside via Durham opened to passengers on 1 April 1857. Beyond Leamside, at Auckland Junction (later known as Leamside Junction) it swung westwards from the route to Ferryhill, crossed the River Wear on a viaduct, then sharply south-west to reach Durham City. The curious dog-leg in the route enabled the line to follow the intended course of the moribund YN&B project of 1848: see details in the section below on the ‘new’ main line. Durham City’s centre is densely built up on the narrow, steep-sided peninsula within a meander of the River Wear, dominated by the cathedral and castle; the railway did not enter this historically important area, but passed by to the north-west, where a substantial viaduct was necessary and the city’s station was found.

The Leamside – Bishop Auckland branch now provided an alternative route between Durham and Sunderland, far more convenient than via the Durham & Sunderland’s Shincliffe (for Durham) terminus – which was abandoned in 1893 when the D&S was re-routed to a terminus at Durham Elvet. On the day the Bishop Auckland branch was opened the branch from Belmont Junction to Durham Gilesgate closed to passengers: this had been opened by the N&DJ on 15 April 1844, providing the first station in Durham City.

From 1857 Leamside station enjoyed some importance as the de facto junction where trains to and from Sunderland and Durham connected with the services on London Kings Cross – Newcastle – Edinburgh main line. Fencehouses or Penshaw could equally have been awarded this status, but Leamside station, in its remote rural surroundings, was rebuilt with an island platform and bays at each end to accommodate the connecting services and allow convenient interchange by passengers. Its importance was short-lived and was suddenly removed when the new main line route between Ferryhill and Newcastle via Durham opened in 1872. Leamside station was now an extravagance, with little local population to serve; conversely the splendid Durham viaduct, originally serving only the Leamside – Bishop Auckland branch, was now a prominent feature of the main line providing a vantage point from which millions of passengers would be able to admire Durham and its cathedral.

In Sunderland the inconvenient gap between Monkwearmouth, the terminus of trains from Newcastle and South Shields on the north bank of the River Wear, and the lines from the south was closed in 1879 when in the ‘Monkwearmouth Junction’ project a bridge over the river and a tunnel under the town centre were constructed together with a new station known either as Sunderland (or Sunderland Central). From August 1879 Fawcett Street station closed and trains on the Durham line ran into the new station. The Central station also replaced the Hendon terminus, formerly used by trains to Seaham and West Hartlepool.

As with most lines in northern County Durham the Sunderland – Durham route carried large quantities of goods and mineral traffic, notably coal. Several collieries were directly linked to the line, and there were branches into shipyards and Deptford staiths on the Wear as well as to the Hudson, Henson and South docks on the coast.
Expecting that coal exports from Sunderland’s South Dock would increase, the North Eastern Railway and local authorities jointly funded the construction of the Queen Alexandra Bridge, to carry both rail and road traffic in the manner of High Level Bridge between Gateshead and Newcastle. The NER paid £325,000 (including railway approaches) while Sunderland Corporation contributed £146,000 and Southwick Council a further £11,000. The new bridge and associated lines would enable coal from the ex-Stanhope & Tyne line to reach South Dock, eliminating reversals at Washington and Penshaw, using instead a mineral line from Southwick Junction (between Washington and Boldon) over the new Queen Alexandra Bridge, then the Sunderland – Durham line from Diamond Hall Junction (just west of Millfield station). The bridge opened in 1909, but from the NER perspective it was a financial disaster since it apparently carried one coal train per day until the early 1920s when regular traffic ceased.

The 1863 Bradshaw (scroll up) refers to Sunderland Fawcett Street although it isn't named as such.. This 1887 Bradshaw does name Fawcett Street although it was closed in 1879 and trains were running into
Sunderland Central by this date

Passenger services on the Sunderland – Durham line remained frequent. However from the 1920s motor buses began to provide a more intensive service and linked the numerous mining villages and towns in north-east Durham. The ‘Old Main Line’ south of Leamside lost its passenger services in 1941. On the Sunderland – Durham route, apart from the very early loss of Frankland station, between Leamside and Durham, in 1877, casualties began with Leamside in 1953, followed by Millfield in inner Sunderland in 1955. Diesel multiple units replaced steam haulage on the route during 1957.

Further economies were exercised when Pallion and Penshaw were downgraded to ‘staffed halts’ and Cox Green became an ‘unstaffed halt’ on 14 August 1961. Passenger traffic censuses in summer 1962 and winter 1962-3 showed a respectable level of use on Monday-to-Friday of Hylton and Pallion stations, but limited traffic at the other stations, notably Cox Green. The Reshaping of British Railways (‘Beeching’) report of March 1963 recommended the withdrawal of passenger services between Sunderland, Durham and Bishop Auckland - as well as the services between Newcastle and Washington - and the official proposal of closure was published on 19 July 1963. Not a single objection was lodged to the Washington closure, which took place on 9 September 1963. BR must have been unprepared for the lack of resistance to this closure as a timetable for Usworth and Washington stations appeared in the winter 1963-4 North Eastern Region book. On 28 February 1964, having considered objections to the Sunderland – Durham – Bishop Auckland proposals, Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport, consented to the closure, and services were officially withdrawn on 4 May 1964.

The author was blissfully unaware of this development, and alighted from a Newcastle train at Durham on 15 May to catch the Sunderland train, only to be informed that the last one had gone! He decided to travel on to Darlington and Middleton-in-Teesdale instead – which was still open.

Goods services ceased between Leamside (Auckland Junction) and Durham (Newton Hall Junction) and at Finchale siding (Frankland) on 22 October 1964. The tracks into the former Fawcett Street terminus in Sunderland, which had continued as a goods facility reached from the Durham line, were severed on 3 October 1965. Goods services were retained between Penshaw and Sunderland until 21 August 1967 when they were discontinued west of Hylton Quarry sidings. In 1971 the line from Pallion to Ford paper works at Hylton was singled and ceased to be signalled when the factory closed, but Dolomite from Hylton Quarry continued to be carried until 1976 when the line was cut back to Pallion; it was officially taken out of use on 20 November 1976. The remainder of the line to Hendon, including Deptford Johnson Siding closed to goods on 27 November 1984. The section of the ‘Old Main Line’ which the Sunderland – Durham services shared between Penshaw Junction and Auckland Junction continued in goods use for some years more, but was ‘mothballed’ in 1991 and closed in 2012.

Sources and bibliography:

Tickets from Michael Stewart. Bradshaws from Chris Totty. Route maps drawn by Alan Young.

To see other stations on the Old Main Line click on the station name: Felling 2nd, Felling 3rd , Felling 1st, Pelaw 1st, Pelaw 3rd, Pelaw 4th , Pelaw 2nd, Usworth, Washington 2nd, Washington 1st, Penshaw 1st, Penshaw 2nd, Fencehouses, Rainton, Rainton Meadows (on branch), Leamside 1st, Leamside 2nd, Belmont Junction, Durham Gilesgate (on branch), Sherburn Colliery, Shincliffe & Ferryhill

See also Coxhoe (branch fpm Ferryhill)

See also: Springwell, Brockley Whins (1st site), Brockley Whins (2nd site)
& Boldon (route prior to 1850)

See also Sunderland and Durham (via Leamside):
Durham (still open), Frankland, Cox Green, South Hylton , Hylton, Pallion 1st, Pallion 2nd , Millfield 2nd, Millfield 1st, Millfield 3rd & Sunderland Central (Still open)

Station still open as part of the Tyne & Wear metro

An undated sketch of Sunderland Fawcett Street station, looking north. The façade of the main building is shown, and it partly conceals a complementary hipped-roofed building on the other platform.

1857 1:10.560 OS map. ‘Sunderland station’ is what was generally known as ‘Fawcett Street’ to distinguish it from the other termini in Monkwearmouth and Hendon. It is shown as a short branch off the route from Penshaw, to the west, which continued for freight only towards Hendon and South Dock. The station building and platform are shown north of the track. Although the area around the station is relatively open, the town centre is immediately north of the map.

1860 1:528 OS town plan. This plan of 1860 gives useful detail of the layout of tracks at Fawcett Street station and shows a turntable at the eastern end of the site. The platform and station
building are also shown.

1875 1:2,500 OS map. Sunderland station (Fawcett Street) is shown to possess a single platform and building, with a water tank and water crane at the west end of the platform. Three
tracks pass through the station.

1897 2,500 OS map. Fawcett Street station has been closed and the trains from Penshaw now take the sharp west-to-north curve to take them into the central station in Sunderland which opened in 1879. The building at Fawcett Street is shown, but no longer named, and the rails into the former station have been removed.

Though blackened by a century’s soot, the building of Fawcett Street station in Sunderland clearly possesses a calm dignity. At the time of the photograph in 1948 it was in residential use. The view is towards the north-east. The building survived for a few more years; its date of demolition is uncertain.
Photo from British Rail

Looking east from Park Lane bridge as NCB 0-6-T no. 5, blowing-off at the safety valves runs through to South Dock with a coal train in July 1964. The former Fawcett Street station can be seen
on the extreme left. This loco is preserved on the North York Moors Railway.
Photo from John Mann collection

The site of the entrance to the Fawcett Street terminus in Sunderland seen in May 2013. The blue plaque commemorates the station.
Photo by Nick Catford

The site of the entrance to Fawcett Street station seen in May 2013. The blue plaque reads: ‘City of Sunderland. Fawcett Street Station 1853-1879. This drinking fountain marks the entrance to the former terminus of the Penshaw Branch Line. The station closed to passengers when the Central station opened. York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway Co.
Photo by Nick Catford

Looking south along the approach road to Fawcett Street station in May 2013.
Photo by Nick Catford

The site of Sunderland Fawcett Street station looking west in May 2013. The wall of the Civic Centre car park bisects the station site. The approach road seen in the picture above is out of view to the right.
Photo by Nick Catford




[Source: Alan Young]

Last updated: Friday, 26-May-2017 11:06:40 CEST
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