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Commemorating Engineer of Maritime Success


Jun 23, 2017

THE CITY OF SUNDERLAND is to pay tribute to the engineers, architects and marine pioneers who helped shape Sunderland’s maritime heritage.

A Blue Plaque funded through Sunderland City Council’s East Area Committee will commemorate John Murray (1804 – 1882), the civil engineer who helped transform Sunderland’s waterways.

The plaque will be unveiled by the Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Doris MacKnight, at the former River Wear Commission Building, 4 St Thomas Street in the city centre at 10.45am am on Thursday 22 June.

The Mayor, Cllr MacKnight, Leader of Sunderland City Council, Cllr Paul Watson, and invited guests will gather beforehand at a civic reception inside the building to watch a video presentation of the history of the River Wear Commission.

The commemorative Blue Plaque honouring John Murray’s significant role in the city’s history, is in recognition of his outstanding engineering achievements on behalf of the River Wear Commission.

These included straightening and deepening the river, new constructions to control the tides and the outstanding engineering feat of transporting an existing lighthouse onto the then new North pier.

Born in Kelso in 1804, John Murray was employed by the River Wear Commission which was formed in 1717 to make the natural waterways and harbours at the mouth of the river more accessible to boats and ships.

The Commissioners were responsible for opening the city to international trade, through the import and export of goods and cargo from the port and harbour.

As the direct successor to the River Wear Commission, the Port of Sunderland is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its formal establishment as a harbour authority this year.

The Blue Plaque is part of a commemorative programme of events and activities marking the 300th anniversary of the River Wear Commission and the Port of Sunderland.

The Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Doris MacKnight said: “John Murray was a remarkable man, an outstanding civil engineer whose contribution to making the river Wear such an international maritime centre for trade can never be underestimated.

“The East Area Committee is delighted to fund the commemorative Blue Plaque recognising his achievements, and his role in helping the River Wear Commissioner’s transform the riverside and harbour areas  of Sunderland into the thriving Port it is today.

“The event is part of a wider programme of events celebrating the 300th   anniversary of the Commission which played such a pivotal part in shaping the history of our city.”

The commemorative programme of events incudes;

  • Port 300 Exhibition – Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (23 September– Feb 2018)
  • Sunderland Heritage Forum – Community Lectures:
  • 7 June Gary Bankhead – Discoveries in the River Wear
  • 2 August Andy Lane – Geology of the River Wear
  • 16 August Stuart Miller – History of the Commissioners
  • 30 August Jack Curtis – Upbringing in the Dock

The River Wear’s development to meet the need to transport coal from the Durham coalfield, led to Sunderland becoming one of the UK’s leading coal exporting ports and achieving international recognition as the largest shipbuilding town in the world.

​Leader of Sunderland City Council and Chair of the Port Board, Councillor Paul Watson added: “The Port is a place with a great deal of significance for me, as someone who – for many years – worked in Sunderland’s shipyards.

​”For me and for a large number of people from in and around Sunderland, being close to the waters of the Wear is a proud reminder of our past, and a time Sunderland was world renowned for shipbuilding and heavy industry.”   

By Emily