Sunderland was once the seat of one of the most important centres of learning in the whole of Europe. The community of monks at Anglo-Saxon Wearmouth nurtured the great scholar and ­historian Bede and produced illuminated manuscripts and buildings of astonishing sophistication. Their remarkable stone church still stands across the river from his birthplace on ‘the sundered land’, its extraordinary cultural value recognised by its nomination in 2006 as a World Heritage Site.

Sunderland and its Origins not only tells the story of Bede’s ­scholarly world and the Wearmouth monastery founded by ­Benedict Biscop, but for the first time maps the history of the surrounding settlements, as Wearsiders carved a living from the sea, the river and the increasingly important coal trade. The story of the city’s formative centuries, its local events and personalities are here woven into a greater historical narrative.

The authors, working with other leading historians and ­archaeologists, chronicle for the first time the story of Sunderland from prehistoric to early modern times. They reveal how in the later Middle Ages Sunderland gradually developed from a small borough and surrounding rural settlements. Its growth was not a steady process. Amidst the political and religious turmoil of the 17th century, Sunderland, for a time occupied by Scots, stood alone as a parliamentary outpost in the region, disturbed by civil war battles and skirmishes. The town took good advantage of the upheavals to carve a profitable niche in coal shipping and, as the book ends, in 1719, the port had grown so much that it was rewarded with its own parish status and became ‘a handsome and populous town’.

‘It ought to be possible to tell the history of the nation from any one place, and this fascinating and accessible portrait of Sunderland more than meets that challenge.’ Michael Wood