Washington is a town within the metropolitan borough of the City of Sunderland in Tyne and Wear, England. At the 2001 census, the town had a population of 60,000.
Historically, a part of County Durham, Washington was designated a new town in 1964 and expanded dramatically by the creation of new villages and the absorption of areas of Chester-le-Street to house overspill population from surrounding cities.
There are several proposed theories for how the name "Washington" came about. The three most discussed are detailed below. The titles of the three different theories, e.g. "Gaelic origin", are not formal titles, but merely used here to distinguish between them.
The origins of the name Washington
are not fully known. The most supported theory (especially amongst local historians) is that Washington
is derived from Anglo-Saxon Hwæsingatūn
, which roughly means "estate of the descendents (family) of Hwæsa". Hwæsa
(usually rendered Wassa
in modern English
) is an Old English
name meaning "wheat sheaf
"; Swedish Vasa
being a more famous cognate.
Due to evolution of English grammar, modern English lacks the Germanic grammatical features that Anglo-Saxon English was filled with. This adds an air of confusion for most in regards to the name Hwæsingatūn. It is essentially composed of three main elements (albeit grammatically altered elements):
- "Hwæsa" - most likely the name of local Anglo-Saxon chieftain or farmer.
- "ing" - a Germanic component which has lost its original context in English: ing means roughly "[derived] of/from". It can still be seen in its original context in the word "halfling" meaning "that [derived] from an half". In the name Hwæsingatūn, "ing" is conjugated to "inga" in accordance with the genitive plural declension of OE.
- "tūn" - root of the modern English "town", and is a cognate of German "Zaun" and Dutch "tuin". The word means "fenced off estate" or more accurately "estate with defined boundaries".
The combined elements (with all correct conjugations in place) therefore create the name Hwæsingatūn with a full and technical meaning of "the estate of the descendents of Hwæsa".
However, there has been no evidence found of any chieftain/land owner/farmer in the area by the name of Hwæsa, although any such records from the time would likely have been long lost by now.
Although this is by no means the definite theory of origin, most scholars and historians (especially local) agree that it is the most likely.
One of the more popular origin theories is that Washington
is in fact derived from the Old English verb wascan
) and the noun dūn
meaning "hill"; thus making the name Wascandūn
, meaning "washing hill". This theory likely originates from the proximity between the river Wear
and the actual Anglo-Saxon hall of the time (most likely where Washington Old Hall
This idea is not backed by linguistic evidence. Combining the two Old English words "wascan" and "dūn" would actually have meant "washed hill" and not "washing hill". Also, the Old English "dūn" meant a range of gently rolling hills, as evidenced by the naming of the North and South Downs in southern England.
Another suggested origin is that the name Washington
is derived from Gaelic uisge
) meaning "water" and dùn
) meaning "fort". Some further believe that such an "Uisgedùn" may have been replaced by Anglo-Saxon settlement, which carried the name over using roughly equivalent Anglo-Saxon sounds.
The Gaelic origin theory is very unlikely. In Gaelic grammar the proposed name would have been rendered Dùn Uisge and not Uisgedùn. Although the Gaelic noun "uisge" has been etymologically linked to the English verb "wash" (at least in part) the two words are only connected in the fact they involve water. To further dispel the Gaelic origin theory, the pre-Anglo-Saxon language spoken in northeastern England, would have been a Brythonic language and thus closer to Welsh language and Cumbric than Gaelic.
The Old Hall may have been built by William de Hertburn, who moved to the area in 1183. As was the custom he took the name of his new estates, and became William de Wessyngton. By 1539 when the family moved to Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire the spelling "Washington" had been adopted.
The present Hall is an early 17th century small English manor house of sandstone. Only the foundations and the arches between the Kitchen and the Great Hall remain of the original house.
George Washington connection
Willian de Wessyngton was a forebear of George Washington
, the first President of the United States
, and thus the area has given its name to the U.S. capital
and many other places in the United States
. Though it was not from Washington, Sunderland, that George Washington
's great-grandfather John Washington
left for Virginia, but from Essex
, Washington Old Hall was the family home of George Washington's ancestors, and the present structure does incorporate small parts of the medieval home in which they lived. American Independence Day
is marked each year in a ceremony at Washington Old Hall.
Building the New Town
Washington's curious design was incorporated from many towns in the United States. The new town is divided into small self-sufficient "villages". It was originally also divided into the 15 original numbered districts, a fate which confused many visitors to the area. These numbered districts have gradually been removed as well as increased, and now road signs indicate the villages' names instead of district number.
Washington's villages are called Donwell, Usworth (originally Great Usworth), Concord, Sulgrave, Albany
, Glebe, Barmston, Biddick, Washington Village (the original village and location of the Old Hall), Columbia, Blackfell
, Oxclose, Ayton, Lambton
, Harraton and Rickleton. Mount Pleasant was also added to the list of numbered districts (14), despite being out of the Town "boundary line" of the River Wear and having a DH4 Postcode (Houghton le Spring
) it does hold a Washington dialling code starting 0191 415, 416 and 417.
Built on industry, the Washington contains several industrial estates, named after famous local engineers, such as Parsons, Armstrong, Stephenson, Crowther, Pattinson, Swan and Emerson.
A lot of the land which makes up the town, was purchased from the Lambton family, who own the estate of the same name and contains their stately home Biddick Hall within the grounds which once held Lambton Castle.
In 1970, Washington hosted the English Schools Athletic Association (ESAA) annual National Championships, attended by the then Lord Lieutenant of County Durham.
Historically, Washington was heavily involved in the coal industry with a number of pits. One of these in the Albany district of Washington is preserved as the 'F' Pit Museum (pits in Washington were named alphabetically e.g. the 'F' Pit). A number of the old communities of Washington grew up around the pits (e.g. the modern area of Usworth partly grew up around the Usworth mine and the area was known as Usworth Colliery (and still is to some of the older generation). In support of the mines there was a series of wagonways
and later railway lines to transport the coal. The wagonways took coal to staithes on the River Wear where it could be loaded onto barges to be taken to the ocean going vessels at Sunderland.
Washington was also involved in the chemical industry and the Washington Chemical Works was a major employer in the 19th century. This later became the Cape/Newalls Works producing insulation. The Pattinson Town area of Washington grew up around the chemical works. This area is now Pattinson industrial estate and Teal Farm housing estate.
Currently, Washington's main industries include textiles, electronics, car assembly, chemicals and electrical goods. The Nissan automotive plant is a major employer. Nissan is the largest private-sector employer in the City of Sunderland.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
nature reserve and the Washington 'F' Pit mining museum
are within the town.
The Washington Arts Centre is a converted farm building. The Centre includes an exhibition gallery, community theatre, artist studios and a recording studio.
The North East Aircraft Museum occupies part of the old RAF Usworth base. The Nissan plant takes up much of the rest. An attempt to run a municipal airport from the site failed.
There are several primary, secondary schools and colleges in the villages of Washington.
- Primary schools
- Albany Village Primary
- St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary School
- John F. Kennedy Primary School
- Biddick Primary School
- Lambton Primary School
- Holley Park Primary School
- George Washington School
- Usworth Colliery
- Usworth Grange
- Oxclose Primary
- Barmston Primary
- Wessington Primary - (formerly Glebe Primary)
- Rickleton Primary School
- St John Boste RC Primary School
- Fatfield Primary School
- St. Bedes Primary School
- Secondary schools
Washington itself is not on a railway, and therefore has no railway station, making it one of the largest towns in Britain without an operational railway station (see Dudley
, Newcastle under Lyme
). The nearest station was about 3 miles away at Birtley
, on the East Coast Main Line
, but this was closed in the mid 1950s. Proposals to extend the Tyne and Wear Metro
to Washington have failed to attract support.
There is a bus station next to The Galleries. The major provider of transport (buses) in the area is Go North East, with local services as well as connections to Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunderland, and many other towns and cities in the region.
Major roads run through Washington: the A182, the A1231 and the A195 all connect to the A1(M) motorway (which acts as the western boundary of Washington proper) or its feeder, the A194. Washington Services is situated between Junctions 64 and 65 of the A1(M), and incorporate a Travelodge.
- George Washington's ancestors came from this English town. The U.S. capital city Washington D.C. and the state were named after the president.
- Gertrude Bell was born at Washington Hall.
- The musician Bryan Ferry (of Roxy Music fame) comes from Washington and attended Washington Grammar School (now Washington School (Comprehensive)).
- Heather Mills attended Usworth School.
- James Sanderson (1769? - 1841?) Musician and composer. He wrote the US presidential anthem 'Hail to the Chief'.
- The musician Toni Halliday from the band Curve went to Washington School (Comprehensive).
- Leeds United and England footballer Billy Furness was born in Washington and started his football career playing for Usworth Colliery
- Alex Kapranos Lead singer of Franz Ferdinand was born in the town of Washington.
- Alan Price, member of 60's pop group 'The Animals'
- George Clarke (Channel 4 presenter and architect) lived in Blackfell and went to Oxclose comperhensive school
- Jane Witherspoon, BBC Londons TV Entertainment Reporter/Producer was raised in Ayton
- Si King, Hairy Biker