My Monday walk this week has been beset by ongoing computer problems meaning I was initially unable to download or edit any of the photos I took on my afternoon out last weekend, however with a borrowed laptop I’ve finally been able to write the post although as it’s a couple of days late it’s now a Wednesday walk. It features somewhere I’ve been meaning to go to for a couple of years after discovering it by accident on the internet but haven’t managed to get there until now. I can’t even remember what I was originally searching for but one link led to another and another etc, eventually ending up at some information about a place called Sunderland Point, and when I read about Sambo’s grave it all sounded intriguing enough for me to want to go there.
The hamlet of Sunderland is in a unique and isolated location on a peninsula at the northern side of the River Lune estuary in Lancashire. It consists of 40 or so houses, a couple of farms and a small mission chapel, and though Sunderland Point itself reaches out into the Irish sea about half a mile away from the village the hamlet is also commonly known by the same name. The only road access to the village is from Overton via a winding one-and-a-half-mile long single-track tidal causeway, and that and most of the parking area are covered by the sea twice a day – anyone thinking of visiting needs to check the tide times first or being stranded for several hours is a distinct possibility.
Sunderland village was a thriving port in the early 18th century, the main one for Lancashire and second only to London and Bristol. Trade was undertaken with the West Indies involving sugar, rum, cotton, and to a lesser degree, slaves, and it’s reputed to be the landing place of the very first bale of cotton to arrive in Britain. Unfortunately trade gradually declined over the years and the 1787 opening of Glasson Dock across the estuary took ocean-going ships further inland, completely bypassing Sunderland village. With the death of the village as a shipping port it became a popular seaside resort during the 19th century and was known as Little Brighton on the Lune; now in more modern times it’s become a peaceful and unique home to those who still work from the village in farming and fishing and others who commute to Lancaster, Preston and other places in Lancashire.
Driving through Overton village the road took me over a cattle grid to the beginning of the causeway, and not far along I came to my first warning sign. Fortunately I’d checked the tide times before leaving home and knew it was low tide so I was able to drive across the causeway without any risk, although the road was so narrow I was rather hoping that I wouldn’t meet something coming the other way. At the far end of the causeway was a sloping shingle parking area so I left the van there while I went to explore, and right from the start I was really taken with this little place.
The main part of the village consisted of two rows of houses facing the estuary and simply called ‘First Terrace’ and ‘Second Terrace’. Some properties were detached and set in their own gardens while others were terraced cottages fronting the narrow access road along the old quay; many of these cottages dated back to the early 18th century, and though there was what I assumed to be a village hall of sorts there was no shop or pub. The two rows of houses were separated by the extensive gardens of a large house and a narrow lane, appropriately called The Lane, and my quest to find Sambo’s grave took me along this lane.
The story of Sambo, otherwise known as Samboo (no-one knew his real name) is a mixture of fact and hearsay, but what is known is that he was a young Negro servant to the captain of an unnamed ship. On arrival at Sunderland port in 1736, and after the ship had finished unloading its cargo, Sambo’s master arranged for him to have a room at the local inn and he was left there on ship’s wages while his master went to conduct some business in Lancaster over a period of a few days. One version of the story says that Sambo, unable to speak or understand a strange language and thinking his master had abandoned him, became so upset that he stopped eating and after a few days died of a broken heart.
The other version of the story, and the more likely one, says that Sambo contracted a sickness to which he had no immunity and died of that sickness, but whatever the cause of his death he was buried in unconsecrated ground in a corner of a field overlooking the sea, with a simple small wooden cross marking the spot. Sixty years later James Watson, a retired schoolmaster from Lancaster, heard about Sambo and was so touched by the story that he raised enough money from donations to pay for a bronze memorial plaque, engraved with an epitaph, to be placed on the unmarked grave. Over the years many people have visited the spot and these days the grave is well tended, decorated with flowers and colourful painted stones left there by children and other visitors.
Walking along The Lane I passed a handful of detached houses and the mission chapel before the lane itself narrowed into a footpath with high hawthorn hedges on each side giving off the most divine scent. A distance along the path a sign pointed the way through a gate, but any notion I may have had that Sambo’s grave was in a remote spot and still accessed by a rough path along the edge of a field (as shown on Google maps satellite view) was instantly refuted. Just inside the gate and on the right was a new wooden building which looked like it could have been public loos but which I found out later was actually a bird hide, and a wide recently-constructed gravel path and new concrete sea wall ran along what would have been the seaward edge of the field.
Set back off the path, and in an area which had been stripped of all grass, was one of the most hideous things I’ve ever seen – a small newly-built dome-shaped stone building which, to me at least, looked totally out of keeping with the surroundings. There was a door set in one wall with a small window in another, and when I looked through I came face to face with the protruding lens of a large square camera. An engraved stone slab set in front of the door told me that this was the Horizon Line Chamber with the camera relaying an outside image onto the opposite wall, but when I went inside and closed the door I could see nothing but near-darkness. If this thing was working at all it wasn’t doing a very good job.
A few yards beyond the dome was a small grassy area surrounded by three new stone walls with a seat set into one of them, and in this square was Sambo’s grave, now protected from the elements on all four sides. With flowers and many coloured painted stones surrounding the cross it was a very pretty grave but I was saddened to read the words on a small brass plaque fastened above the main one – “Thoughtless and irreverent people having damaged and defaced the plate, this replica was affixed. RESPECT THIS LONELY GRAVE” – it seems that even an out-of-the-way place such as this isn’t free from vandalism.
After spending a few quiet moments by the grave I headed back to the village for some more exploration, turning right at the end of The Lane and going to check out Second Terrace first, though I was rather puzzled to see some cars parked along the access road in front of the houses up ahead. I knew there was no road connecting First Terrace and Second Terrace so how had they got there? All was revealed however when one of the cars drove down a short slipway from Second Terrace, across the top end of the beach and up a second slipway leading to First Terrace – an unusual thing for me to see but probably an everyday occurrence for those who live there.
At the far end of Second Terrace was Sunderland Hall, a large and very attractive looking house with a West Indies style upper floor balcony, though with people sitting out in the garden I couldn’t really take a full photo of it. Some of the houses along Second Terrace had their own small gardens and there was a long grassy area in front of those which didn’t have gardens. At the end of the terrace, instead of walking back along the sea wall path I went down the slipway and walked along the beach for the short distance back to the end of The Lane and First Terrace.
Back at First Terrace, and close to the end of The Lane, was an attractive bronze sculpture with entwined fish at the bottom and sea birds at the top, and a bronze plaque said that this had been created by local artist Ray Schofield. Ray had created many sculptures which were dotted around various North West locations, including the giant sundial in Lancaster’s Williamson Park, and had lived in the house at Sunderland Point just across from where his sculpture was sited.
At the end of First Terrace and back at the parking area I had a quick wander round for a few more photos before returning to the van. I could happily have stayed at Sunderland Point for longer but it was 4pm by then and I’d arranged to meet Michael from work at 6 o’clock, also I didn’t want to get caught out by the next incoming tide.
Driving through Overton village at the far end of the causeway I decided to make a quick stop as it looked to be quite an attractive little place, so I pulled up in the car park of the Ship Inn and went for a short walk along the main road through the village. There was a small attractive village green on one corner, a painted wall in the Ship car park and several cottages with pretty gardens, and after taking my last shot I headed for home without any further stops.
Altogether I’d had a lovely afternoon out with the dogs and I’d been very impressed with Sunderland Point, it was a very unique and special little village. While walking along the short stretch of beach I’d picked up a nicely shaped stone which I’d brought home with me, and my next task is to paint it – I fully intend to return to Sunderland Point before long and when I do I’d like to take my own stone to add to those on Sambo’s grave.