Sunderland is situated at the head of the River Wear and became an important port in the early 18th century. The North-East of England, around the valleys of the rivers Tyne and Wear became the nation's chief coal-mining area. This increased the amount of work for people working in ports in Sunderland and Newcastle where the coal was loaded into coastal vessels to be transported by sea. Quays, workshops and warehouses grew in number and by the middle of the 19th century, Sunderland was a flourishing port. The 19th century also saw Sunderland become the greatest ship-building centre in Britain.
In the north-eastern corner of England lies the great carboniferous deposit which supplied in 1845 eleven-twelths of the entire mass of coal burned in the grates and furnaces of the kingdom. Between the Coquet and the Tees run the Tyne and the Wear, draining the broadest and richest portions of the coalfield, and on their banks lie scattered the oldest, deepest and the most extensive pits. Like almost all coal deposits, the strata forming the Newcastle field "dip" to a common bottom, somewhat in the manner of a basin, and of this basin, the centre, and therefore the deepest point, lies the sea coast hard by Sunderland.
The houses of the pit village may, be divided into three classes. Those of the lowest class usually contain only one room; those of the second contain a large room and an attic. The best houses consist of two rooms on the ground floor, with generally an attic over one of them. In all cases, the sitting room door is the street door.
More than one half of the pit population virtually live - each family - in a single room. Here is bedroom and kitchen - here the men and the boys, on their return from the pit, wash their almost naked bodies, too often in the presence of growing-up daughters and sisters and here too the women dress and undress. The men say they cannot wash upstairs, as the water would plash through the frequently warped flooring down upon the furniture, and perhaps the bed below.
When a young couple get married they generally go to a furniture broker in Newcastle or Sunderland, with perhaps £10 of ready money, obtaining a considerable part of their purchases upon credit, and paying for it by installments.