Maiden’s Paps – or Tunstall Hills, as they are less crudely and more properly called – form one of the best vantage points in the borough of Sunderland. Though little more than 300ft in elevation, the twin peaks of Rocky Hill and Green Hill offer extensive views in all directions, far beyond the expectations of those who scale their modest heights.
A noted landmark from land and sea for many a century, the magnesian limestone outcrops have courted their fair share of attention and controversy over the years: fossil hunters in search of traces of ancient marine life, natural historians on the look-out for rare flora and fauna, and quarrymen, of course, all have their place in the history of the beauty spot. The site is now a Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest with its Rights of Way protected in law, enabling dogs to be walked there in perpetuity. But this has not always been the case, thus:-
[Letter to the Sunderland Echo, 15th September 1854]
About 2 years ago an attempt was made to hinder the public from enjoying free access to that most delightful resort - Tunstall Hill - the stile at the foot of the hill (on its southern side), being repeatedly closed with thorns - and on one particular Sunday evening, when the thorns had been removed, the bars of the stile were carefully daubed with filth, with the disgusting intention of damaging the garments of those who might unwittingly attempt to climb over. This summer another determined attempt has been made to close of the stile, but I hope the publication of this letter will be sufficient to rouse the spirit of those who, like myself, love a country walk, and induce them to clear away the obstruction. You will remember that the right of way over Tunstall Hill was challenged some years ago before the magistrates, when the bench wisely declined interfering with so clear and palpable public right.
[article from the Sunderland Echo, 10th June 1859]
Blockade of Tunstall Hill
We feel that we are strictly within the line of our duty as public journalists in directing the attention of our township to an attempt which has been made during the afternoon of the last three Sundays, on the part of the tenant farmer, to exclude the public from the approach to Tunstall Road and the hill. We need hardly say that this is an illegal act, and only calls for vigorous action to be effectively set aside. The inhabitants of Sunderland have enjoyed the undisputed right of walking on these beautiful hills so far back that "the memory of man knows not to the contrary" … We understand that if these attempts should be persisted in, a number of gentlemen are prepared to take the steps needful to restore the public rights and, in the meantime, we advise our fellow townsmen to insist upon the right of way, and to remove all obstructions in the way of free ingress and egress, and thus secure for future generations the liberty of visiting the romantic locality, from which a view of our town and all the adjacent country can be obtained of surpassing interest.
However, as the very same newspaper was to eventually report on 2nd June 1943…
Tunstall Hills Gift to Sunderland
The whole of Tunstall Hills is to belong to the people of Sunderland. Some years ago, Sunderland Corporation purchased 39 acres of land in this area, including the Rocky Hill, for allotments, playing fields and open spaces. Now Miss E H Pemberton, of Ramside, County Durham, has offered to present to the town the remaining 7 acres of the site, which consists of the Green Hill and surrounding land. Sunderland General Purposes Committee last night was told that this was a free gift without conditions, except that the land is to be considered as a memorial to those from the town who have given their lives in the service of their country in this war.
Latterly, the Tunstall Hills Protection Group has ensured the powers-that-be are kept well-and-truly on their toes when it comes to encroachment upon their green oasis – golf courses, roads and, most recently, from wind turbines.