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Donnison School Heritage, Education and Media Centre

Bringing History Back to Life

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History of the Site
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A Sampler from a Donnison pupilThe Eighteenth Century was the age of the Charity School. Small, local establishments were endowed by bequests from generous benefactors, usually in association with the church and often built in their shadow. The Donnison School was one such school established under church patronage in Sunderland Parish, through the provision made by Elizabeth Donnison in her will (1777).

In 1827 Mrs Elizabeth Woodstock built a house for the mistress in Church Walk, adjacent to the school. Although such combinations of buildings were not uncommon, few examples remain.

This provision offered free education for 36 poor girls between the ages of seven and sixteen. They were taught religious knowledge, reading, writing and arithmetic, spinning sewing and knitting. The girls were provided with clothing and shoes. Each girl received a full suite of clothing at Christmas, a part suit midsummer and two pairs of shoes.

James Donnison was a vestryman and one of the Church wardens of Sunderland in 1745; in May 1766 he was elected one of the freemen of the Borough. Mr Donnison was a butcher in Sunderland and he realized a large fortune and became the owner of the free hold estate Farrington, near Silksworth. James  Donnision was the second husband of Mrs Elizabeth Donnison (previously Mrs Guy). They married in January 1759. James Donnison died in 1777 aged 62 years.  Elizabeth Donnison died November 1770, and is buried under a large freestone slab near the south wall of Sunderland church.

The Building is a rare mix of Georgian architecture. It comprises an original schoolroom dating from 1798, the school mistress’ house built in 1827 and an adjoining entrance porch.

 The building was bought by the charity Living History North East in 2001. Voluntary donations helped to purchase the building. The aim was to restore this unique piece of local history and bring it back into community use. This was achieved in December 2007.

The Donnison Girls - Elizabeth and Charlotte GreenElizabeth Green Donnison

Elizabeth was born 21st April 1882 and Charlotte was born 5th April 1884. They lived in the Pans, Bishopwearmouth. The girls were the youngest of six children. Their father was a shipwright and they lived comfortably, until  he died at Christmas 1891 aged 47 years. This left  the family with very little money. The girls were aged 7 and 9 years when their father died. They were accepted into the Donnison School and they continued their education until they were 16 years old. Sadly by this time they had been made orphans after the death of their mother.

The girls were instructed in the principles of the Christian religion and were required to attend church every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. On admission to the school, they were provided with a complete set of clothing. During the time they remained in school they received a supply of spelling books and other school provisions and on leaving they each received a school bible and their sampler.

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