Discover my sagas and cosy crimes

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunderland, looking up

This afternoon I did something that made me look at my home town in a whole different way, and from a different angle too.  An historical walk around Sunderland city centre (although I still think of it as 'town' and probably always will) was a great way to spend an hour or so on this Sunday.  The walk was led by Dr Michael Johnson, whose book The Architecture of Sunderland 1700-1914 will be published later this year.

We set off from the Sunderland Museum and Library. I was gobsmacked to find out that after the Museums Act of 1845, Sunderland was the first place in the UK outside of London to build and open a public museum. 

My own, strong, personal memories of the museum and winter gardens are two-fold.  First, the Saturday morning walks around the duck-pond with various great-aunts, grandma and mam before we all went into town for shopping when I was a child.  Second, my then baby-brother's pram was nicked from the museum steps when we went into the museum as a family.  While my mam was understandably upset, I remember my dad's calmness and him saying that the person who stole it must've needed it more than we did. 

Sunderland museum and library (and winter gardens)
Then we moved east along a street I've never been along in my life, to view a Presbyterian chapel built in 1825 which had a school next to it built later in 1849.  How and why did I never know these buildings existed? Sadly they looked in a state of disarray. Gorgeous on the outside but dead within.

Presbyterian chapel built 1825

School built next to the chapel, above. Built 1849.
Then on to Sunnside, an area of Sunderland I thought I was familiar with but quickly realised I must have been walking around looking at my shoes all these years rather than at the wonderful buildings. And I mean, really wonderful buildings.

A flourish of Art Nouveau outside what is now a Sunderland hairdressing shop

There was another big surprise for this Sunderland lass to be told the history of a building I'd walked past more times than I've had hot dinners.  This building which is now occupied by Sunderland City Council was built as the River Wear Commissioner's office.  A hugely important building, decisions were made in it that affected the prosperity of the city based on the navigation of the river Wear, opening up Sunderland to international commerce. 

And then to the upstairs at the Asian buffet Dozo where I felt another guilty pang of 'how the devil did I never know this?' when it was pointed out that this old, white building was the site of Sunderland's first register office, built in 1849.

We then went past St. Mary's church to see the Elephant Tea Rooms in Hindu-Gothic style. I love the Elephant Tea rooms building, as I'm sure most people in Sunderland do.  Well, at least those who have looked up from street level.

Then to Mackies Corner, past the Magistrates Court and the old High-Street baths (where the smell of chlorine and Bovril crisps were a big part of my teenage Saturday mornings) and onto the Sunderland Empire and the Dun Cow pub.

One building not on the tour but one I've spotted a few times while walking around town, is this ghost of a pub up a side alley. Couldn't resist taking a picture.

An amazing day. 

Find out about more talks and events from Michael with the Sunderland Heritage Quarter group on facebook.

1 comment:

Tom Waugh said...

Thanks for the wonderful write up about my home town (yes I still call it a town as well).

It would perhaps be helpful if you could include in your post, a map showing where you saw these lovely buildings. I now live in Switzerland and can only come back "home" very seldom. So Google Earth and street view are my guides when I want to take a look at the old place.
Keep up the great work.

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