Sunderland illuminations still tripping the lights fantastic after 85 years.

Lights fantastic - the illuminations are a proud Mackem tradition.
Lights fantastic - the illuminations are a proud Mackem tradition.
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Sunderland illuminations are still tripping the lights fantastic after 85 years.

This year’s event features an observation wheel, roller rink and even an illuminated Dalek – a far cry from early displays.

Roker Seaburn Illuminations in August 1990.

Roker Seaburn Illuminations in August 1990.

“Simple as they were back then, those first illuminations attracted bumper crowds of tens of thousands,” said local historian Bill Hawkins.

One of the earliest attempts at illuminating Sunderland took place in 1930, when members of the Electricity Committee lit up Roker lighthouse.

But the River Wear Commissioners banned the bulbs the next year and, instead, the Town Hall was floodlit to mark the centenary of electro-magnetic induction.

As the popularity of Blackpool’s world-famous illuminations flourished, however, so talk at the council turned to lighting up at least part of Sunderland.

A record four million visitors were recorded in 1949, but soaring costs saw the lights shelved in 1959. Thankfully, they were revived in the 1980s,

Local historian Bill Hawkins.

Indeed, in 1935 it was announced that £5,000 was to be spent on illuminating Roker Park – but the plans had to be scrapped to allow sewage work to go ahead.

Finally, in 1936, Wearsiders were treated to the lights fantastic - as the park’s bridges, buildings and bowling green were all lit up.

Admission came at a price – sixpence for adults and threepence for children – but tens of thousands of people flocked to see the fairy lights.

“The illuminations are of a standard far beyond anything of the kind ever before seen in Sunderland, or even the North East,” stated the Echo.

Roker Park Illuminations in September 1952.

Roker Park Illuminations in September 1952.

Only the declaration of war in 1939 put an end to the lights, as they broke blackout regulations. But they returned after peace was declared – to huge acclaim.

“A record four million visitors were recorded in 1949, but soaring costs saw the lights shelved in 1959. Thankfully, they were revived in the 1980s,” said Bill.

“Today the tradition continues – but the illuminations have certainly come a long way since 1930!”