The day that 21,000 people flocked to Sunderland to celebrate - but what was it?

The Great Day on July 10, 1866.
The Great Day on July 10, 1866.
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Apart from the FA Cup arriving in the town, arguably the greatest celebration ever to be held in Sunderland occurred on Tuesday, July 10, 1866.

It was the day that the Extension Park opened. It was the northern part of what is today known as Mowbray Park.

Bowls at Mowbray Park in 1888.

Bowls at Mowbray Park in 1888.

With the help of Sunderland Antiquarian Society, we look back at the day when tens of thousands turned out to watch a defining moment in the city’s history.

Until 1866, the park was limited to the area around Building Hill.

It had been sold to the town in the 1840s by a Miss Mowbray.

The land leading down to the town was made up of a market garden owned by a Mr Wanless. This was the land known as The Extension Park and on which the lake, museum and winter gardens was to be built.

Although Wearsiders were initially against the Extension Park, once completed they really went to town on the day it opened

Philip Curtis, Sunderland Antiquarian Society

But the purchase of the land was a long-drawn out affair which was only settled with a public inquiry.

All that quarrelling was in the past, though, by the time the park opened to great acclaim in July 1866. An impressive 17,466 schoolchildren and more than 2000 teachers were at the opening ceremony.

One newspaper report stated: “Probably no town in the North of England could have presented such a spectacle as that which the thoroughfares of the neighbourhood and the park itself presented.”

The idea of a children’s procession came from the Mayor, Edward Gourley who thought up a plan to present a medal to each pupil. That meant 21,000 medals had to be made.

The Queens's Hotel in Fawcett Street where the banquet was held in July 1866.

The Queens's Hotel in Fawcett Street where the banquet was held in July 1866.

On that eventful Tuesday, the streets soon became crowded and flags fluttered in the stiff breeze. By noon, most places of business were closed and trade was at a standstill.

Space was at a premium for an event which even attracted the consuls of France, Honduras, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United States of America.

The number of children in the procession has been given as over 17,000 and came from church schools, the Union Workhouse School and Roman Catholic Schools.

Sunday school children made up the rest.

The tennis courts at Mowbray Park in 1898.

The tennis courts at Mowbray Park in 1898.

The Children’s Orphan Asylum Drum and Fife Band formed part of the procession and 39 children from the Orphanage also took part.

One report on the procession talked of the the high street being almost impassable.

From Barrack Gate to Fawcett Street, a “dense mass” of people lined each side of the roadway for a mile. The roofs of every house were filled.

But people got their money’s worth with a procession which stretched more than two and a half miles and took 57 minutes to pass.

In the evening there was a great dinner at the Queen’s Hotel in Fawcett Street (it stood where Woolworths was eventually built) attended by local celebrities and notables.

Although Wearsiders were initially against the Extension Park, once completed they really went to town on the day it opened.

Victorian Wearsiders enjoying the park in the 1890s.

Victorian Wearsiders enjoying the park in the 1890s.

Today Building Hill Park and the Extension Park are together named after Miss Mowbray, the lady who sold Building Hill to the Council.

A scene from 1894.

A scene from 1894.

Mowbray Park in early 20th Century

Mowbray Park in early 20th Century

The medal distributed to pupils on the day.

The medal distributed to pupils on the day.

Edwardian Mowbray Park with Wearsiders on the frozen lake.

Edwardian Mowbray Park with Wearsiders on the frozen lake.

Cygnets in Mowbray Park in 1958.

Cygnets in Mowbray Park in 1958.