Historic home of Sunderland’s Backhouse family up for sale

Ashburne House, Backhouse Park, Sunderland.
Ashburne House, Backhouse Park, Sunderland.
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Bosses at the University of Sunderland are standing by their decision to sell a historic city building.

Ashburne House, in Sunderland, was gifted to the Corporation of Sunderland in 1922 by its last private owner Thomas William Backhouse.

Ashburne House, Sunderland, 1872.

Ashburne House, Sunderland, 1872.

He asked that the building in Ryhope Road – along with the surrounding Ashburne Park, now known as Backhouse Park – be used as a teacher college or hostel.

And in 1931 consent was given by representatives of Mr Backhouse for the house to be used as an Art College.

The College of Art was opened in 1934 following many internal alterations to the building, including adding and enlarging a number of windows.

But in April 2012, it as announced that the building would close its doors to students. University bosses say the legal ownership of the building was transeffered to them from the council in 1992.

Legal ownership of Ashburne House transferred from the council to the University of Sunderland in 1992, when it received independent status under the 1988 Education Reform Act.

University of Sunderland spokesman

A spokesman said: “Legal ownership of Ashburne House transferred from the council to the University of Sunderland in 1992, when it received independent status under the 1988 Education Reform Act.

“As the owner listed on the land registry title documents the University can legally sell Ashburne House and has made every effort to do so responsibly, developing a robust development brief and conducting the sale in consultation with residents.”

Ashburne House, a Grade-II listed building, is up for sale on the Estates Gazette website. A price is not listed and is only available on application.

The site covers 2.65 acres of land and the sale includes the original 19th century four-storey building, two extension buildings – two-storey and five-storey – constructed in the 1960s, an 18th century lodge building at the gateway entrance to the site and the gardens.

Family history

The Backhouse family were Quaker bankers who had the house and gardens built for them. Edward Backhouse was a philanthropist, Quaker minister and a writer on church history. He was also one of the founding fathers of the Sunderland Echo.

Backhouse became a partner in the family banking firm of Backhouse & Co, but did not take an active part in the business.

Instead, he worked as a minister for the Quaker-run Society of Friends from 1854 and was also active in establishing the Sunderland Indigent Sick Society, the British School in Borough Road and the old Athenaeum and Reformatories.