AN internationally-important piece of Wearside’s heritage has been thrown a vital funding lifeline – on the day it was listed as one of the most endangered historic sites in the country.
Urgent repair work will soon begin on the crumbling 19th-century wagon shed at Bowes Railway Museum, in Springwell Village, thanks to £150,000 from English Heritage and Sunderland City Council.
The funding announcement came as English Heritage launched its “At Risk” register for 2011, which features several other sites in Wearside.
Washington’s F-Pit Museum, buildings on the “Old Sunderland Riverside”, the screen wall at Monkwearmouth Station Museum, the Marsden Lime Kilns and the Cleadon Chimney in Boldon all feature on the “Domesday book” of endangered heritage sites.
Speaking about the cash grant, Graeme Miller, chairman of the Bowes Railway Board, said: “This is very good news indeed and we are very grateful for the support of English Heritage.
“Bowes Railway is an incredibly important site. English Heritage has recognised that today.”
The unique historic industrial site was designed and built by George Stephenson almost 200 years ago to carry coal from the area’s mines to the Tyne.
It features the only operational, preserved standard gauge rope-hauled railway in the world.
The grant cash – £35,000 of which is from the council – will pay for urgent repairs the roof, bulging walls and window openings as well as detailed work on how the building should be rennovated in the long-term.
The shed is one of the oldest and largest buildings on the site and houses historic locomotives as well as providing workshop and training space, but at present it is too dangerous to use.
Full repair work for the shed is expected to cost about £600,000 and the museum is exploring other funding streams.
The museum was dealt a bitter blow earlier this year when a car accident took out the level crossing which carried its steam train up the track, forcing it to cease operations.
The museum has an insurance claim in for repairs and loss of earnings, but missed out on vital summer visitor income.
Mr Miller said it as not just the financial assistance provided by English Heritage, but the support in moving the museum forward which was so important.
The museum has a business plan in place until 2015 and Mr Miller hopes the site will one day become self-financing.
“We need to get more visitors here, make sure their visit is worthwhile and hopefully get them to come back,” said Mr Miller.
“My appeal to the people the of Washington, Sunderland, and elsewhere, would be ‘come to Bowes, bring your children, let them see why the North East was such an important part of our industrial past’.”
English Heritage chose Bowes Railway for the North East launch of its “At Risk” register after selecting the site as one of its top 10 priorities for support.
Carol Pyrah, North East planning director for English Heritage, said: “The wagon shed at Bowes Railway Museum is in a perilous state and in recognition of the importance of the site and the urgency of the threat, we have offered a grant of £149,300.”
Other historic sites listed on English Heritage’s At Risk register, released today.
Old Sunderland Riverside: The conservation area contains many fine historic buildings dating from 18th to the late 19th centuries, but many are in an advanced state of dilapidation.
Marsden Lime Kilns: The kilns were built in the 1870s to process limestone from the nearby quarry. The end product, quicklime, was used to neutralise soil and to make cement and concrete. It was also important for the steel and chemical industries.
The F-Pit Museum in Washington: The site’s engine house dates from 1926 and the pit site dates from 1777. Running costs and low visitor numbers caused the museums service to cease operation and the lease has now been surrendered back to Sunderland City Council.
Screen Wall at the Monkwearmouth Museum of Land Transport: Built in 1848 as a branch terminus for the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway Company, the station closed in 1981 and is now a museum. The central museum building was recently repaired as part of a major programme of works, but the screen wall was not included and remains in a poor condition.