With its gothic features and intricate stonework, Dalton Pumping Station, in Cold Hesledon, is one of East Durham’s most distinctive Victorian buildings.
During its heyday, the mighty 9,000 sq foot structure, which was built from 1873-1879, would have pumped reservoir water to homes in Dalton-le-Dale, Seaham and Sunderland.
It ceased operating as a pumping station in the Second World War as domestic plumping improved and has been little used ever since. A developer bought it more than 20 years ago, but plans for a restaurant and housing never came to fruition.
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But, after a two year renovation project, it will now be opening its doors for brides and grooms wanting to marry among its striking features.
Affectionately known as Lady Dalton, the building is already proving popular with couples, with 86 weddings already booked for 2022 and 138 weddings in total, before it’s even opened its doors.
Next weekend will be the first nuptials at the site and it will mark the completion of a real labour of love for the owners.
Vikki McCarthy-Wright, who owns successful House of Mooshki bridal fashion business, and her husband Ian Wright, who owns Rufus Creative Design, bought the site in 2020 and have since had to navigate a pandemic and Storm Arwen as they transformed it into a licensed wedding venue.
Working to maintain the site’s historic features has been paramount and they’ve worked closely with the conservation team at Durham County Council, as well as their own builders, HBS, which did such a good job that the new bar at the venue has been called Hambleton’s in the firm’s honour.
Restoration work has included new windows, flooring, heating, installing gas and electric and creating new rooms, such as a kitchen, toilets and a bridal suite and groom’s room where couples can get ready for their big day.
Vikki, who lives in Roker, said: “Even when derelict she still looked beautiful. A lot of work was done with English Heritage in the ‘90s which did a lot of the structural works. However, we faced challenges such as installing gas and electric in a building which hasn’t had it for 80 years, that was a nine-month battle alone. But the conservation team, as well as our builders, have been fantastic.
"This is an amazing building and so many couples have already fallen in love with her and her history. She’s like the old dowager from Downton Abbey, so we started calling her Lady Dalton and it’s stuck.”
Eighty chandeliers have been installed at the site, which features the Pump Room for ceremonies, where couples can marry against the impressively intact steam-powered engines, before heading to the 4,000sqft Boiler Room, a former workshop and coal store which is now an events space.
Originally commissioned by Sunderland and South Shields Water Company, the site was created by leading 19th Century engineer Thomas Hawksley, a man whose talents also brought clean water to the area through Cleadon waterworks and Ryhope Pumping Station. These feats of engineering played a major role in improving the health of residents in the post cholera-epidemic years.