Restoration of Sunderland's historic Elephant Tearooms takes a step forward

Plans to transform a historic Sunderland landmark have been given the green light and will be on display to showcase the city’s unique heritage.

Thursday, 3rd February 2022, 2:36 pm

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The Grade II listed Elephant Tea Rooms is set to undergo external repair and restoration works - which are scheduled to begin in spring this year – including striking new shop fronts, the repair of delicate terracotta features and the reinstatement of lost decoration.

Located at the corner of High Street West and Fawcett Street in the city centre, it is one of the architectural highlights of Sunderland, constructed at the height of Victorian wealth and investment in the town.

Built as a shop and warehouse for the grocer William Grimshaw and Sons, to a design by Frank Caws, it took several years to build and opened to the public in April 1875. The building has a distinctive Hindu Gothic style featuring intricate ornamental elephants, oriental birds and gargoyles overlooking the high street.

Plans to restore the historic tearooms have taken a step forward

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The external rejuvenation of this exceptional building, which is owned by Sunderland City Council, is being supported with funding of £500,000 from the City Council, Historic England and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) through the Future High Street Fund and Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) projects.

The new shopfront designs, created by Mosedale Gillatt Architects Ltd, will be on display at the Local History Library in the Elephant Tea Rooms on Thursday February 17, as part of the Sunderland HAZ Heritage Skills Programme which aims to provide opportunities for people to participate and learn about traditional craft building skills.

The ‘Meet the Architect’ event is open to the public between 10am-2pm and will showcase the drawings and plans for the project, as well as provide insight into the skills needed to work on traditional buildings like the Tea Rooms. There will also be an opportunity to meet the architect from Mosedale Gillatt Ltd between 11am and 12 noon. This is a drop-in event and refreshments will be available.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The Elephant Tea Rooms is a stunning building and we’re thrilled plans are moving forward to continue reviving this area of the city centre.

The structure is one of the city centre's finest buildings

“We must protect and maintain historically important buildings, and the Tea Rooms is part of a series of restoration projects that Sunderland City Council is proud to be supporting.

“The blend of old and new across our city centre is really taking shape, with the likes of the recently restored Mackie’s Corner and the transformation taking place at Riverside Sunderland - we’re respecting the past and building for the future.”

Maria Carballeira, from Historic England, said: “The work on the restoration of Sunderland’s fantastic Elephant Tea Rooms, as part of the Heritage Action Zone, is another positive step forward. It highlights the power of using heritage to breathe new life into the city centre to generate economic, social and cultural recovery.

“The Elephant Tea Rooms is a wonderful, iconic landmark on Sunderland’s skyline. I’d encourage everyone to visit the display and see the new plans for the renovation and, when next walking past the building, to take a moment to look up and marvel at the intricate carvings.”

New shopfront design images – credit Mosedale Gillat Architects Ltd.

Iona Howell, Associate Director at Mosedale Gillatt Architects Ltd said “We’re delighted to be playing a part in the transformation of this historic Sunderland landmark”.

Further opportunities will be available as construction work on Elephant Tea Rooms begins, with hard hat tours and practical workshops led by expert craftspeople.

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New shopfront design images – credit Mosedale Gillat Architects Ltd.