How Sunderland embraced the swinging 60s and what was the height of cool

The 60s were an ultra cool era for Britain and Sunderland was no exception.

Sunday, 4th July 2021, 4:55 am

But what was the height of cool on Wearside during that famous period?

We take a look with the help of historian Philip Curtis and the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

Haversacks from Brechners.

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A flashback to Sunderland in the 60s.
A flashback to Sunderland in the 60s.

Crowtree Road was a jumble of shops and pubs and Brechners seemed to sell just about everything. One of the biggest lines was army surplus haversacks, previously a standard item of kit for the building worker.

But by the 1960s, they were a must-have replacement for leather school satchels. Students loved to write the name of their favourite group or pop singer on them.

Bis Bar – the headquarters of cool.

The ultra-modern Bis Bar in Park Lane had mods posing on the tall stools near the windows, which were ceiling to floor. This is where the teenagers hung out, especially on a Saturday, when you discovered what was going down that night.

Shopping in Sunderland in the 1960s.

The must-have look.

Black polo neck shirts, Chelsea boots and sheepskin jackets, if you could afford them, were standard items for the fashion conscious and the centre of Sunderland was definitely more mod than rocker.

West One and Petticoat Boutique for the latest fashions.

Carnaby Street fashion was slow to reach Sunderland but eventually arrived in High Street West with the opening of the West One male boutique, a few doors from the Dun Cow public house. For the girls, Petticoat Boutique began in a Frederick Street basement

Bis Bar in Park Lane in April 1965.

Tech, the best place for a dance?

The university, then The Polytechnic, competed with the Teacher Training college to put on the best dance. Pop music and ‘A’ levels achievement combined to influence many a liaison.

The ‘Tech Dances’ which were held on a Saturday night, attracted up-and-coming pop groups and were usually packed out.

Last dance at the Locarno.

A 1960 advert in the Sunderland Echo for Bis Bar which was hailed as Sunderland's best nightspot. Do you agree?

An alternative on a Saturday night was The Locarno in Newcastle Road. With its large dance floor it became very popular with young Wearsiders. The last dance of the evening at The Locarno was usually March of the Mods.

Clubbing in 60s Sunderland.

The El Cubana in Toward Road and Club 11 in Villiers Street were the clubs of the young.

Other clubs for young Wearsiders which were open in the decade included Club Astec, The Blue Note, Annabels and, of course, The Bay Hotel and The Rink were both still going strong. All were extremely popular.

Top turns on the housing estates.

This was the time of the height of the working men’s clubs on the estates where the local residents could see top turns at the big clubs.

Philip added: “Sunderland in the 1960s was a terrific place for teenagers, with no lack of choice for venues with music and dancing.”

Our thanks go once again to Philip and the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

To find out more about the history of Sunderland, visit the Antiquarian Society’s Facebook page or its website at

And if you have any aspect of Wearside history you would like to share with us, email [email protected]

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Sunderland Polytechnic in the 1980s. Twenty years earlier, Tech dances were the place to be.