11 photographs of the old Sunderland Town Hall

Fawcett Street and the Town Hall in 1890.
Fawcett Street and the Town Hall in 1890.
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An iconic Sunderland building which disappeared from the skyline 45 years ago is the subject of this week’s feature.

Our focus on the Town Hall comes to us courtesy of Phil Curtis and the excellent team at the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

The demolition work under way.

The demolition work under way.

Chris Cordner reports.

Of all the demolished buildings in Sunderland, one that is greatly missed by Wearsiders is the Town Hall which stood in the centre of Fawcett Street.

With its chiming clock, which could be heard across the town, it seemed that it set the time for all of Wearside.

It was demolished in 1971 but is still held in high regard by all who can remember it.

Wth its chiming clock, which could be heard across the town, it seemed that it set the time for all of Wearside

Philip Curtis, Sunderland Antiquarian Society

The need for a Town Hall in Sunderland was first evident in the 1880s when the town had a real need for a new centre in which to run its affairs.

The council had been holding its meetings at the Police Court in West Wear Street in premises that were inadequate.

An area called The Shrubbery in Fawcett Street was identified as the perfect site for a new Town Hall.

The Shrubbery, which had originally been put in place for the benefit of the first residents of Fawcett Street, had become neglected and was duly purchased in 1887 by Sunderland Corporation from Woods Bank (now Barclays),

The interior of Sunderland Town Hall in the 1950s.

The interior of Sunderland Town Hall in the 1950s.

They requested that the Town Hall be of classical design in order to complement their own property further along on the corner.

A competition for the best design was held and the winner was Brightwen Binyon, an architect from Ipswich. The mayor, Edward Richardson, laid the foundation stone on September 29, 1887 and the building was completed within three years at a cost of £50,000.

The new mayor, Robert Shadworth, opened it amidst great celebrations on November 6, 1890.

In line with the demands of Woods, the style of architecture was Italian Renaissance with a central tower 140 feet in height. Its Council chamber and Mayor’s Office were, at that time, the finest in the country and the central position of the building gave character and dignity to a street that, in the first half of the twentieth century, was Sunderland’s commercial and administrative centre.

The old town hall site.

The old town hall site.

The Town Hall lasted only eighty years. Although looking impressive, its facilities were soon found to be inadequate and a number of departments had to be housed elsewhere.

In 1971 a new Civic Centre was opened on the West Park in Burdon Road, the Town Hall was demolished and Sunderland lost arguably its finest building.

At that time it was felt that the town needed a quality hotel and the Council had discussions with a chain that was looking for a suitable site in the centre of Sunderland. The Town Hall site in Fawcett Street seemed ideal and the decision to demolish was made.

However the hotel chain dropped out and did not proceed with their plans and, following demolition, the site remained unbuilt on for a long period.

Removing one of the clock bells for storage.

Removing one of the clock bells for storage.

Robert Gothard winding the Town Hall Clock.

Robert Gothard winding the Town Hall Clock.

The entrance to the building taken in the 1950s.

The entrance to the building taken in the 1950s.

The interior of the Sunderland Town Hall  council chambers in 1950.

The interior of the Sunderland Town Hall council chambers in 1950.

Laying the Foundation Stone on September 29, 1887.

Laying the Foundation Stone on September 29, 1887.

The demolition in 1971.

The demolition in 1971.