From riches to rubble: Sunderland’s Grand Hotel

FOR SALE: The Grand Hotel up for sale in February 1971.
FOR SALE: The Grand Hotel up for sale in February 1971.
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A WEARSIDE hotel – hailed as one of the “most artistic and imposing” in the North East – took years to build and decorate in Victorian times, but just days to bulldoze.

Councillor William Jackson splashed out on mosaic floors, oak staircases, stained-glass windows, plush carpets and marble pillars for the Grand Hotel in Bridge Street.

But, less than a century after it first opened for business in 1888, William’s council colleagues of the future tore down the five-storey building – in the name of progress.

“The Grand Hotel was one of the landmark buildings of the old town centre, and is still much-mourned today,” said Bill Hawkins, of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“It was a luxurious place which played a prominent role in the history of Wearside – even hosting crunch meetings for Sunderland AFC and Houghton Golf Club at times.

“Grand dinner dances, wartime fundraising, wedding receptions and Shakespeare Day celebrations were held there too, and it was a favourite haunt of the Rolling Stones.”

Plans for a lavish new Bridge Street hotel were drawn up for Coun Jackson in 1885 by South Shields architect T.A. Page, with contractors selected the following spring.

Work then began in the summer of 1886, by Sunderland firm D and J Ranken, while interior decorations – such as wood and glass – were sourced from around the world.

Two years later, just before the grand opening on May 17, 1888, a reporter from the Echo was invited to take a look round the Grand. He was left stunned by its style.

“The term ‘grand,’ so frequently misapplied, is an expressive and accurate one to use when speaking of the elaborate hotel Mr Jackson has had erected for him,” he wrote.

“It is undoubtedly the most artistic and imposing erection in the town, and even within the northern counties there are few structures of the kind to compare with it.”

The five-storey Queen Anne-style building featured two front entrances, complete with oak folding doors, as well as ornamental gates and “rich and superb” staircases.

The passage, floor and vestibule were laid with mosaic tiles, while the walls featured mahogany partitions and ornamental tiles and most windows were of stained-glass.

“On the first floor is the smoke room, a long and splendidly fitted-up apartment, where lovers of the fragrant weed can sit in ease and comfort,” wrote the reporter.

“Just a few steps away is the commercial room, with splendid Axminster carpets covering the floor and oak chairs monogrammed with the hotel’s golden emblem.

“However, it is the dining room which is the finest feature. The ceiling is a superb piece of work and the walls are covered in richly-carved oak, inlaid with mirrors.

“In the centre is a marble pillar with an octagonal oak table round it – used as a sideboard. Altogether, it is one of the finest dining halls to be met with anywhere.”

Other highlights of the Grand in 1888 included a billiard room, 20 bedrooms with lavatories on every landing, a coffee room, boot cleaning room and modern kitchens.

Indeed, so grand was The Grand, a three-course dinner cost upwards of nine shillings per person – almost as much as the weekly 13 shillings earned by shipyard labourers.

“Although the Grand proved hugely popular for decades, it eventually closed in 1969 after being bought by Berni Inns, who had plans to revamp the building,” said Bill.

“But then Berni Inns merged with Grand Metropolitan Hotels and the Grand was put up for sale at auction at £20,000. No-one met the asking price, so it was withdrawn.”

The hotel – by now boasting 50 bedrooms – rapidly fell into a “dilapidated state” and, in 1971, Sunderland Council began informal talks about buying it to “stop the rot”.

“It’s such a shame that a hotel hailed as a tremendous asset was left to fall to pieces. It was eventually demolished in 1974, to make way for redevelopment,” said Bill.

A historic hotel

•The first annual dinner of the officials of Sunderland Corporation was held at the Grand in January 1901.

•Mr Moyise welcomed dozens of hard-of-hearing Wearsiders to the Grand in May 1948, when he demonstrated a new vest-pocket radio valve Fortiphone.

•A celebration of Shakespeare Day and St George’s Day was held at the hotel on April 23, 1915.

•Dinner dances were held each Saturday at the Grand Hotel throughout the winter of 1933/4. Admission cost eight shillings – around £23 today.

•An Empire Day celebration meal was held at the Grand on May 24, 1935, with salmon, braised sweetbreads, Jamaican punch and Rhodesian cigarettes served.

•An Extraordinary General Meeting was held at the Grand in late 1954, to propose selling Houghton Golf Club. It was decided to try and battle on.

•The Sunderland shipbuilding form of Messrs Bartram marked it centenary with a celebration luncheon at the Grand in December 1937.

•A new entrance hall and lounge, to be placed at the rear of the hotel, was agreed in 1932 – as “far more people now arrived by car rather than train.”

•The annual general meeting of the shareholders of Sunderland Association Football Club was held at the Grand in July 1900.

•Mr SW Fawcett retired from the Millfield branch of Martin’s Bank in 1957 after 44 years. He treated his staff to tea at the Grand Hotel on his final day.

•Police searched the room of a gambler staying at the Grand after he used dice loaded with lead weights to win £2,000 from the Rokoko Club in the 1960s.