Wearside Matters: Exhibition to shine light on city’s port

The Port of Sunderland.
The Port of Sunderland.
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A major exhibition is set to bring to life Port of Sunderland’s 300th anniversary and the vital role it has played in the development of the city.

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens will host the Port 300 Exhibition, telling the story of how the River Wear Commissioners and Port of Sunderland were and continue to be instrumental to the city’s economic and industrial success.

The free exhibition will open on Saturday and run until Sunday, February 25, forming part of a year of celebrations that have included community lectures, a light installation in Keel Square, Heritage Tours and the unveiling of a Blue Plaque commemorating the achievements of engineer John Murray on behalf of the River Wear Commission.

Port 300: 300 years of the River Wear Commissioners and Port of Sunderland funded by Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Roker Pier and Lighthouse project as well as MAKE it Sunderland, tells the story of how Sunderland developed into a major trading port following the appointment of the Commissioners for the River Wear in 1717, and the economic and industrial success that followed.

Exhibits will include paintings and prints, maps, photographs, documents, objects and models from the Museum’s own extensive collections as well as a specially commissioned short film and a programme of events and activities.

Leader of Sunderland City Council and chairman of the Port Board, Councillor Paul Watson, said: “It’s so important to remember and recognise the vital role our port has played in the development of our great city.

“In doing so we pay tribute to the hardworking men and women who created the shipbuilding powerhouse Sunderland once was. We were world-renowned for our industrial capabilities, with the river over-flowing with ships made here.”

He added: “It’s hard to believe that little under four decades ago, Sunderland’s shipyards employed more than 7,500 people – yet just ten years later, in 1988, the last remaining yard closed and it seemed that, with it, Sunderland’s port would vanish.

“But, despite some challenges over the years, our port has reinvented itself, with major infrastructure and investment that has returned it to a profitable port and one that has a bright future.

“Next year, of course, the River Wear will once again be bustling with ships when we host the Tall Ships Races 2018, a great honour and a fantastic opportunity for our city and our port.

“With huge levels of investment in the city – amounting to £1.3billion – by 2024, when we host this fantastic event, we will be a better, bolder city, with our long-awaited new Wear Crossing; a fantastic new building on the former Vaux brewery site and a new Cultural Quarter in the heart of the city centre.

“Changes are abundant and it is an exciting time for us all – and at the heart of it all, at the centre of the city’s revival, is the Port of Sunderland, where it all began 300 years ago.”

The River Wear’s development to meet the need to transport coal from the Durham coalfield led to Sunderland becoming one of the UK’s leading coal exporters and achieving international recognition as the largest shipbuilding town in the world.

The exhibition will chart the port’s history, showcasing the impact it has had on the city’s culture and economy.

The exhibition is free to attend, and will be located in the Special Exhibitions Gallery of Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

To find out more, visit www.seeitdoitsunderland.co.uk