Historic Sunderland lighthouse put on at-risk register – experts say ‘decaying’ building needs urgent repairs

Old Roker Lighthouse, Cliff Park, Seaburn, Sunderland
Old Roker Lighthouse, Cliff Park, Seaburn, Sunderland
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One of Sunderland’s historic lighthouses is in “poor” condition and in urgent need of repair, according to heritage experts.

The Old South Pier Lighthouse, which stands in Roker’s Cliffe Park, is experiencing “slow decay” says Historic England, which today unveiled its At Risk Register for 2015.

Old Roker Lighthouse, Cliff Park, Seaburn, Sunderland

Old Roker Lighthouse, Cliff Park, Seaburn, Sunderland

The Grade II-listed structure, off Whitburn Road, was originally built on the old South Pier in Roker in 1856 by engineer Thomas Meik.

Constructed of iron and steel, it was transferred to its current site in 1983.

There is internal water ingress and some parts of the metal structure are starting to decay due to corrosion.

On the plus side, a condition survey has been prepared and funding allocated by Sunderland City Council to enable repair works to be undertaken.

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet secretary, Councillor Mel Speding, said: “All buildings are at some form of risk without maintenance and repairs, both old and new.

“The Cliffe Park Lighthouse dates from 1856 and was constructed by the River Wear Commissioners Chief Engineer Thomas Meik.

“Having originally been positioned on the old south pier, the lighthouse was moved to its current position in 1983 and is a much loved local landmark.

“The city council recognised structural issues with the Grade II* lighthouse in December 2014, notified Historic England, and immediately commissioned a detailed structural survey to fully understand the issues it faces.

“As a unique wrought iron structure, and in its exposed position where it bears the brunt of our coastal weather, the lighthouse has been regularly receiving new coats of paint.

“A more extensive maintenance and repair schedule, including structural and window repairs, is now being programmed to help conserve this important historic landmark.

“As with the council’s multi-million restoration and repair programme on Roker Pier and its lighthouse, the Heritage Protection Team are preparing details and working closely with Historic England to ensure this much-loved landmark is enjoyed for many more years to come.”

However, while the lighthouse has been added to the At Risk list, the First World War early warning Fulwell Acoustic Mirror on Namey Hill, 570 metres north of Carley Hill Cricket Ground, has been removed from the register.

This is after Grant Aid was provided by Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund towards £68,000-worth of improvements.

The structure – also known as a Listening Ear – was placed on the register in 2011, after falling into disrepair over the decades.

But a two-year restoration project involving Sunderland City Council, the Limestone Landscape Partnership and Heritage Lottery lifted it out of danger, and it was officially re-opened earlier this year.

The mirror was one of several Listening Ears built along the coast during the latter years of the Great War; designed as early warning devices to help keep Britain safe from Zeppelin attacks.

The concrete dish was carefully shaped to detect the noise of approaching airships and planes up to 15 minutes out to sea – a forerunner to modern radars – with any threat producing a warning signal.

Sadly, the mirror was built too late to save the lives of 22 people who died when Zeppelin L-11 dropped a deadly haul of explosives over Monkwearmouth on April 1, 1916.

But the device did provide warning of another potential attack in 1917, allowing enough time for the airbase at North Hylton to launch a counter attack - chasing the Zeppelin away from the town.

Despite its success, however, the development of new technology eventually left the acoustic mirror obsolete and as the years passed by, it became covered in weeds - and started to crumble away.