A tasty tradition dating back to the 16th century was kept as a crowd was served up with roast ox to mark the event at the centre of Houghton Feast.
The first in the queue had stood for three hours before serving began following a ceremony led by Mayor of Sunderland, Lynda Scanlan.
A highlight of the 10-day festival, the roasting of the ox – now joints of beef – is held in tribute to the 16th century Rector Bernard Gilpin, who would feed the poor of the town.
It also recognises Michaelmas, the festival of the dedication of the parish of St Michael’s and All Angels, the nearby church which has already hosted a civic service.
In the 24 hours leading up to the 4pm launch, 230kg of meat from Piper’s butchers in Hetton was roasted by a team of workers from the town’s Rotary Club, with 1,200 Edinburgh Bakery buns ready to be made up.
The effort is on such a grand scale, George Vardy haulage firm is brought in to transport the beef to the Rectory Field for the Monday feast.
The Rotary revived it 50 years ago and we have still got the same support from the people of Houghton today, because it’s a very important community event.Graham McGarth
Graham McGrath, president of Houghton-le-Spring Rotary, said: “People have been queuing up for hours for as far as the eye can see.
“It’s great that the Rotary is keeping this tradition going as it dates back to Bernard Gilpin.
“The Rotary revived it 50 years ago and we have still got the same support from the people of Houghton today, because it’s a very important community event.
“The whole of Houghton Feast takes place over 10 days, and this is just part of it.
“It’s not a fundraising event, but we want to keep this as part of a tradition going.”
Coun Scanlan, who gifted the first sandwich to Irene Shield, who had stood at the front of the queue since 1pm, added: “It was a fabulous weekend here and there is so much community spirit from all the people who were here and again at the roasting of the ox.”
Among those who lined up to collect sandwiches was Andrew Doyle, 42, who picked up one each for wife Joanne, 42, son Liam, 18, and daughter Amy-Jo, 11, as well as miniature schnauzer Alfie.
The brick tinter, who runs the Brick Doctor firm, said: “I’m over the moon because it’s only the third time I’ve managed to make it because I’m usually working.
“It’s nice to see all the faces you know, because sometimes Houghton Feast is the only time you see each other to catch up.”
The roasting of the ox followed on from Friday’s launch.
A parade filled with community groups was held on Saturday.
Houghton Feast is organised by a steering group and supported by the council and the Coalfield Area Committee, with this year’s event given a Greatest Showman theme.
For more details, visit www.houghtonfeast.co.uk.