Inside Roker Pier tunnel and lighthouse: What you can expect on the first tours of Sunderland landmark's hidden history

One of Sunderland's hidden gems is throwing open its doors to the public.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 13 August, 2018, 15:17

A £2.5million Heritage Lottery Fund-backed scheme to restore the Roker pier and lighthouse is complete.

And now, after years of planning and a number of setbacks due to storm damage, public tours are finally up and running.

The Grade ll listed lighthouse has undergone a complete transformation over the last six years, while the pier tunnel, which once provided the only means for the keeper to reach the lighthouse in stormy weather, has also been restored with a new entrance.

When Sunderland City Council began the restoration in 2012, the lighthouse was little more than a shell, having been repeatedly vandalised and stripped of many of its original features.

Restoration has included conservation of the lantern house, repairs to the tunnel floor and drains and work to improve access. Many of the original features have also been lovingly recreated.

With the £2.5million restoration financed with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, members of the public can now sign up for tours to see inside the lighthouse and tunnel for themselves.

Roker Pier tunnel and lighthouse tours following restoration work.

Coun Rebecca Atkinson, Sunderland City Council's Deputy Portfolio Holder for Housing and Regeneration, said: "Roker Pier and Lighthouse is one of the city's best loved landmarks.

"But it's a building that very few members of the public have ever been inside so it's really exciting to be welcoming our first visitors into this historic structure and giving them a glimpse into its past."

Coun Atkinson, whose great-great-grandfather moved from Ireland to work on construction of the pier, added: "Today is all the more exciting given the setbacks we've had in recent years with the November 2016 storm putting paid to our original hopes of opening the lighthouse to visitors - the very day we were due to start the tours.

"Then we had more delays due to damage from the 'Beast from the East' in February.

Coun Rebecca Atkinson, Phil Tweddell and Ivor Crowther at the new entrance

"There's been an enormous amount of interest in the project over recent years. This is a chance for members of the public to see inside the lighthouse and tunnel for themselves and I hope they'll be pleased with what they see."

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Ivor Crowther, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: "We are delighted that the public have been so very supportive of the projects we have been involved with, such as the pier, Hylton Castle, and the Old Fire Station.

"Heritage doesn't have to be dusty - it comes alive when you involve members of the public."

Tours are being run by volunteers from the Roker Heritage Group which is also taking over the stewardship of the pier from the City Council.

Roker Heritage Group volunteers

Group chairman Phil Tweddell's grandfather, William Emmerson, was lighthouse keeper at Roker for 50 years, retiring at 75.

Phil is delighted to see it restored to its former glory and open to the public: "My sister, my cousins and I used to come to Pier Cottage where he lived and this was our playground a lot of the time," he said.

"I was shocked when I first saw the state of disrepair the lighthouse had fallen into when it became fully automated and the lighthouse keeper was no longer required.

"But the refurbishment has been magnificent and now the public will be able to see what a wonderful building it is.

"It is 115 years old and has withstood the test of time - the Victorians excelled themselves when they built this."

Roker Pier and lighthouse was hailed as a triumph of Victorian engineering when it first opened in the early 1900s. Built between 1885 and 1903 by Henry Hay Wake who was Chief Engineer with the River Wear Commissioners, its beam of light was reputedly visible 15 miles out to sea.

The view from the lighthouse

The pier tours, which will operate three times a day, cost £6 for adults and £4 for children. Proceeds from the tours will go to Roker Heritage Group and will be ploughed back into community activities and outreach work. All tours are weather dependent.

For more information and to book a tour, visit http://www.rokerpier.co.uk/

Roker Pier tunnel and lighthouse tours following restoration work Roker Pier volunteer Peter Connor in the light room