A look at Sunderland Illuminations through the decades.

It wouldn't be Sunderland without the illuminations at this time of year.

Monday, 19th September 2016, 10:00 am
Sunderland Illuminations in Roker Park in 1952.

And they will be making a popular return within days, with tens of thousands of people turning up to watch.

But they have quite a history behind them and Philip Curtis, from the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, explains more.

Sunderland Illuminations in 1952.

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It is now eighty years since the illuminations were first introduced to Sunderland.

Back in 1936, it was felt that they would grow and eventually become a popular tourist attraction.

Initially the lights were confined to Roker Park with a small charge being made for entry.

In addition a number of the Corporation trams which travelled along the seafront were decorated and lit up for the duration.

The brochure from 1938.

The venture proved successful and it was agreed that the illuminations would become an annual event.

However this was short-lived and when the Second World War broke out, the blackouts brought an end to the displays.

The lights did not return until September 1949.

It was for a 30-day season and this time the seafront at Seaburn was included to complement the display in Roker Park which boasted gondolas, Disney characters and a world of wood nymphs and hobgoblins.

A Sunderland tram decorated in 1961.

Again the Corporation trams were decorated and these added to the colour and spectacle of the lights.

More than 10,000 people turned out just for the trial switch-on which occurred on September 1 that year but over 100,000 were there for the official switch-on which was performed by the Mayor, Alderman Jack Cohen two nights later. During the first week-end, the lights attracted almost 250,000 visitors and, by the end of the four weeks, the number had risen to almost 4 million.

The illuminations proved so popular that the council sought permission from the Ministry of Power and Fuel for permission to extend the season by two weeks but their plea was turned down.

Remember this was a period of austerity and hardship.

Workmen putting the finishing touches to figures.

A decorated tramcar stationed at Seaburn terminus was one of the great attractions and the lighthouse, which was illuminated for the first time since 1938, looked dramatic against the background of the sea.

Once again a lot of the main focus was on Roker Park and it was transformed into a land of fairies, gnomes and pixies.

Marley’s Ghost was prominent and every corner of the park seemed to provide a different feature.

The illuminations proved financially successful with the Entertainment department receipts showing an increase to £15,000 compared with £3,000 the year before.

Sunderland’s Entertainment Manager stated: ‘With such vast numbers of people arriving it is obvious that a considerable amount of business must have been brought to the town.’

Watch out for more on the illuminations from Philip in another article in Wearside Echoes, to be published later this week.

Preparing for the display in 1936.
A close-up on the illuminations.
A colour view at Roker Park.
SCT 61 outside Hylton Rd depot ready for the first post-war illuminations 2nd September 1949
Roker Park bandstand in 1937.
A colour view of the lights.
Sunderland Illuminations in 1952.
The brochure from 1938.
A Sunderland tram decorated in 1961.
Workmen putting the finishing touches to figures.
Preparing for the display in 1936.
A close-up on the illuminations.
A colour view at Roker Park.
SCT 61 outside Hylton Rd depot ready for the first post-war illuminations 2nd September 1949
Roker Park bandstand in 1937.
A colour view of the lights.