Inside Sunderland's historic Elephant Tea Rooms as work due to start on transformation project

We take a look inside one of Sunderland’s most historic buildings, the Elephant Tea Rooms, as work get set to start on transforming it into the city's Local Studies Library.

Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 17:29 pm
Outside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms, High Street West, Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID

Known for its eye-catching façade featuring ornamental elephants and oriental birds, the Elephant Tea Rooms on the corner of Fawcett Street and High Street West, has had many guises over the years.

Built between 1872-1877 by Henry Hopper and designed by Frank Caws, in its day the Elephant Tea Rooms was once home to a business credited with controlling one of the largest retail tea, coffee and grocery trades in the North East of England.

Most recently the Grade II-listed building was the Royal Bank of Scotland, but it is now set to become the city's Local Studies Library after it was bought by Sunderland City Council in June.

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The council is now pressing ahead with urgent repairs to its roof and is about to start on the interior, ahead of work next year to restore the building's exterior shop frontages as part of wider plans by the city's Heritage Action Zone.

The Local Studies Library holds the largest collection of records and information on Sunderland, that includes photographs, maps, film, trade directories, parish registers, newspapers and more.

When it reopens, the building will be named Sunderland’s Local History Library @ETR, offering better access for customers than the current Fawcett Street site, while the space on the first floor will be used to deliver events and activities.

Living History North East, Regional Oral History Centre will also have a presence in the building.

Outside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms, High Street West, Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID

Coun John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture, said: “It's fantastic that by buying the Elephant Tea Rooms, the City Council has been able to safeguard the long term future of this architectural gem.

“Local Studies has a really important role to play in recording and preserving the important records which chart the development of our city and its social and family history.

“It’s great to see more cultural activities come into the city and we already have an international connection with people who come to Sunderland to track their family histories, so this is just another step on the way.”

Sunderland City Councillor John Kelly inside the vault of the former bank that was located on the site of the Elephant Tea Rooms.
Inside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms on High Street West, Sunderland.
Inside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms.
Inside of the historic Sunderland building.
Inside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms.
Old sinks inside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms.
One of the large stairways inside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms.
One of the large rooms inside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms.
An old lock on one of the doors inside of the former Elephant Tea Rooms.