Sunderland Empire finally honoured with blue plaque to mark its importance to Wearside

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It's been keeping audiences entertained for 117 years.

The jewel in Sunderland's culture crown has finally received its very own blue plaque.

Sunderland Empire has been gifted a heritage Blue Plaque with Sunderland born theatre star Adam Strong with Theatre Director Marie Nixon.Sunderland Empire has been gifted a heritage Blue Plaque with Sunderland born theatre star Adam Strong with Theatre Director Marie Nixon.
Sunderland Empire has been gifted a heritage Blue Plaque with Sunderland born theatre star Adam Strong with Theatre Director Marie Nixon. | sn

Sunderland Empire is a mainstay of the city's skyline, attracting audiences from across the region to watch West End-quality shows in Edwardian splendour since 1907.

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Now, a nationally-recognised blue plaque has been unveiled to mark its historical significance.

Installed as part of Sunderland City Council’s Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the plaque was unveiled by Cllr John Price, Cabinet Member for Vibrant City, and Sunderland-born actor Adam Strong, who is currently starring as Jafar in Disney's Aladdin.

The plaque, which is situated above Vesta Tilley’s iconic founding stone, reads: "Grade II-listed building designed by W and TR Milburn as a music hall with a stunning Baroque interior.

"Opened 1st July 1907, became the first Civic Theatre in Britain in 1960."

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Adam from East Herrington is one of the city's home-grown theatrical talents whose love of the stage was inspired by childhood trips to the Empire.

As a youngster, he was a regular at the Empire and grew up watching their annual pantomime productions, where his sister, Sonia, was a regular dancer.

He went on to perform in his first production at the Empire when he was just eight, appearing in South Pacific and now has a successful career in theatre performing in shows including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, We Will Rock You and Rock of Ages.

"This is where it all began for me at eight-years-old," he said. "The blue plaque is very well deserved. If it wasn't for this amazing venue, I wouldn't be where I am today, playing this amazing role."

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Sunderland Empire theatre director Marie Nixon and actor Adam StrongSunderland Empire theatre director Marie Nixon and actor Adam Strong
Sunderland Empire theatre director Marie Nixon and actor Adam Strong | Sunderland Empire

Sunderland Empire’s plaque also includes a scannable QR code linking to the Theatre Space Youtube channel, where visitors and the local community can enjoy the lost voices of the past including musical hall star Vesta Tilley, thanks to Sunderland City Council’s 2023 collaboration with Theatre Space North East CIC and volunteers from the area who interactively bring the blue plaques to life.

Marie Nixon, Theatre Director at Sunderland Empire, said: “It's truly an honour to receive this Blue Plaque. It highlights the significance of the Empire in Sunderland's history, showcasing the best of theatre, arts, and culture right here in our city for over a century.

"As we look to a bright future for our theatre, it is gratifying to know that our history will be shared now and for generations to come.”

Councillor Price at Sunderland City Council said: “The Sunderland Empire is one of the city’s best-loved venues and an iconic building.

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"The Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme has been helping to restore and preserve the heritage buildings in this area of the city, and this blue plaque will help future generations to learn more about the Sunderland Empire.

"I know that so many of our residents have fond memories of watching shows at the Empire over its rich history, and I’m delighted to be unveiling this plaque here today to recognise its importance to our city.”

Honouring Sunderland's history

Minster Park was created as part of the Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage SchemeMinster Park was created as part of the Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme
Minster Park was created as part of the Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme | sn

The Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme was made possible due to Sunderland City Council being awarded £1.9m in funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2018. The scheme, combined with contributions from the owners and tenants, will see an expected £3m invested in the Minster Quarter.

The Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme runs until Summer 2024. It offers grants to historic building owners to carry out repairs, created the new Minster Park in 2020, and offers free events and volunteer activities to promote the history of the area.

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It's led to a number of restoration work in one of Sunderland's oldest areas, including works to The Peacock, Church Lane buildings and The Rabbit.

Bishopwearmouth is one of the three original settlements that came together to form modern-day Sunderland.

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