Latest on plans for Sunderland's historic Elephant Tea Rooms building

Plans to revitalise Sunderland’s historic Elephant Tea Rooms are set to go before councillors for decision next week.

Wednesday, 29th December 2021, 4:27 pm

The Grade II-listed building in the city centre has been earmarked for a major revamp as part of regeneration works to preserve the city’s heritage.

Detailed proposals include external repairs and restoration works, including new shop fronts inspired by the building’s historic architecture.

The external works are being supported with funding from the city council, Historic England and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities through the Future High Streets Fund and Heritage Action Zone projects.

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One of the elephants adorning the building

Next week, Sunderland City Council’s Planning and Highways (East) Committee will discuss applications for the landmark listed building.

This includes removing the existing shop front and replacing it with new traditional timber and masonry shop fronts.

In addition, repair and conservation works are planned to the upper elevations, including masonry and window repairs and replacing three casement windows at first floor level with sliding-sash windows.

Sunderland City Council planning officers have recommended the scheme for approval.

The unique Elephant tea rooms

A planning report prepared for councillors reads: “The proposed striking new shop fronts will significantly enhance the architectural quality and townscape value of the building, and wider character of the historic street scene and conservation area.

“The form, style and detailing of the shop front for the Elephant Tea Rooms takes inspiration from the historic terracotta frontage that was lost in the 20th century, using the scale, proportions, arched openings and decorative detailing in a more contemporary predominately brick construction due to budget and practical limitations but incorporating attractive brick special and stone features.

“This approach has been agreed with Historic England and is considered a well-informed and high-quality solution that will revitalise the building and once again give the iconic Tea Rooms a street frontage and presence its architecture deserves.”

The planning report goes on to say: “The proposals will conserve and considerably enhance the character and significance of an iconic landmark listed building and this part of the Sunniside Conservation Area, whilst also helping to facilitate the long-term future re-use of the buildings.”

A series of stunning dragon sculptures

The Elephant Tea Rooms have been a part of Sunderland’s history since the 1870s, when they were built for tea merchant William Grimshaw and used as a grocer’s shop and tea warehouse for Grimshaw & Son.

Designed by Sunderland architect Frank Caws, the upper floors of the Tea Rooms boast intricate terracotta and stonework features, including ornamental elephants, birds and gargoyles looking over the high street.

Matching shop fronts were later replaced in the 20th century when the building was converted into a bank.

The new Business and IP Centre (BIPC) is due to be one of six new outposts of the British Library-backed scheme in the region, which has been operating from a Newcastle base since 2011.

Councillors on the Planning and Highways (East) Committee will discuss plans for the building’s future on Wednesday, January 5.

The meeting starts at 5.30pm in the City Hall Council Chamber and is open to the public.

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