Renovation plans approved for Sunderland's landmark Elephant Tea Rooms

Plans to renovate Sunderland’s iconic Elephant Tea Rooms have been given the go-ahead.

Friday, 7th January 2022, 1:08 pm

This week, councillors backed plans to revamp the Grade II-listed landmark in the city centre as part of regeneration works to preserve the city’s heritage.

The works have funding support from Sunderland City Council, Historic England and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities through the Future High Streets Fund and Heritage Action Zone projects.

On January 5, a council Planning and Highways committee approved external repairs and restoration works, including a new shop front inspired by the building’s historic architecture.

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The unique Elephant tea rooms

This includes removing the existing ground floor shop fronts and replacing them with traditional timber and masonry shop fronts, and repairs and conservation works to the building’s upper elevations.

Councillor James Doyle, welcoming the scheme, told the meeting: “I think most members would agree that the existing ground floor frontage of the building is incongruous with the upper floors – it’s not suitable at all.

“I think this proposal remedies that and I think the word used by the Sunderland Civic Society [in a letter of support] that its a ‘dignified ground floor frontage’ that is proposed is very apt.”

Councillor Niall Hodson added: “The current elevation of that building is an abhorration, it’s quite shocking that that was allowed to happen to such a significant building in our city centre.

One of the elephants adorning the building

“Obviously because of where it is on Fawcett Street this is a really high visual impact sort of entrance and exit to the city.

“It’s a massively significant building architecturally and it’s really important that we’re restoring it for the future of our city centre and future generations.

“I’m really pleased and thank the planning and heritage officers for the work they have done on this because the proposed elevations are a really high-quality build and restore the corner column.

“That whole area around Mackie’s Corner, it is improving in a really positive way, in a way that is respectful of Sunderland’s history and heritage.

A series of stunning dragon sculptures

“Certainly I think it’s a really positive thing to see and I know that it will be warmly received by residents as it has a lot of foot traffic.”

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.

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

A planning report prepared for councillors said the new shop fronts would “enhance the architectural quality” of the building while also helping to “facilitate its long-term future re-use.”

The report adds that the renovation works, agreed with Historic England, will “revitalise the building and once again give the iconic Tea Rooms a street frontage and presence its architecture deserves.”

Councillor Michael Butler, chairing the Planning and Highways (East) Committee, also welcomed the proposals for the heritage building.

“What a beautiful piece of architecture that is and that can hopefully be preserved for the future,” he said.

“This is Sunderland at its best in my opinion.”

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