Crowds gathered to mark the official opening of a new landmark for Sunderland.
Hundreds braved the wet weather at Keel Square to celebrate the completion of the new public square.
Inspired by Sunderland’s shipbuilding and industrial heritage, the maritime-themed art feature is set to be a new focal point for the city and will host a number of events in the future.
The Mayor of Sunderland, coun Barry Curran, was on hand to cut the ribbon alongside the SAFC Ladies team, outside the Propellers of the City piece which features photographs of former shipyard workers.
Coun Paul Watson said: “We are really happy with the turnout today. Everything’s a gamble, but when you see people turn out like this, in this bad weather, to see the opening of the square it’s justification for it all.
“The square is a space to celebrate things, we can use it for whatever we want, from receptions and celebrations, to World Cup and Olympic events. It completes the picture of the city.”
Speaking about the inspiration behind the square’s theme, Coun Watson added: “Coal mining and shipbuilding are the two strands of the city’s industrial heritage. Incorporating former shipbuilders into the work turns it from glass and metal into something meaningful, it personalises it.”
The Propellers of the City sculpture is an interactive art work bearing the photographs of 400 Mackems who worked in the shipyards.
Among them are Stanley Michael Hills, from Ford Estate, and his father Stanley Hills. Both worked at the Doxfords shipyard in Pallion.
Stanley’s daughter Pauline Waters, 74, from Chester Road came along to the ceremony with her daughter Jackie Archer.
It was a proud moment for the family, who also collected a commemorative book which were given to family members of the men featured in the art work.
“I put my father and grandfather’s names forward for the project, as well as my uncle Ernie Fenwick,” explained Pauline.
She added: “I read in the Echo that my father and grandfather were going to feature in the propellor and I was so proud. Shipbuilding has long been part of our family.
“I think the square is fantastic. We have family in Australia and it’s great that they can come here when visiting and see this square.”
The £3million square is part of a multi-million pound regeneration and redevelopment strategy that has been re-shaping the city centre.
The works are intended to concentrate more economic activity in the city centre and have also seen improvements in St Mary’s Way, access for Vaux, and the development opportunity at the Crowtree site.
Following the official opening, there was a range of free family activities themed around the sea, live music, as well as the chance to see archived images of the Port of Sunderland.
There was also a 1/10 scale model of the HMS Venerable on display showing the flagship of Admiral Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown.
Highlights also included re-enactments of the story of Jack Crawford. In the year 1797, Jack Crawford, then aged 22, was serving on board HMS Venerable, the flagship of Admiral Duncan. The theatrical re-enactment showed how the famous young man from Sunderland saved the day for England.
Keel Square facts
•There are five timber lighting columns resembling ship’s masts with bronze bases. Four of the columns are 10m tall with bases made to look like riveted steel.
•The largest column at 12m has a base which looks like coiled rope, alluding to both the timber and steel ships produced on the Wear
•The development features fountains, adjustable lighting and specially commissioned “friendship benches” which incorporate a bronze end etched with the coats of arms of Saint Nazaire, Essen Washington DC and Harbin. The form of these benches resembles the benches that you would find on a ferry
•The Square itself is approximately 80 x 45m which is larger than most city squares and plazas (such as Durham Market Place and Earl Grey’s Monument or The Tron in Edinburgh which are typically 60 x 35m.
•There are two pieces of public art, the Keel Line and Propellers of the City. The Keel Line is a strip of engraved granite that runs through the square and will continue over St Mary’s Boulevard, and through Vaux site developments, to the riverside. At 291.7 metres (957ft) the line represents the full length of the ‘Naess Crusader’, the longest ship ever built in Sunderland and launched in December 1972. (almost three times the length of a football pitch). The line features the names of 8,102 of ships built in Sunderland since 1786 and has illustrations of notable people, places and events by Sunderland artist Bryan Talbot,
•The Square and Boulevard include 77 new semi mature trees
•The water feature has 55 in-ground “dancing jets of water”.
•The shape of table top water feature in black polished granite resembles the form of a ship and at night has uplit waterfalls. The stone surrounding this feature and the large circular planters are made from Cornish granite, regarded as one of the world’s finest stones and also used in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.