Sunderland Town Hall

History of Sunderland Town Hall with images.

To begin with, Sunderland was very late in providing a town hall to house its councillors and officials.

Since 1835, council meetings took place in the Exchange Building in the old East End of Sunderland (right image). But, by 1870, pressure was mounting to remedy the situation and provide a building more appropriate to the needs while providing more dignity.

Sunderland Town Hall - Exchange Building - East End - council meetings

Sunderland Town Hall Proposals

The first proposal for the new building came from architect Joseph Potts in 1868. Indeed, Potts suggested developing the Fawcett Street site for the erection of a council chamber and administrative offices. He also proposed a concert hall, library, museum and police courts in the same building.

In short, Potts’ proposed centralised facility included renting out parts of the site to help pay for the £45,000 scheme. In this case, tenants would have included the Post Office, the Inland Revenue and 11 shops. However, Sunderland Corporation turned down the idea on cost.

In view of the rising need for a new Sunderland Town Hall, in 1873 the council made a start. That is to say, they decided to hold an architectural competition after buying the Fawcett Street site. With this in mind, submissions for the new building was to cost no more than £20,000. Of course, the council clearly didn’t want to go over budget.

All in all, thirty designs flooded in and there was an exhibition in April 1874 displaying most of them. The corporation, who were judging the designs had picked two winners, but could not decide which was the best. Indeed, even after several years of effort, no progress was forthcoming. As a result, there was a temporary abandonment of the project.

In 1886, there was the announcement of a new competition, this time with a cost limit of £27,000. Moreover, there was a winner this time. In this case, the winning architect was Brightwen Binyon of Ipswich.

Sunderland Town Hall Opens

Sunderland Town Hall in Fawcett Street - Victorian building

Built by Sunderland brothers, John and Thomas Tillman, the new Sunderland Town Hall indeed opened on November 6th 1890.

Sunderland Town Hall with trams adverts - Shop At Binns
Obviously, this was a ceremonious occasion for the town. However, this meant that it took around twenty years for the idea to come to fruition.

Although the building did cost £27,000, the total cost came to nearly £50,000.

This is because other items had to come into the equation, like the cost of the land, services and decorations.

By and large, the new Sunderland Town Hall seemed to be a credit to the town. However, all was not well. This is because, from the beginning, it was inadequate for its purpose. In fact, the beautiful Victorian building only survived for 80 years.

Sunderland Town Hall in Fawcett Street in the sixties 1960's

In any event, Sunderland County Borough needed bigger premises in which to do business. So, in 1964, they chose Sir Basil Spence, Bonnington & Collins as the architects for the new Sunderland Civic Centre. This, of course, was to replace the old Sunderland Town Hall. Indeed, after commencing work in January 1968, the new Sunderland Civic Centre opened in July 1970. Moreover, the total cost of this project was £3,359,000. In the meantime, a number of departments had to relocate until the Civic Centre was able to accommodate everything.

Town Hall Demolished

Since Sunderland Town Hall was a beautiful Victorian building, proposals for alternative uses came forward. Obviously, this was in an attempt to preserve the building. However, the council rejected all of them. Thus, in 1971, demolition of Sunderland Town Hall began and this was a controversial move to say the least. Indeed, many people say that pulling down Sunderland Town Hall is Sunderland’s greatest architectural tragedy.

Sunderland Town Hall walkway and footpath after demolition - Wearside Online

Wearsiders may remember the footpath after demolition.

Wearsiders think the council was wrong to demolish Sunderland Town Hall, of course. However, what makes things worse is that they are not keen on the newer Sunderland Civic Centre building.
Sunderland Town Hall and Civic Centre - steps and disabled ramps
This is despite it being an award winning design. In the first place, it is not centrally located. Then, accessing the building is a nightmare for some due to all the steps.

So much for modernisation, many think that the newer civic centre will not last longer than the old town hall. In fact, various departments have began to move elsewhere in the city. However, the tragedy of destroying part of Sunderland’s heritage leaves a bad taste with many on Wearside.


Wearside Online allows visitors to comment on this or any other article, so leave a comment in the box below. However, we already have discussions about the old Sunderland Town Hall in the massive Sunderland Forum. But, you may open another there if you so choose.

Our massive Sunderland Message Boards allow for social interaction for all Wearsiders, Mackems and SAFC supporters. So please pop over and start a new discussion on any local issue.

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8 Responses to Sunderland Town Hall

  1. bill scott says:

    I was a member of the borough council from
    1970 till 1976 ,
    The then tory controlled group con us to demolish the town hall
    It should be standing to this day
    Modernise yes take the heart out NO

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    • Bill J says:

      Bill, if you were a member of the borough council at the time, did you oppose the demolition? And why did your fellow councillors sanction this?

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  2. Bill says:

    Disgraceful 1971 Sunderland Councillors, they should be locked up and throw away the key – absolute disgraceful ignorance

    Could only happen in Sunderland!! Wouldnt have been allowed to happen elsewhere, for example all newcastles historic buildings are preserved

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    • Chris says:

      This is very far from the truth. Examples include:
      – Newcastle Town Hall which was built in 1863 in the Bigg Market and was demolished after years of dereliction in 1973 (just two years after Sunderland Town Hall).
      – Great swathes of Grainger Town was pulled down in the 1970s to make way for Eldon Square. Only one side of Eldon Square survives to this day.
      – There are many 20th century buildings on Northumberland Street with few of the Regency buildings surviving.
      – Jesmond Road which has 18th century terraces was cut in half so that the Central Motorway could be ploughed through it in the 1970s.

      Yeah, the 1970s was a bad decade for old buildings in Newcastle as well.

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  3. Bill J says:

    Palmers Arcade demolished – another ignorant decision from Sunderland Councillors – disgraceful

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  4. Jim says:

    Sunderland council guilty of this crime pulling down that building. Corruption ?…

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  5. Leslie Scott says:

    In hindsight a lot of decisions would not have been taken. The council cannot be held totally responsible for the loss of heritage. The 70’s carried on a long tradition and era of knock it down and replace. The ‘refurbishment’ movement only got going in the middle 80’s when the economics made sense. I dont remember a big public outcry when the Town Hall was demolished. We were all excited about the new hotel promised by the Conservative controlled’ council.

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  6. Peter says:

    I cannot believe the Labour council demolished this building, MORE DESTRUCTION THAN THE NAZIS AND LUFTWAFFE EVER DID. Why the fuck do the locals still vote for these FUCKWITS.

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