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 with dignity.

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.

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

Sunderland Town Hall Proposals

In fact, the first proposal 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 with a cost limit this time 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.

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