Sunderland shines through Sunniside up

PUBLISHED: 06:11 13 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:00 20 February 2013

Sunderland shines through Sunniside up

Sunderland shines through Sunniside up

Sunderland always has a lot going for it. The city has shrugged off more setbacks than Anne Widdicombe's dancing career but will always come up smiling, as Barbara Mason explains

The Wearside spirit remains indomitable. Despite seeing its bedrock industries of coal mining and shipbuilding vanish over the past 30 years and other major employers, notably Vaux Breweries, close down, the city that boasts a higher population than Newcastle always bounces back.

The centre of Sunderland has the typical range of shops that youd expect to find in any big city and with the once-windswept city centre long since covered in and developed as The Bridges, a bout of inclement weather can be cast aside as soon as you enter the retail hub.

Not many cities can boast the sandy coastline that Roker and Seaburn bring almost to the heart of Sunderland, nor the claims to be an ancient seat of world learning via the church of St Peters, which dates from AD 674.

Adjacent to the one-time home of the Venerable Bede is the National Glass Centre, which celebrates Sunderlands status as the place where glass was first used in Britain and its later reputation for glass production.

Indeed St Peters Church houses the largest collection of Seventh Century window glass in Europe. Perhaps its no wonder Lewis Carroll found inspiration for Alice in Wonderland in a place where for longer than anywhere else in the country you have been able to look through the Looking Glass.

Glass production, like ship building and coal mining, are now part of Sunderlands history but while Wearside has a finely-tuned appreciation of history it doesnt live in the past but is looking forward.

Nowhere is this better seen than in Sunniside, an area which was the Sunderlands business centre during the Victorian era. Much of Sunderland s best architecture was lost in the savage 1960s when the grand old Town Hall on Fawcett Street, for instance, was bulldozed to make way for new retail outlets.

As the fashion for demolishing old buildings in favour of new city centre creations raged across the North East and indeed the country as a whole at that time, the areas that were ripe for development were the places where there was most money to be made. That excluded places like Sunniside which at that time were a little off the beaten track and in some parts looking a little the worse for wear.

Thankfully, Sunnisides turn to be spruced up arrived in an era much more sympathetic to what had made the area such a grand place to start with. A 2001 Heritage Lottery grant helped set Sunniside on the path to rejuvenation since when millions of pounds have been invested in revamping what is a small but serene part of the city centre.

Chief among the improvements has been the 2m spent on refurbishing Sunniside Gardens. Now focussed on a shining metal sculpture inspired by Sunderlands industrial heritage, the gardens were originally laid out by William Jameson in 1814, when they were known as The Shrubbery.

The gardens are situated in front of the imposing old Post Office - now transformed into city centre apartments - and between Sunniside and Norfolk Street. The latter has an incredible sporting heritage as both the father of modern football and Sunderland AFC itself originated from this street.

A blue plaque signifies the birthplace in Norfolk Street of CW Alcock, the man who came up with the idea of the FA Cup, captained the winners in the first FA Cup final, and later refereed two others. He also suggested the entire idea of international football and went on to represent England himself. As if that wasnt enough, CW Alcock also played a major role in bringing Test cricket into being as well as being a highly-respected administrator of cricket.

At the other end of Norfolk Street the building now known as the Norfolk Hotel was the site in 1879 of the meeting of Sunderland schoolteachers which formed the football club whose fortunes still dictate the mood of the city now in 2011.

Once dominated by estate agents and legal firms, that aspect of commerce can still be seen in and around Sunniside but the area is now the place for the discerning diner to venture into.

The Thai Manor, a high class Thai restaurant, is situated in what for many years was one of Sunderlands best known estate agents while in West Sunniside, if you go for a meal in the stylish Italian restaurant Angelos, your grand surroundings are explained by the fact that in Sunderlands heyday as the worlds biggest ship-building town Angelos was a Danish Foreign Consulate.

Take a stroll around Sunniside in the daytime and as youll also discover boutiques, art shops and cosy cafes tucked in among the offices and solicitors, while never being more than a minutes walk away from the busy city centre.

Having won national awards, the Sunniside area of Sunderland is well worth a visit.

Focussed on excellence

When it comes to gaining the recognition of their peers, Paul Maddison and David Armour, of Focal Point Wedding Photography, Sunderland, have an unsurpassed reputation.

The photographers are the current holders of 11 regional photographic awards and two national awards presented by the Master Photographers Association. They include Master Photographer of the Year, Wedding Photographer of the Year and Portrait Photographer of the Year.

For more information telephone 0191 510 9000 or go to

A head start

Deborah Haynes Millinery offers the most stylish hats and fascinators to hire and to buy. The showroom is set in lovely surroundings on the outskirts of West Boldon, near Sunderland, with easy access and ample free parking.

Whether its for a wedding, Royal Garden Party, a day at the races or any other chance to dress up, customers are spoilt for choice. Deborah encourages visitors to the showroom to take along their outfit to ensure the perfect style and colour for that special occasion.
Deborah Haynes Millinery can be contacted on 0191 519 1601.

I love Sunderland because. . .

I love it. You cant beat it. I meet people from all over and they always say the people from Sunderland are lovely, says Pauline Ward, who has run Noras clothing alterations for 22 years in Frederick Street, which is just off Sunniside. Her mother Nora previously ran another shop on the other side of the road for a dozen years. Everyone is just so friendly, adds Paulines daughter Deborah Ward who is the third generation of the Ward family working in the business.

I love Sunderland because it is so calm and peaceful, says 19-year-old David Willis who explains, Im from Newcastle and used to live there but life there gets too hectic and Sunderland is much nicer and friendlier.

Davids girlfriend Kimberley Pitt, 16, is a student at Kirkley Hall agricultural college in Northumberland and says , Im from Houghton le Spring and prefer living in Sunderland because its a great place where people will always try and be helpful and friendly.

I love Sunderland and especially the Sunniside area because of its Olde Worlde charm, says Norma Gowland, who runs the Art and Womens Group at Sunderland MIND which is based in Sunniside. I run anger management courses, we have drop in groups and feel we are doing something worthwhile. Jean Walker who is a counselling co-ordinator with MIND adds, I love Sunderland because its full of great people who quietly get on with their business but always have time for
other people.

I love Sunderland because its a great place to work, a great place to live and it has a fantastic nightlife, says Michael Essl, who is a local councillor for the Barnes area.

Tell us why you love Sunderland. Leave a comment below

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