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Georgian Treasures of Sunderland

A local history group has won a coveted award from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support a new project that celebrates the Georgian heritage of Sunderland. Winning this grant is a great achievement for Sunderland because it recognises the richness of the city’s Georgian heritage. The funding will allow us to launch a series of events that will celebrate the history of eighteenth century Sunderland and make it more accessible to local people

A local history group has won a coveted award from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support a new project that celebrates the Georgian heritage of Sunderland.

Sunderland Heritage Quarter is a regeneration project for the East End of Sunderland, once the hub of a great industrial port.  Run by a volunteer board of nine directors and a specialist project co-ordinator, the group uses the past to breathe new life into the district and encourage an East End revival. 

Sunderland Heritage Quarter is one of the first groups in the UK to win a prestigious ‘Sharing Heritage’grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  This new funding programme helps people across the UK to explore all aspects of the history of their local area.

Commenting on the award, Dr Michael Johnson, a Director of Sunderland Heritage Quarter, said, “Winning this grant is a great achievement for Sunderland because it recognises the richness of the city’s Georgian heritage.  The funding will allow us to launch a series of events that will celebrate the history of eighteenth century Sunderland and make it more accessible to local people.”

In collaboration with Queen Street Masonic Trust, Sunderland Heritage Quarter will use the funding to launch ‘Georgian Treasures of Sunderland’, an exciting new project that will explore the story of freemasonry in Sunderland and the extraordinary contribution it made to the town during the Georgian era (1714-1830).

“It was during this formative period that the foundations of modern Sunderland were laid.  Built 1719, Holy Trinity Church stood at the centre of a new parish that quickly developed into the commercial and social heart of Wearside.  Freemasonry was integral to the development of Sunderland, powering many of the enterprises that shaped the town.  The most ambitious of these was the building of Wearmouth Bridge, which was only the second cast iron bridge in the world.  This elegant structure linked the previously separate parishes and helped to forge the unified town we know today.” 

The East End boasts another building of national significance.  Freemasons’ Hall in Queen Street is the world’s oldest purpose-built Masonic hall in continuous use, built in 1785 to house the Phoenix Lodge.  Other local treasures include Grade 2* listed merchant houses in Church Street and the charming Donnison School.  “Using the allure of historic buildings and staging events in and around them, we hope to bring the East End's astonishing history to life,” said Michael.

Programme of events

An exciting programme of events will be held in the splendid surroundings of Freemasons’ Hall in Queen Street.

The project will be launched with an exhibition of model buildings by local craftsman Fred Gooch.  'Model City: Sunderland Buildings in Miniature' will be held on Sunday 15th September from 11:30am.

There will be a series of fascinating talks by celebrity speakers, including the novelist and former Sunderland MP Chris Mullin.  Talks by local experts will explore many aspects of Sunderland’s history and heritage.  A particular highlight is Colin Meddes’ illuminating talk on the history of the Freemasons’ Hall. 

Michael Johnson, a design historian, will give an illustrated talk on the graceful architecture of the Georgian period, exploring the country houses, city squares and landscape gardens that transformed the face of Britain during the elegant eighteenth century.  This will be followed by a talk on the Georgian buildings of Sunderland, revealing how major architectural trends such as Palladianism, the Greek Revival and ‘Georgian Gothick’ impacted on the town.  Many of Sunderland’s Georgian treasures have already been lost, but new research and archival images will be used to reconstruct these vanishing townscapes.

Exploring the wider field of Georgian culture, Michael will give an illustrated talk on the country house locations used in film and TV adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels.  Even the fashions of the Georgian era will be examined in a talk on Georgian dandies from Beau Brummell to the Prince Regent.

“The project will celebrate the East End of Sunderland, which was once the heart of the town,” said Michael.  “Many people across the city feel a connection to this area because generations of their family have lived and worked here.  Through visits, workshops, talks and heritage-themed social events we will explore the East End's finest historic buildings, some not normally accessible to the public.”

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