Tyne and Wear
Society , Intellectual life
Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens was the first local authority-run museum outside London.
In 1846 the authority took over the collections of the Sunderland Antiquarian and Natural History Society with the aim of operating the museum ‘for the instruction and amusement of the inhabitants of the Borough’. The current museum was opened in 1879 on the edge of Mowbray Park and incorporated a winter Garden of luxurious plants, goldfish and even a talking parrot! In the 1930s plans were considered to demolish the winter gardens, with the task eventually completed by a German bomber in 1941.
The museum has collections of shipbuilding, mining, natural sciences, archaeology and social history as well as an art gallery featuring work by the like of LS Lowry (who was a regular visitor to Sunderland and often painted views of the area). It also maintains an ambitious temporary exhibition programme.
It took a major refurbishment at the start of the 21st century to see a winter garden return to the site, allowing visitors once again to enjoy exotic flora and fauna in the heart of Sunderland.