The Winter Gardens will be celebrating its 20th Birthday on 21st July 2021 this year with a plethora of activities occurring at the museum this summer.


To celebrate this Sunderland institute, we’ve gone behind the scenes to bring you exclusive old images of Winter Gardens, as well as an in-depth guide as we celebrate the history of this North East icon. 


Here’s the story behind the construction, life and legacy of Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens… 



The story behind Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens…

The original Winter Gardens was built in 1879 on the south side of the Museum.

The idea of a Winter Gardens developed during the 17th to 19th centuries when plant collectors who wished to show off their exotic plant collections would build conservatories to display and protect them during winter. 

In 1855, local philanthropist and writer Edward Backhouse proposed building a ‘Crystal Palace’ in Mowbray Park on the top of Building Hill but nothing came of the plans. 

It is possible the 1879 Museum and Winter Gardens was inspired by his ideas. 

On April 16th 1941 the Winter Gardens was so severely damaged by an exploding parachute mine dropped by a German bomber that it had to be demolished. 

On another night, four incendiary bombs fell on the Museum and Winter Gardens and the Janitor’s wife and her two daughters used buckets of sand to extinguish the fires, saving the building. 


Extending an iconic Sunderland institute… 



23 years later an extension was completed in the place of the old Winter Gardens.

The new Winter Gardens opened on 21st July 2001 following a multi-million redevelopment of the Museum, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

The new Winter Gardens are approximately one third larger than the original Victorian Gardens. The shape and orientation of the new building is designed to encourage the flowering of trees and shrubs all year round.

The structure is 32 metres in diameter and 14 metres in height. Approximately 125 tonnes of steel and aluminium have been used to create this lightweight structure. 

Mainly made of glass, the building provides an ideal setting for the unusual and exotic plants, water features and treetop walkway. 

One of the highlights of the building is the William Pye water sculpture, a towering 10-metre high steel column with rippling patterns of water flowing down the surface and an ornamental Koi carp pond. 


Get involved with Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens 20th Anniversary celebrations… 



Sunderland Culture are inviting people from across the North to join the team as they celebrate the Winter Gardens’ 20th birthday in July with a jam-packed schedule brimming with family activities and student showcases.

The team will be creating amazing art using recycled materials to help us tread more lightly on the planet and raise awareness on climate change.

Visitors will be able to follow the Winter Gardens birthday trail to find 20 ways to protect our planet through the simple choices you and your family make.

As part of the 20th birthday celebrations, pupils from Hudson Road Primary School will be sending virtual birthday cards and decorating bunting to display in the Winter Gardens and Culture’s Learning Space. 

Media studies students from University of Sunderland have also made a short film about the history of the Winter Gardens, which will be released on 21 July, and families can take part in a summer programme of activities linked to the plants, fish and bugs that live in the gardens. 

Don’t forget to check it out and say happy birthday to a city icon! 



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