One of Sunderland’s best loved landmarks is opening its doors to the public for the first time in its history.
After years of planning and a number of setbacks due to storm damage, public tours of Roker Pier lighthouse and tunnel finally begin on Monday, August 13.
Grade ll listed Roker Lighthouse has undergone a complete transformation over the last six years, from the gilt-plated weather vane at its very tip to the depth gauge in its basement.
The pier tunnel, which once provided the only means for the lighthouse keepers of old to reach the lighthouse in stormy weather, has also been restored with a new entrance structure which allows members of the public to access it via a staircase.
When Sunderland City Council began the restoration in 2012, the lighthouse was little more than a shell, having been repeatedly vandalised and stripped of many of its original features. Restoration has included conservation of the lantern house, repairs to the tunnel floor and drains and work to improve access. Many of the original features have also been lovingly recreated.
With the £2.5m restoration financed with the help of National Lottery players through HLF completed, members of the public can now sign up for tours to see inside the lighthouse and tunnel for themselves.
The tours are being run by local volunteer group, Roker Heritage Group which is also taking over the stewardship of the pier from the City Council. Any profits made from the tours by the charity will be reinvested into activities, events and outreach work.
Councillor Rebecca Atkinson, Sunderland City Council’s Deputy Portfolio Holder for Housing and Regeneration, said: “Roker Pier and Lighthouse is one of the city’s best loved landmarks. But it’s a building that very few members of the public have ever been inside so it’s really exciting to be welcoming our first visitors into this historic structure and giving them a glimpse into its past.”
“Today is all the more exciting given the setbacks we’ve had in recent years with the November 2016 storm putting paid to our original hopes of opening the lighthouse to visitors – the very day we were due to start the tours. Then we had more delays due to damage from the ‘Beast from the East’ in February.
“There’s been an enormous amount of interest in the project over recent years. This is a chance for members of the public to see inside the lighthouse and tunnel for themselves and I hope they’ll be pleased with what they see.”
Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “Roker Pier is an impressive example of Victorian engineering and a significant part of Sunderland’s life and landscape. Thanks to National Lottery players, the pier, lighthouse and underground tunnel and the stories they hold, can now be enjoyed by all and this is a fantastic first chance to see what a difference this project has made.”
Phil Tweddell, Chair of the Roker Heritage Group, whose grandfather was lighthouse keeper at the pier for 50 years , said: “We’re really excited to be able to offer members of the public the chance to explore such a unique and incredible building.”
Roker Pier and lighthouse was hailed as a triumph of Victorian engineering when it first opened in the early 1900s. Built between 1885 and 1903 by Henry Hay Wake who was Chief Engineer with the River Wear Commissioners, its beam of light was reputedly visible 15 miles out to sea.
The pier tours, which will operate three times a day, cost £6 for adults and £4 for children. Proceeds from the tours will go to Roker Heritage Group and will be ploughed back into community activities and outreach work. All tours are weather dependent.