Hard hat tours offer first look at Elephant Tea Rooms restoration

06 February 2023

Restoration works to transform a historic Sunderland landmark have gathered pace, and members of the public are being offered the chance to see work in progress.

The Grade II listed Elephant Tea Rooms is undergoing external repair and enhancement works designed by Mosedale Gillatt Architects Ltd, including striking new shop fronts and the reinstatement of lost decoration and features.

To give members of the public further opportunities to explore the history of part of Sunderland’s high street, as well as learn more about and participate in the specialist repair techniques used in the restoration of the famous Elephant Tea Rooms, a series of hard hat tours and terracotta masterclasses will take place on Wednesday 15 February, Thursday 16 February and Wednesday 8 March.

Organised as part of Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) heritage skills programme and facilitated by local contractor NCS Ltd and Sunderland stonemasons Mason and Forster Ltd, booking for the tours and masterclasses is now open.

Attendees will get the chance to see the new Georgian-style timber shop front, which is nearing completion, as well as the start of specialist restoration work to the building’s terracotta features, including the ornamental elephants and gargoyles.

Sean Anderson, managing director of NCS Ltd, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming members of the public to a series of Hard Hat Tours, showcasing the intricate and carefully considered work being undertaken on this iconic building in Sunderland. It’s a great opportunity for people to see the type of work that goes into restoring local heritage buildings.”

Located at the corner of High Street West and Fawcett Street, the building is one of the architectural highlights of Sunderland and the transformation is expected to be complete by August this year.

Constructed at the height of Victorian wealth and investment in Sunderland and opened to the public in 1875 as a grocer’s shop and tea warehouse for Grimshaw & Son, the building has a distinctive Hindu Gothic style.

The external restoration project is being supported with a total of £720,000 funded by Sunderland City Council, Historic England and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) through the Future High Street Fund and Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) projects.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the public to see how traditional craft skills are being used to restore and protect a beautiful landmark in our city centre.

“The Elephant Tea Rooms restoration is part of a series of projects taking place across the city, and one we are proud to be supporting, helping to revive our high street and maintain our heritage for future generations to admire and enjoy.” 

Maria Carballeira, from Historic England, said: “This is a chance for local people to don a hard hat and get a sneak peek at the conservation works so far on one of the city centre’s best-loved historic buildings. We’re really looking forward to seeing the Elephant Tea Rooms transformed by reinstating beautiful new shopfronts that reflect its intricate original designs.”

The hard hat tours will take place at 10:30 am and 1 pm on Wednesday, 15 February, and 10:15 am and 1:15 pm on Wednesday, 8 March. Participants must be over 16 and prebook their place via Eventbrite.

Wednesday 15 February: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hard-hat-tour-elephant-tea-rooms-tickets-529145547577?aff=erelpanelorg

Wednesday 8 March: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hard-hat-tour-elephant-tea-rooms-tickets-529468453397

The terracotta repair masterclass will take place at 10 am on Thursday, 16 February. Prebook spaces here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/terracotta-repair-masterclass-at-elephant-tea-rooms-tickets-529450599997