10 July 2018

AN historic pier, which has been closed for repair work, has reopened to visitors in time for the grand finale of The Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018.

From 10-14 July the city will be the start port for the international sailing event, which will attract more than 50 ships and up to 1.5m visitors.

And the five-day festival of ships, circus, music, theatre and entertainment will draw to a spectacular close on Saturday 14 July when the ships, from around the globe, take part in a Parade of Sail.

The Parade – out of the port and along the coast - marks the vessels’ farewell to Sunderland as they then head out sea to start the first leg of the Races, to Esbjerg, Denmark.

The ships are expected to start leaving their berths on the river from approximately 1.30pm, led by the majestic Russian ship, the Mir, and start off the Parade of Sail heading northwards to Souter Point. 

They will be followed by the ships berthed within Hudson Dock and all ships will have cleared Roker Pier by around 6pm.

The best viewing point for spectators will be the sea front at Roker and Seaburn, however, 1000 visitors will be able to see the ships in full sail from one of the North East coast’s most impressive landmarks.

In 2012, a programme of extensive restoration began on the Grade II-listed Roker Pier and Lighthouse, which had fallen into disrepair after decades out of use.

The Pier was nearly complete, when, in November 2016, gale force winds and huge waves washed away the railings and their coping stones at the furthest end. Further damaged was suffered during the ‘beast from the east’ storms earlier this year.

However, now, following an extensive programme of repair work, the Pier is once again open to the public.

The Pier’s reopening also means that soon visitors will be able to enjoy tours of the tunnel and lighthouse following restoration of the lighthouse interior, tunnel floors and drains and improvements to accessibility.  

“It’s a wonderful moment in the history of the River Wear,” said Councillor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Communities and Culture.            

“The Pier is the gateway to the river – and to what was once the greatest shipbuilding port in the world - and we are delighted that Sunderland City Council, with funding from the Heritage Lottery, has been able to restore it in time for The Tall Ships Races.”

Weather permitting, the Pier will be open from 12noon until around 8pm, or until all the ships have sailed away.

Access will be strictly controlled with bag searches - and entry will be given on a first come, first served basis. There are no tickets and entry to the Pier is free. If it is full, people will have to wait until someone leaves before they will be allowed on. Please note that there will be no toilet or catering provision on the pier, the nearest ones will be situated on Marine Walk

For full details of the event programme and more information about The Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018, visit  www.tallshipssunderland.com follow on Twitter @TallShipsSund or Facebook at: Tall Ships Races Sunderland.




Sunderland coal merchants and mine owners approached Parliament to legislate for improvements to the mouth of the River Wear.



A further bill was presented to Parliament in 1717 with the aim of both improving the harbour and creating a navigable channel up river as far as Newbridge.

On 22 June, despite more opposition from the Newcastle merchants, the bill was passed and The River Wear Commissioners were founded.


1723 - 1730

One of the first projects they commissioned was the construction of the South Pier. Work began in 1723 and the 1000ft long pier was completed in 1730. It was the work of the engineer William Lellam and was described as 'one of the most magnificent and best built in the whole world'.


1786 - 1796

Work began on the construction of a 700ft long North Pier in 1786 and was completed 10 years later in 1796.



Sunderland's first lighthouse was built to replace the old reflector light on the end of the North Pier. The octagonal stone lighthouse was 78ft (23.77m) high with nine gas burners and reflectors, visible for 12 miles out to sea. This was later moved in 1841 when John Murray extended and largely rebuilt the pier.


1828 - 1837

In 1828, work began on the North Dock designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and funded by Sir Hedworth Williamson. It covered just nine acres which by the time it opened in 1837, was already too small to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding coal trade. The North Dock was also difficult for ships to navigate, soon gaining it the nickname ‘Sir Hedworth’s bathtub’.


1846 - 1850

In 1846 the Sunderland Dock Company was formed and a 47-acre South Dock was created with a southern sea outlet. The dock opened on 22 June 1850 and could hold 260 vessels.


1853 - 1856

The South Dock was extended southwards (Hudson South) between 1853 and 1856 to include an additional 13.2 hectares and the existing Hudson Dock was also deepened. The success of the venture was immediate, with twenty collieries shipping coal out of Sunderland by 1860 and a 56% increase in coal exports between 1851 and 1858.



A new cast iron lighthouse designed by Thomas Meik was built and placed on the South Pier. Meik’s lighthouse remained in position until 1983 when it was moved to its current location in Cliffe Park.


1864 - 1867

Construction began of a new, four hectare dock south of Hudson Dock. This was named Hendon Dock.



By the late nineteenth century, the two projecting piers protecting the harbour were proving woefully inadequate. The solution was the construction of a new outer harbour, with two curving piers encompassing the river mouth. On the 27th June 1883, an Act of Parliament was passed sanctioning the construction of the New North Pier, known later as Roker Pier.



Construction of the new North Pier began, with the foundation stone laid on the 14 September 1885 by Sir James Laing, Chairman of the River Wear Commissioners.



Completion of the 609m long Roker Pier with its distinctive red and grey granite lighthouse opened on 23 September 1903.



1927 - 1934

The Sunderland Corporation Act of 1927 approved the building of the 1,000ft long Corporation Quay which opened in 1934.



In September 1972 the River Wear Commissioners' board met for the last time after 255 years when its powers were transferred to the Port of Sunderland Authority.