SINCE the 1870s, the famous Elephant Tea Rooms have been part of a North East high street’s history.

Located at the corner of High Street West and Fawcett Street, in Sunderland city centre, it was built for tea merchant Ronald Grimshaw and used as a grocer’s shop and tea warehouse for Grimshaw & Son.

Designed by renowned Sunderland architect Frank Caws in a distinctive Hindu Gothic style, the upper floors exhibit intricate terracotta and stonework features including ornamental elephants carrying boxes, oriental birds and gargoyles looking over the high street.

Sadly, the matching elaborate shop fronts on the ground floor were replaced in the 20th century when it was converted into a bank.

Detailed plans to fix up the Grade II-listed building have now been finalised.

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The external rejuvenation of the building, which is owned by Sunderland City Council, is supported with £350,000 from the City Council, Historic England and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities through the Future High Street Fund and Heritage Action Zone projects.

Former Elephant Tea Rooms on the corner of Fawcett Street and High Street West Sunderand.

Former Elephant Tea Rooms on the corner of Fawcett Street and High Street West Sunderand.

The first phase of restoration, designed by Mosedale Gillatt Architects Ltd, aims to revitalise the building’s street presence with new shop fronts inspired by its historic features and repair the delicate terracotta features and reinstate lost decoration.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The Elephant Tea Rooms is such a renowned and beloved building and Sunderland City Council is delighted to support this restoration project.

“As well as the exciting new buildings that are joining our city, we believe it’s extremely important to care for and maintain Sunderland’s heritage by restoring the beautiful historic architecture our city is lucky to have.

“Alongside the restoration projects of its neighbouring Mackie’s Corner and listed properties down the road at 170-175 High Street West, the project to rejuvenate the Elephant Tea Rooms will continue to breathe life back into this fantastic part of the city.”

Jules Brown, historic places adviser at Historic England, said: “Sunderland’s terracotta elephants are a superb reminder of how much pride and distinctive presence we used to pour into high street architecture.

“Conserving the Tearooms building will be another major marker in transforming the city centre and conserving its heritage, continuing the great momentum of restoration work funded through the HAZ project, such as Mackie’s Corner across the road.

"We’re delighted to be able to grant aid to this project.”

Following some renovation works, the Tea Rooms reopened in May as the city’s Local History Library, holding the largest collection of records and information on Sunderland.

In the second phase of the project, the library will move to the new Culture House at Riverside Sunderland, so the ground floor can be converted for commercial use.

This follows the restoration of neighbouring Mackie’s Corner, also funded through the HAZ Partnership Grant Scheme, which has attracted new independent business to the city.

Fine features will be protected

Fine features will be protected

Fine terracotta and stonework features will be restored

Fine terracotta and stonework features will be restored


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