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Orphanage, 19th Century

Name: Sunderland Orphan Asylum

Region: Hendon, Sunderland

Date of Origin: 1861

Site Type: Orphanage

Condition: Extant Building

Status: Building currently used for community organisations. Grade II listed building.

Last Updated: 22/05/2020

Address: The Old Orphanage, Moor Terrace, Sunderland SR1 2JH

Images of the interior while disused

"Sunderland Orphan Asylum was opened in 1861 following the Sunderland Orphan Asylum Act of 1852 and stands on the edge of Town Moor in SunderlandTyne and Wear, England.


The orphanage was set up to provide an education for male orphans of seafarers. The boys were taught seamanship and wore a naval style sailor suit as a uniform[3] Principals formed the governing body for the Asylum. They were prominent figures in the local community and included John Candlish. Masters included John Clark and George King.


The building is Grade II listed as are the gates, piers and railings. The initial building was funded by selling access rights to railway companies" - Wikipedia 



"To begin with, the founding of Sunderland East End Orphan Asylum came about in 1853. Indeed, this was after the Sunderland Orphan Asylum Act of 1852 came into force. However, it wasn’t until Thursday 17th October 1861, that the Sunderland Orphanage opened on the edge of the Town Moor.

Not only did the Bishop of Durham help fund the building, but the Freemen of Sunderland did too. The owners of the Town Moor, the Freemen and the Stallingers, obviously had rights to the land. So, to help fund the £4,000 orphanage, they used the the proceeds from selling access rights to the land. Of course at the time, railways were expanding rapidly. So, the railway companies took up the offer without delay."

Read the rest of this fascinating history at Wearside Online...

"As a thriving seaport, Sunderland had to provide for the welfare of its many seafarers.  In this era, the poor were the responsibility of the parish.  The Poor Law Act of 1834 linked parish authorities together into Boards of Guardians and one of the means by which these bodies strove to alleviate the effects of poverty was by building almshouses.  Maritime almshouses were built at Trafalgar Square and Crowtree Road (the latter has since been demolished).  As well as aiding mariners, Sunderland had to provide for their orphans and illegitimate children.


Sunderland's Orphan Asylum was established in the East End by the Freeman and Stallingers who owned the Town Moor.  The building was funded from the proceeds of selling access rights on the Town Moor to railway companies.  The design was the result of an architectural competition.  The firm of Childs and Lucas came second in the competition, but their designs were eventually selected.  As a London-based practice, however, their role in the construction process was minimal.  Instead, construction was supervised by the local architect Thomas Moore.  Moore was in fact Sunderland’s most prominent architect of the period, responsible for the highly-sophisticated Greek Revival design of Monkwearmouth Station.


The orphanage was designed in the Italian Renaissance style fashionable in the 1860s.  The most prominent feature is the Italianate belvedere tower, which was based on the towers at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer residence on the Isle of Wight (1845-51).  Osborne House had been designed by Prince Albert himself (something of an architectural aficionado) in conjunction with Thomas Cubitt.  The building spawned a number of provincial imitations, particularly its distinctive tower.  Another local example of its influence is Bede Tower by John and Benjamin Green.  In a further connection with the monarchy, Victoria herself donated £100 towards construction of the orphanage and asked to see the architectural plans.


The orphanage is a two-storey brick building with a central tower built over the entrance. Symmetry is disrupted by a right-hand bay wider than the others.  Paired Renaissance arches lead to a porch in the base of the tower and a roundel window occurs in the soffit between them.  The upper section of the tower has three round-headed arches, affording a fair view or ‘belvedere’ of the port and the sea.  The tower ends with a low pyramidal roof.  As was typical of Renaissance-style buildings, the storeys increase in grandeur as they ascend.  The windows in the ground floor are set within plain round-headed arches, but the first floor has more elaborate windows with segmental architraves and keystones.  A cornice supported on brackets runs around the whole building.  The chimneys are elaborate, with cornices executed in ashlar.  Although the orphanage was designed in a fashionable Italianate style, the overall effect is severe and institutional.  The gates and railings around the building feature maritime imagery - waves, harpoons and anchors.  Opening on 17th October 1861, the orphanage was able to accommodate 40 boys at a time.  It trained boys for careers at sea and for this reason the uniform was a sailor suit." - Michael Johnson on Facebook


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