Memories of Sunderland: The Royal Infirmary

On the south side of the Durham Road spanning out of Sunderland City Centre, there is a series of apartments titled “Royal Courts apartments”. These apartments were built at the turn of the 20th century, replacing another building which was known as the “Sunderland Royal Infirmary”.

The Sunderland Royal Infirmary as an institution, once known as the Dispensary, was founded in 1794, to meet the demands of a growing town, and was originally based on Little John Street and then Villiers street.

In 1864, the Durham road facility was built which encompassed a Victorian Gothic revival design, known for its intimidating towers and dark atmosphere, similar to that of Cherry Knowle Hospital in Ryhope. The Victorians designed hospitals in this manner because they believed ventilation was critical to health.

As the Royal Infirmary predated the creation of the NHS, it was described as a “voluntary” institution which depended upon charitable donations and good will to operate. During this period it functioned as a general hospital. However, after the creation of the NHS in 1948 in which it was nationalized, it served only acute and serious injuries and ceased to perform general practice.

In 1996, however, the infirmary was closed down. Why is not clear, although it appears the expansion of Sunderland Royal Hospital increasingly rendered it unnecessary. The land was subsequently sold and the Victorian facility was demolished at the turn of the millennium. Many Sunderland residents bemoan the decision to have knocked down such a historic and grandeur building.