The 1960s and 1970s was an unkind period to Sunderland town centre. It was a time whereby a lot of the area’s character was destroyed and replaced with ugly, brutalist architecture, a trend which also drew from the need to rebuild after the war. The most famous example of this is the demolition of the old Sunderland town hall and the building of the now defunct city centre in its place.
But that wasn’t the only setback of note. Behind the Joplings building and running off from Frederick street, you might have observed there is a small semi street alleyway running along the back which comes out next to the cinema. Wedged onto it is a red unattractive cubic office building, once known as “the sunderland telephone exchange”. The alley is grim and empty, but once it used to be something grand: The Sunderland arcade.
The Sunderland Arcade, opened in 1876, used to be an under glass canopy walkway of collection of shops, giving it an admirable appearance. It looked similar to Newcastle’s “Central Arcade”. The arcade replaced what was known as the “Frederick Lodge” which was a grand mansion once inhabited by the first manor of Sunderland, Andrew White. The shops it included were a Marks and Spencer Penny Bazaar (1900), as well as Mrs Palmer’s Music shop (1900), of which it later derived its nickname from “Palmers arcade”.
For some reason however, the decision was made in the 1970s to demolish this historic facility and place the big, red ugly telephone exchange in its place, which was the modus operandi of that Conservative council at the time. The decision undoubtedly contributed to the decline of Sunderland City Centre’s retail appeal, as well as the eastern half of the city centre as a whole which remains quieter than the west. Some however, state that the arcade had already “fallen empty” and was already surplus to requirements.
With hindsight however, this could have been a good regenerative project for the area. The arcade and the grim little alley which remains of it subsequently stand as symbols of a much more prosperous and appealing past in Sunderland, a thriving town centre and a sorry depiction of local decline.