Roker Park is one of the oldest parks in the City of Sunderland, and one of the biggest. It is also jammed full of historical remnants of the Victorian Era in which it was built. I has so much fun researching for this post, and hope I have done it justice!
I just want to be clear, that this post is about the actual park and not the former Sunderland AFC stadium as so many of the searches I put in came back with football related results. So if you are here looking for the old stadium, you’re in the wrong place!
It sits in what was once Roker Dene and because of the steep terrain, it was the last bit of green space in the area at the time of being built.
The land was donated to the city by Sir Hedworth Williamson, 8th Baronet. He was an Eton College educated man who was a member of the liberal party. Later in his political career he was elected MP for North Durham and went on to be appointed High Sheriff of Durham in 1877. The park was opened only 3 years later in 1880.
The land covers an area of just over 25 hectares so it is a pretty big space. The park sits on two main levels. The eastern side being sea level and connected to the promenade which was built a few years before the park during a recession, the west being level with the cliff tops is where the majority of the park sits. One of the conditions of Williamsons donation of the land to build the park was that there be a road built over the dene to connect the south to the north sides of Roker at the front of the cliffs. This is now the main road along the seafront. I cannot imagine what it would be like here without it!
Perhaps one of the greatest assets of the park are the various reminders of the great history is has. The bandstand is one of the more prominent icons of Roker Park. It was built with the park and has been here since the beginning. It is made of cast iron, wood for the base and other metals for the roof. Bandstands are a huge part British history, and at one point there were over 1500 in the country. However, many were lost during WW2 or they stopped building them because of how much materials went into them. This one in Roker is grade 2 listed, as many of the surviving ones across the country are.
There are other notable assets in the park. The water fountain which commemorates the gift from Williamson, the tennis courts, the bowling green, and of course the boating lake (model boats, not actual boats, just encase anyone else got confused when they saw that!). The lake is another beautiful part of the park. There are loads of places to sit around it and feed the ducks. Although the last time I went the lake was frozen over, so cold bums all round!
One of my earliest memories was going to the park as riding on the model train track. Of course it is not running right now, but in none covid times it is very fun for kids (or it least it was for me back in 2003 ish). The track was opened back in the 1940s and has been running regularly since 1983. The tracks are owned by the City of Sunderland Model Engineering Company and usually run on weekends. There is no cost, it is all funded by donations which I never knew until researching for this post.
Of course now, the park is possibly more famous for its Roker Illuminations in the Autumn which bring thousands to the region. Visiting for this reason is one of my most prominent memories of the park and I know for a lot of people my age it will be. I really hope they bring them back for 2021 (covid permitting) as they really allow the park to be shown off.
The park has a great number of features that are a reference to its heritage and it does play a huge part on the story of the cities history as a whole. I have really enjoyed researching for this post and I hope you enjoyed it too. If you have any more information about the history of the park that I didn’t include please let me know!
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Stay Safe, Happy Adventuring