I really didn’t think I was going to have quite so much fun when I suggested to Jude that I might visit the Winter Gardens in Sunderland. It’s a number of years since I was there, and I had completely forgotten about the extensive gardens of Mowbray Park, adjoining Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. The luxury of a bright, sunny morning was all the invitation I needed.
It’s a bit of a rags to riches story. In 1831 Sunderland recorded its first cholera epidemic, and a health inspector recommended that a leafy area would benefit the town. A grant of £750 was provided by the government to buy a plot of land from local landowners, the Mowbray family, and turn it into a park. On 12th May, 1857, shops closed early and thousands flocked to attend the opening ceremony. In 1866 a lake and terraces were added and, in 1879, the Winter Gardens and museum.
For me, one of the park’s most attractive features is the cast iron work. When the Second World War came along many of the iron structures, including bridge and bandstand, were taken away to be melted down for weapons, and open space was converted to vegetable patches. Fortunately a huge restoration programme took place in the 1990s. Many features, including the William Hall Drinking Fountain shown above, were renewed.
It being January, plants had taken a bit of a back seat, but I was delighted to come upon an early rhododendron bursting into bloom, and a cheery carpet of aconites, pierced by spikes of snowdrops. The gazebo, I found tucked in a contemplative corner.
Sunderland has strong links with the author Lewis Carroll. A walrus sculpture by the lake commemorates the link.
I bet you’re itching to get inside those Winter Gardens now, aren’t you? There’s a surprise or two in store.
The plant house towers high over your head, and a spiral staircase carries you up to the canopy. Rising through it, a colossal water sculpture, designed by William Pye. It’s hard to resist touching the column of moving water.
The Winter Gardens cater well for children, seeking to engage as well as educate. I dodged around several parties of small children, engrossed in identification of plants and doing much better than me.
Of course, you can only find bougainvillea in a hot house. Just the place for me! The museum was quite fascinating too, and I promise to take you back there one day. For now, you’d better hurry if you have a Winter Garden to share with Jude.