Winter Gardens, Sunderland

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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.

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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.

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Sunderland has strong links with the author Lewis Carroll.  A walrus sculpture by the lake commemorates the link.

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I bet you’re itching to get inside those Winter Gardens now, aren’t you?  There’s a surprise or two in store.

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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.

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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.

136 comments

  1. What a wonderful winter garden, I too love all the cast iron work, so beautifully painted. And the pretty, winter flowers too of course🙂 I had no idea about Lewis Carroll and his links to Sunderland. But now I know! Lovely post as always lovely Jo🙂 xx

  2. What a beautiful place, Jo! An oasis in a cold winters day, full of delights. Not only the plants and flowers but such stunning sculptures too – I loved the steel column. Who knew Sunderland boasted such a lovely Winter Garden – well, apart from you and plenty more!

  3. I’m with you in being enthralled with that gorgeous ironwork. I appreciate the reminder that during WWII the iron was stripped for the war effort. It must have been highly celebrated when such beautiful work was returned to this magnificent place. I hope sometime you’ll return the visit when the garden is in full bloom. The greenhouse is a wonderful addition!

    1. I do like Sunderland. It has it’s sad spots, Debbie, like a few northern towns I could name. There’s never enough money to go round. But when you find something like this, it’s a real joy. 🙂

  4. Still laughing at your Animals exchange in the comments. I got it immediately. But my bosses wife ran off with one of them (don’t know which one). Many a ribald joke about that one was made. Anyway I’m not a fan of S’land but you have made even me wish I had found these gardens on my work forays down there. Gloomy depressing place. City centre was full of 60s/70s architecture, so the gardens would have been much nicer to wander around.

    1. Yes- you have to have the ‘right’ background sometimes, Kate 🙂 It’s still a hotch potch of a place but it does have some redeeming features. Happy weekend to you!

      1. Sounds lovely. My daughter brought a Polish friend home from Stanford for Thanksgiving and Christmas, as it was too expensive for her to go home for the holidays, and we loved having her. Never had so many pierogi in my life, and they were delicious. We have adopted her! Have a wonderful stay at the Algarve! Just for fun, I looked up photos of it just now–a lovely place to spend the winter months! Safe Journey, Jo.

  5. Such an interesting account of this lovely garden. I was pleased to hear that after taking all the iron for war weapons they have now replaced the iron monuments. The winter gardens were surprising with the dinosaurs roaming around and the magnificent fountain towering through the centre. But I was a bit confused. What is a “later” of water flowing down it? Is this a new way of describing water or did someone not do a spell check!!!

    1. Well spotted, Pauline 🙂 I thought you meant my spelling, at first. You would think it would have been amended, wouldn’t you? All those teachers and school parties passing through 🙂 Happy weekend, darlin!

    1. It’s a superb place for youngsters, Corey! I haven’t shown them but there are dinosaurs and their pals peeking from behind some of the plants, and the museum is excellent. 🙂

      1. Oooh, sounds right up their alley! The Botanical Garden in Naples, FL had huge life size dinosaurs two years ago – they were designed by the people who did Jurassic Park (a traveling exhibition) – and it was amazing. We love dinosaurs:).

  6. Hang on, 69 comments so far and nobody has said “The time has come”? What is wrong with you people?

    The time has come, to talk of many things. Like I really love that drinking fountain. And you should totally stick your hand in the water on the sculpture. (We have a water wall at the National Gallery in Melbourne and it’s a childhood tradition to stick your hands in it.) But where’s the snow?

  7. The story behind these gardens is so interesting, Jo. I love cast iron work – my grandfather was an iron worker and built the gates around the old Parliament House in Australia early last century. I always find it interesting to see this work – oh, and I love the walrus sculpture!😀

  8. That water sculpture looks massive. Interesting read about the metals being melted. Thanks for share. It’s great to know you are still restless as ever after all these months.😀

  9. Wintergardens: that’s one of the things the English – or rather, the British – really know how to do! 🙂
    Thanks, Jo, for sharing, and have a great weekend,
    Pit

  10. Great day, Jo. Thanks for taking us along. I can’t believe you have flowers outside already! Aren’t the rhododendron gorgeous? We have wild rhododendron in the mountains of NC, and it’s wonderful to hike when they’re in bloom. Fabulous place to visit, and the iron works are amazing.

    1. I’m happy to say, we spend very little of the year, if any, under snow Noelle. I really don’t know why we Brits moan about the weather 🙂 Yes- I love rhodies, too.

      1. I finally posted something about the storm, Jo, so you can see where we are now. We can now drive around, but it’s still difficult to get out to walk on pathways. It’s supposed to warm up this weekend though, so I hope to see a major meltdown soon!🙂

  11. I used to go to Bournemouth Winter Gardens, beautiful also, but no longer, progress took over??? like yours beautiful buiding, with concerts etc and set in lovely grounds….

    1. Remember when I was in Great Yarmouth, last year, Gerry? There was a fabulous old winter garden beside the pier, but no money for restoration. Such a shame. England’s full of beautiful places, isn’t it? Thanks for your company. Have a great weekend!

  12. Well done Sunderland for maintaining this garden so wonderfully and having the creativity to build the glass house and commission the water sculpture. Top marks to the city council or whoever! The wrought iron is stunning and obviously I love the planting, and especially the banana flower, a well timed visit Jo. This is a fantastic post, it must have taken you ages, Jude must be very pleased with you🙂

    1. I was surprised at how much there was to see, Gilly! Mick is really busy at the minute (always happens just before we go away) and I’d intended to just have a potter by myself, but he was happy to come along. A sunny morning, can you believe? 🙂 Yes- it’s a lovely park and museum 🙂 Thanks, darlin’!

    1. Well, you’ll know from your brief visit, Sue, that England’s a small country, but it is packed fairly full with goodies. And we do love our gardens. 🙂 Thanks, hon!

    1. Well, there are choices, Ad, because it’s in the city centre. 🙂 There’s a nice enough little cafe in the Winter Gardens but we did chance upon a divine Italian restaurant (‘Divino’), just over the road.

  13. Sorry I am so late to visit, but so glad I finally made it! Sunderland has never appealed to me as a place to live, but I bet the views from that apartment block next to the Winter Gardens must be very nice. Glad that my winter garden theme has encouraged people to see what winter gardens are around and so nice to see the winter aconites🙂 And thank you my friend for going to the trouble of introducing me to this wonderful park and glasshouse.

    1. We had such a nice morning (and lunch 🙂 ) out, Jude. Sunderland is a bit of a hotch potch, but it has its moments. I’m quite excited to be going to the theatre there the day after I get back from the Algarve, to see Vincent and Flavia ( Argentine Tango experts, ex-Strictly). I was so impressed with how the garden looks right now. I knew the water sculpture was my kind of thing, but the garden really surprised me. The little sea of aconites are such a joyful sight, so thanks for sending me there. 🙂

  14. Mowbray Park, another childhood haunt. The library and the museum were housed together then, and the Winter Gardens didn’t exist, though I have been in them, a few years back when we were down in Newcastle for a Silver Wedding. I dragged John on the Metro to Sunderland and South Shields (great curries!) Thanks for the memories.

  15. Loved this post, Jo…..and initially wondered why I didn’t know this place when in S’land – then I saw that it wasn’t renovated until the 1990s

  16. What a full-of-surprises ramble Jo. I particularly love the shots of the glasshouse / winter garden (?) in the company of walruses and bare boughs; the wrought iron (how do you actually drink at the drinking fountain?); the looking up shots; the water sculpture; the great history, origins and WW2; and the “contemplative corner” (a lovely phrase – I’m going to find such a place in Warsaw.)

    1. I’m sure you will find just such a corner, Meg 🙂 I have to admit, I didn’t check if the fountain was still working, but you’d have to bend down a lot 🙂 Thanks, hon.

  17. I’m so glad I saw your post – not only did I enjoy it, but you’ve reminded me I had forgotten to link today’s post in to the challenge, which would have been ironic as that’s what set me off looking for winter gardens in the first place. This looks like a lovely garden to visit.

    1. I really had totally forgotten that the park adjoined the Winter Gardens, Carol, so it was a real treat for me. I loved that fountain and the iron bridge, and the aconites were a complete surprise. Perhaps it’s almost Spring 🙂

  18. Drove through Sunderland a year or so ago, and thought this place looks as though it deserves a visit one day. Now it’s a wow must go back and visit.
    Lovely post Jo 😊

    1. Thanks, Becky 🙂 Some of it is a bit run down but it has high spots. I think you saw my post on Roker lighthouse not long since. Same neck of the woods. 🙂 Discovered a great Italian restaurant that I meant to include in the post too. Might have to go back and put it in. 🙂

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