Work starts to return Roker Pier to former glory

The 110-year-old Roker Pier is to be restored to its former glory with a £1.35m restoration programme

Roker pier in Sunderland which was built at the end of the 19th century

Work has started to restore a listed 110-year-old pier. Sunderland City Council is investing £1.35m in a rolling programme of works to bring Roker Pier back to its former glory.

The first task will be to tackle the lantern house at the top of the lighthouse.

Future plans include replacing the surface of the pier, and a comprehensive scheme to revamp the lighthouse and tunnel that runs beneath it - if the council is successful in its bid for £500,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Civic leaders are due to hear the outcome of this bid in September.

If it is successful, more detailed proposals will then be developed and submitted for funding.

Sunderland Council cabinet secretary Mel Speding said: “The pier has protected the entrance to Sunderland harbour for more than a hundred years, but it’s taken a real pounding from the North Sea and it’s essential we carry out this work now so it can be enjoyed by future generations.

“We’ve already set aside £1.35m to carry out the work, starting with the restoration of the lantern house.

“If we get the additional funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we hope to use that to open the tunnel and lighthouse for public tours and develop a range of resources to make the most of its heritage.”

The work on the lantern house will involve refurbishment and redecoration of the steel and glazed structure including an upgrade to the navigation beacon and fog warning signal. The works are due to last 16 weeks subject to favourable weather conditions, with completion due in November.

Although the end of the pier will need to be closed off to allow the work to go ahead, other than the initial site set up, the pier itself will remain open throughout.

Built between 1885 and 1903, Roker Pier and lighthouse was hailed as a triumph of engineering.

The original lantern was gas powered, emitting a 45,000 candlepower reflected beam visible for 15 miles out to sea.

Once complete, the pier extended 2,000ft out to sea.

The pier was the brainchild of Henry Hay Wake, chief engineer of the River Wear Commissioners. It was built using granite faced blocks, each weighing up to 45 tons, constructed on shore in an area known to this day as the blockyard.

Concrete was poured into huge wooden moulds, which were then manoeuvred into place by a vast crane called the Goliath.

This was driven by gas engines, supplied by gas pipes running along a specially-designed tunnel which ran the entire length of the pier. This was later used by the keeper to reach the lighthouse in bad weather, when the waves would have been crashing over the deck.

It is this tunnel that the council would like to open to the public, possibly with the help of a local community group.

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