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From Mandalay to Mowbray
Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (Sunderland)
Member Name: michaelhudson
Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (Sunderland)
Date: 19/06/03, updated on 19/06/03 (681 review reads)
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At the glazed entrance, a gift shop extends to the right and Museum Street commences directly ahead. The first display is of Sunderland Heroes - campaign medals and a small memorial to the 197 men of the 125th Anti - Tank Regiment who were killed or imprisoned at the fall of Singapore, England caps and club medals belonging to Raich Carter, and photos of the local diver Harry Watts, described by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie as "the bravest man I ever met." Turn right under the widescreen TV for Textile Traditions, a circle of touch screen displays, children?s clothes, 18th century bedding imported from the Greek islands, quilted petticoats and knitted Ganseys, jumpers worn by the Volunteer Life Brigade.
Walk across the corridor for the Sunderland Pottery exhibits, held in a bright room with white arched windows looking out on traffic lights and Yates's Wine Lodge. The first pottery in the area opened in the early 18th century, and the city exported more than 300,000 pieces - over half of which went to Holland - at it?s 1818 peak. Teapots, figurines, mugs, creamware jugs, blue and white tea bowls, butter dishes, pots and plates represent the finest work from the 16 potteries that operated before the last closed in 1957. Narrated videos detail the manufacturing process, while display cases are crammed with souvenir pieces sold to visiting sailors, Napoleonic War commemorative work, glazed bowls with Chinese willow, classical Greek temples, landscapes from 'The Grand Tour' and Sunderland's iron bridges, and pottery dedicated to visiting luminaries such as Byron, who was briefly
married to a local girl, and Garibaldi, who visited the region in 1854.
Out past the bust of William Pile, a prominent local shipyard owner, continue across the corridor to the Time Machine, a small room showcasing the oldest and strangest exhibits in the museum's collection. A 1920's diver?s suits stands over a 19th century silver galleon. A one-metre high wooden bottle of Vaux stout washed up on a Northumberland beach is propped up in a corner next to the first car off the nearby Nissan production line in 1986. A 19th century walrus head from Siberia hangs from a wall behind Wallace the Lion, a stuffed circus animal who died in the town in 1965 and now glares through a glass partition at Egyptian fossils, a mummified dog, wooden tomb figures, Samurai figures, carved ivory balls and the top of a Chinese pagoda.
Next door in Life & Work in the Coal Mining Communities of East Durham, banners from Murton, Seaham, Dawdon, Ryhope and Monkwearmouth collieries hang over the dark, selectively illuminated entrance. Turn left past the murals of black and white photographs and the collection of gas lamps and engraved glasses and sit in the mock pit showing videos on a continuous loop. A solid, half ton piece of coal mined for the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition towers above a scale model of a pit head; rooms from a Methodist chapel and a Rheumatic clinic lead to a colliery house with a kitchen range and décor straight out of Orwell's 'The Road To Wigan Pier', Surrounding a map showing the decline of the area's coal mining areas, a cardboard cut out of Margaret Thatcher smiles through the denouement of 1984-5 - grim faced police lines, scuffling miners and a simple black and white list of collieries followed by their date of closure.
The final room on the ground floor, Secrets of the Past, is directly opposite and contains Medieval window glass and plaster, bronze seals, a model of Wearmouth Monastery, a revolving Anglo - Sa
xon stone head, Roman coins, Bronze Age spears, Neolithic arrowheads and animal skulls. A flight of stairs ends at Sunderland?s Glorious Glass, a y-shaped corridor of Art Deco and pressed glass, a 200-piece Londonderry set and exhibition artefacts like glass swords, walking sticks and miniature cannons.
Continue up the final flight of stairs for the Art Gallery, a terracotta and blue walled square holding twenty L.S. Lowry works as well as Victorian masterpieces donated when the premises first opened as the first municipal museum outside of London. Many of Lowry's works are on local industrial themes ? he spent much of his later life at a hotel in Seaburn - though there also some darker autobiographical sketches including a self ? portrait showing a dark column rising from a bleak, featureless sea. Burmese artefacts collected during the days of Empire are displayed next to the entrance, with marble Buddhas, teak chairs, ivory hilted silver swords and boat shaped boxes facing a white marble Victorian fireplace, a carved oak Renaissance Madonna and Child and oil paintings including one of the original Winter Gardens, which was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941, across the shiny floor. Outside the gallery The Open Space displays contemporary paintings and photography by local artists and a Special Exhibitions Room is currently showing the Pre-Raphaelite works of William Bell Scott.
Down the stairs and through the Glorious Glass exhibit, Sunderland in the 20th Century opens to the right of the central corridor. Colourful boards list important dates such as the launching of the final ship and the closure of the last mine while displays focused on 1919, 1949, 1969 and 1999 include CDs of popular music from each era and novelty objects. There are life size exhibits of a 1919 kitchen and washing room, a 1949 living room, a 1969 teenager?s bedroom and a computer in the corner of a 1999 single mother?s living room, all decorated with period furnishi
ngs and accompanied by video presentations of local women telling their own stories. Glass cases in the centre of the room detail typical meals down the years - cow heel pie, panackelty, ready made steak and kidney pie and pizza and oven chips.
Up another staircase to Launched on Wearside, a room dedicated to the locally built ships from a dead industry that spanned 600 years. A full - size reconstruction of a ship?s bow occupies the centre of the floor, its interior playing videos that detail the positive negative aspects of an industry that employed a third of the town?s adult workforce between 1880 and 1950. Poignant displays of famous ships and defunct occupations line the walls amid a soundtrack of riveters' hammers and the constant ring of metal on metal.
Turn right back down at the foot of the stairs for Worlds Alive and Lost Worlds, rooms full of rock and fossil samples, video presentations and stuffed lions, tigers, crocodiles and polar bears. Then return to Museum Street on the ground floor and turn left for the restaurant and Winter Gardens.
Take the spiralling metal staircase or the glass lift up to the 30 - metre high dome above a glass and steel rotunda full of 146 species of 1,500 plants. A circular walkway at treetop level looks out on overhanging pink flowers, spiky cactus plants, ferns, palm and bamboo, Chinese yam, Australian eucalyptus, Arabian coffee plants and fragrant lemon, banana and orange trees. A cascade of water slides down a rectangular block of stainless steel to a miniature gorge and fern gully running away from a pond full of Koi carp and tiny plantations of tea, coffee, sugar, date palms, mangoes, vanilla and olives.
Who would have thought that Sunderland could be so very interesting?
Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Burdon Road, Sunderland.
(0191) 553 2323
Signposted from Sunderland rail and metro station.
Open 10 - 4 Mondays, 10 - 5 Tuesday
to Saturday and 2 - 5 on Sundays.
Full disabled access.
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