My Sunderland -  Part 1

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Selected by Professor Peter Fidler, Vice-Chancellor, University of Sunderland, Martin Routledge, Keeper of Social History, Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden and Ian Wardle, Project Director, Sunniside Partnerships, Sunderland.

                                                                          
Cities are always in a state of 'becoming' but there are particular moments when plans, very visibly become realities.   Following on from our first exhibition in 2004, Sunderland Transformed, 2006 seemed to be a good point at which to mount two exhibitions devoted entirely to Robert Soden’s paintings of the City of Sunderland as long term plans for the University, the Museums and  Sunniside were coming to fruition.

Professor Peter Fidler,  Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland, Martin Routledge, Assistant Keeper of Social History at Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden and Ian Wardle, Project Director of Sunniside Partnerships were invited to be selectors because of their professional knowledge and their  personal connections, commitment to and passion for the City. 

The result was an exhibition of paintings that acknowledged the centrality of the River Wear to the Sunderland experience, the history of education in the City and also included images that reflected the selectors personal histories.

Professor Peter Fidler:

I have admired Robert Soden's characterisation of the landscape of a transforming Sunderland since coming to the City seven years ago. The opportunity to select a small number from a large and fascinating portfolio was too good to miss. My choices reflect the interest I have in the contribution of our University to the City, of which I am very proud, and have strong personal associations and commitment.  I have also chosen landmarks in our city life notably the Stadium of Light and the National Glass Centre.

Martin Routledge writes:

I have lived in Sunderland since 1983.  In 1984 I got my first job at Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery, as it was then, now Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.  Currently, I am heavily involved with the refurbishment of Monkwearmouth Station Museum.  In 199I I joined the local Coastguard Rescue Team and I am now Deputy Station Officer.  This is a cliff rescue and search and rescue team with a guard area from the River Tyne to Ryhope Dene.  My wife was born in Sunderland and although I have lived in other places and was born in West Hartlepool, I consider myself very much a Sunderland person with deep roots here.

Whilst I certainly have plenty of opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of the City especially relating to the current housing problems; I have mostly selected images that have personal meaning, although some of the images are iconic – such as the Wearmouth Bridge.  Amongst my selection are views of the local railway scene, the Museum being redeveloped and the bridges over the Wear where I have been called at all times of the day and night to assist the Police with persons threatening to kill themselves.  There is a view overlooking Pallion, my home, the petrol station next to Monkwearmouth and building sites which I find are fascinating places as they develop: man and machine working together to create a new townscape.

Ian Wardle  says:

I was drawn to these paintings because they show Sunderland undergoing a process of change and renewal and capture changes in the City’s development.  Some may see the images as destructive, but I view them as capturing a process the City is going through – of change and a new start.  All cities change and their survival depends on adapting and moving forward.  The paintings also document what has gone before.  The colours are vivid and remind me how bright the sun is within the City.

Demolition, Echo House, 2005  &  Echo 24  and Gulls  I’d always liked the former Echo building and was sad to see the mosaic relief removed from the side – I hope someone has saved this.  But I think the new structure is very imposing and has a sense of grandeur that the river deserves.

Demolition Palatine Hotel  The demolition of the Palatine, or the Mowbray Park Hotel, has revealed for a short time a view from Borough Road of the Winter Gardens – a structure I really like.  When I have been driving home from work on an evening the sun reflects through the glass and shines along Borough Road.  This view will only be temporary before a new apartment building is erected – which I also like.

Demolition, Tavistock Place Car Park & Tavistock Place Car Park  Many people didn’t like the Tavistock Car Park but it is one of my early memories of Sunderland as my parents would park their car here on Saturday’s when we’d go shopping.  I liked the clean lines of the building and its functional design. 

East End Towers & Gilley Law I like tower blocks and the fact that when you approach Sunderland, or view it along the coast you know where it is because of the tower blocks. The Gilley Law towers are now refurbished and gleam on a night and I’ve always liked the way they reveal themselves as you approach them because they are set within a small valley but look imposing when you are up close to them.

Pennywell My grand parents lived in a Sunderland council house and they were good quality well sized accommodation and I have very happy memories of spending time with them every school holiday.  These areas are now undergoing substantial change and this is captured in the picture.  But the homes look so sad now as they await their turn for development.

The Refugee Centre, (The Old Technical School), Villiers Street& The End of Motor City  This is my favourite building in Sunniside – it’s such a strong building that shows how the area was once very important to the economic and cultural life of the City.  Today it is surrounded by buildings that have become run down, and the process of change is underway with the demolition of the former Motor City building next door, which is to become new offices and flats.

View from Sim’s Bedroom, Towards the East EndThe roof tops of Sunderland show the changes that have taken place over time, from the blue slate roofs of the Victorian terraces that housed the ship builders and middle classes of Sunderland that increased during the nineteenth century due to the growing commerce, to the high rise tower blocks built in the East End – a response to housing people within the city in the 60’s. 

Late Night Christmas Shopping, Trimdon Street I love the colours of this painting and it reminds me of shopping in the city centre (then town centre) with my mam at night and all the lights of the shops gleaming across the pavements.  It also documents another change in our city when edge of town shopping became popular, but perhaps at the expense of the City Centre?

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© the artist and the authors