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Exchange Buildings, Sunderland

drawing of Exchange Building in 1817

Built in 1814 to a design by John Stokoe of Newcastle upon Tyne, at a cost of £8,000 raised by a subscription of £50 shares. The building acted as the administrative, commercial and cultural centre for the rapidly developing port area and was the scene of a number of improtant social events including a banquet in 1827 hosted by the Marquis of Londonderry in honour of The Duke of Wellington and attended by Sir Walter Scott who recorded the event in his diary, commenting on the "handsome entertainment" and the quantity of food and drink consumed by the 200 guests.

The outbreak of a cholera epidemic in the East End of Sunderland in the early 1830's marked the beginning of the decline of the building's prominence as the focus of the city entre moved westwards. Towards the end of the 19th century, the building became the Seamen's Mission and alterations were carried out, including the glazing of the previously open arcades on the ground floor of the High Street elevation. The east end of Sunderland at this time was characterised by extreme poverty with more than one third of the population in reciept of poor relief.

By 1933 the buidling was used by the Hebron Church, attracting a large congregation, but a gradual decline into dereliction during the post war years saw the listed building threatened with demolition. Tyne and Wear Development Corporation, supported by English Heritage and Sunderland City Council through a Conservation Area Partnership Scheme embarked on an ambitious scheme to restore the building to its former glory. The first phase of the work to stabilite and weatherproof the building and to restore the roof and clock tower at a cost of almost £1million was completed in 1997. As the Development Corporation neared the end of its life, negotiations were concluded with NECT to carry out the second phase of the restoration programme to bring the building back to life. The award of a massive £2.7 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund announced in 1998 to complete the works recognised not only the importance of the budling to the city of Sunderland but also the role of the building as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area.

Work on the second phase of the works commenced in 1999 and negotiations progressed to secure the end use of the building as required by the terms of the contract with Heritage Lottery Fund. Event outisde the control of the Trust resulted in the main buidling contractor going into administration early in 2000. Protracted negotiations during the rest of the year funally succeeded when Stephen Easten ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, was appointed to complete the works. As a direct result of the difficulties and delays encountered during the administration proceedings, both the tenants with whom Agreements to Lease had previously beensigned, withdreww from the project. It was not until early in 2002 that the final Lease Agreement with keeping Inn Limited was agreed culminiating in the opening of the building in June 2002 following fit out works costing in excess of £750.000 and the creation of up to 60 full and part time jobs.

During excavation works, contractors uncovered a stone within a basement wall containing a lead box, within which was found a glass vessel containing a folded and rolled up page of vellum lisitng the names of the original subscribers to the building. Research into the subscribers was carried out at the time, and the results can be seen in the document below.