Over 140 years of heritage preserved at new multi-million pound leisure destination

30,000 ‘scoria brick’ cobbles, a clock tower, ceramic water troughs, hay loft winches, cast iron wheel buffers and bullnose brick interior walls are just some of the many historic and original features that have been carefully preserved, restored and reinstated at the much-anticipated Sheepfolds Stables venue in Sunderland.

The new, multi-million pound social and leisure destination has been completely reimagined by Building Design Northern and is currently in the very final stages of its transformation. The Grade II listed building, when open in the summer, will become a vibrant food, drink, events and entertainment space.

The 20,000 sq ft site is an integral part of the Riverside Sunderland regeneration masterplan. It is expecting to welcome more than 150,000 guests in its first year alone.

However, look back 140 years to circa 1884, and the former stables block and courtyard would be a hive of activity of a different kind, at the heart of the city’s heavy industrial past; its railways and goods infrastructure.

Newly built, Sheepfolds Stables accommodated circa 100 horses which directly served and transported goods to and from the railway depots and other trade sites along the River Wear.

Designed by William Bell and owned and operated by the North Eastern Railway company, it is believed that Sheepfolds Stables included a shoeing shed, loose boxes, a harness room and a horse hospital.

However, whilst the buildings had, over recent decades, fallen into disrepair, BDN has now brought it back to life with a key focus from the start of the redevelopment being to ‘keep the history alive’.

This has seen the design and onsite construction teams unearth, preserve and now re-incorporate many original fixtures and fittings from bolts, brackets and door frames to cobbled walkways, stable doors, partitions and drinking troughs, into the build.

Other key features restored include curved bullnose bricks, designed specifically to prevent injury and keep the working horses safe. They proudly frame the entrance of the venue as well as the new whiskey and cigar lounge. First-floor hayloft ladders will also be visible on the interior wall of the ‘I Scream for Pizza’ restaurant, while water troughs and internal cast-iron columns take pride of place inside the central courtyard building.

More than 100 timber-framed windows have been handmade by apprentice joiners onsite, crafted using traditional skills to ensure they fit perfectly with the look and feel of the building. Likewise, trusses – to replace fire-damaged woodwork in a large section of the building, have also been constructed on site, and have been designed to replicate, almost identically, the original design that had remained intact in another part of the stables.

Furthermore, an original working cart, thought to be used at Sheepfolds Stables around the early 1900s, has also been acquired and reinstated. This will now take pride of place in the bar and seating areas as a reminder of the building’s rich past.

Dave Hunt, Architect and conservation specialist at Building Design Northern, has led the design of the project. He explained,

It’s not very often that a project of this complexity, historical importance and heritage presents itself. As an architect specialising in and with a real passion for conservation, it has been an absolute pleasure to create a scheme that will extend a legacy, and bring back to life a building first designed by William Bell over 140 years ago.

We are custodians of this site, and we have a very strong commitment to keep its history alive. We believe that it is one of only a handful of working, industrial-scale horse stables from the Victorian era still in existence, and it has been a treasure trove, from an architectural perspective, unearthing its past.

After months and months of dedicated research prior to build, we found old maps, images and original plans, and discovered so much valuable yet forgotten information. For instance, the clock located above the main archway was an empty space for years, but by locating and using old archive plans, we have been able to commission the Cumbrian Clock Company to specifically recreate a new clock piece that looks exactly how it would have done more than 140 years ago.

We’ve also removed, cleaned and re-laid approximately 30,000 scoria cobbles individually, hand by hand. These blue-grey coloured bricks are a by-product of the wider region’s steel industry, and again, they have been part of the site from the beginning. It’s just phenomenal.

Many of the areas at Sheepfolds Stables were built (and sized) relative to the scale of the horses being housed, and therefore included raised wall structures, beams, trusses and high-level windows. These features form an important part of the historic narrative of the site, and have been meticulously maintained by BDN throughout the venue, with both modern and traditional methods of construction being applied.

Rick Marsden, Managing Director of BDN, added,

The site has demanded a very different approach and we have deliberately and painstakingly worked through each building to maintain the historic look and feel, whilst at the same time create an exciting new social venue for everyone to enjoy.

We have applied very unique and older, more traditional methods of construction during all stages of the build including stonemasonry and joinery skills, and have, by hand, made features like the trusses and windows match what would have originally been in place. It has certainly been a great learning experience for our young apprentices.

As a growing national company, our HQ and roots are still firmly here in Sunderland, so we’re extremely proud to be delivering and soon launching this development for the city, the wider region, and for future generations to come.

The £4m development is set to open its doors in this summer. Now repurposed for a thoroughly modern use, it will serve up an array of exciting and independent tenants providing food and drink from around the world as well as leisure businesses.

For more details on the site’s historic features, and to stay up to date with the latest news and developments, follow Sheepfolds Stables on social media or go to www.sheepfoldsstables.co.uk

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