Sunderland’s historic Roker Pier is once again open to the public. The pier – along with the lighthouse and an access tunnel – had been undergoing restoration work since 2012, but it was badly damaged by a storm last year.

On 5-6th November 2016, the pier was battered by gale-force winds and waves as high as the lighthouse itself. 100 metres of railings were washed into the sea along with the granite coping stones they were fixed to.

Repair work began this summer. Some of the coping stones displaced by the storm were rescued from the sea by divers using heavy lifting gear and reused.

800 metres of historic railings were repaired and repainted, and more than 800 metres of modern railings were replaced with replicas more in keeping with the pier’s age and appearance. 1600 metres of bottom mesh panels were also replaced with a low-level rail. 

In addition to the repairs on Roker Pier, work on the pier tunnel is now almost complete. This means that public tours of the tunnel and lighthouse can start in early spring.

Roker Pier before the restoration work

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet secretary, Cllr Mel Spedding, said, “It’s fantastic to see the pier reopening to the public after being closed for the last year. It’s always been one of Sunderland’s best-loved landmarks and I know people have been looking forward to its reopening.”

“The pier was built to defend the harbour and it’s done that job magnificently for over 100 years. Although last year’s storms were a devastating blow, coming as they did the day we were due to begin public tours of the lighthouse, they also proved that the pier continues to serve a very real purpose to this day as well as being a historic attraction.”

“We’re now looking forward to cracking on with the completion of the new entrance to the tunnel so that we can reopen it and the lighthouse to the public for the first time in their history in the spring.”

“There’s been an enormous amount of enthusiasm around plans to open the tunnel and lighthouse to public tours and it’s really exciting to be getting closer to making that happen.”

The tunnel was built to contain the gas pipes that powered Goliath – the huge crane that constructed the pier by manoeuvring granite-faced blocks, each weighing up to 45 tonnes, into place.

The tunnel – which runs the length of the finished pier – was later used by lighthouse keepers to get to the lighthouse during bad weather and to rescue anglers who got trapped on the pier in stormy conditions.

Built between 1885 and 1903, the grade-II-listed Roker Pier and Lighthouse was considered “a triumph of engineering” when it first opened.

The recent repairs to Roker Pier have been carried out by Durham-based Hall Construction. Deptford-based Sunderland firm Willowcrete won the contract to replace the pier’s modern railings with period-appropriate replicas.

Overall, the restoration work to the pier, tunnel and lighthouse has cost £2.5 million and has been funded by Sunderland City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

(The featured image shows Roker Pier after the restoration work.)

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