Permanent Exhibitions & Collections

Textile Traditions –

Ground Floor

Wonderfully crafted quilts, rag rugs, embroideries and ganseys represent the rich tradition of textile crafts found in this region.

From everyday objects like quilts, mats and clothes to a sumptuous silk damask gown and a wedding dress made by famous local quilter Amy Emms MBE, this display explores the many ways in which textiles have been created out of love and necessity.

A collection of work from several of the country’s leading crafts people show how today’s makers are using traditional techniques to create new works of art.

The Time Machine –

Ground Floor

Crammed with artefacts this display contains some of the most popular exhibits from the Museum’s past. The first Nissan car to be made in Sunderland appears alongside Wallace the Lion, who has been a favourite exhibit with generations of Sunderland children. Other objects include a giant bottle of stout, the head of a walrus, a teapot with three spouts, a 1920s diver’s suit, a pair of 17th century boots, a herd of tiny pink cows and much more.

This gallery is a fun way of looking at history and a great introduction to the rest of the Museum’s displays.

Sunderland Pottery –

Ground Floor

Look at the inspiration behind the style and decoration of the pots in the world’s largest collection of Sunderland-made pottery. See examples of famous pink lustreware and find out about the pottery workers.

The potteries in Sunderland operated between 1720 and 1957. Along with shipbuilding, coal mining and glass-making, pottery-making was one of the most important industries in Sunderland.

The first potteries were established at Newbottle in 1720, in about 1750 at Silksworth and in 1762 the Maling family opened the first pottery on the banks of the River Wear. The Wearside potteries declined after 1859 because local potters could not compete with the industry in Staffordshire and abroad.

Coal –

Ground Floor

This display is a lasting tribute to nearly 200 years of mining in the East Durham coalfield. Focusing on the unique communities which developed there, the display re-creates the day-to-day lives of miners and their families.

Find out about the dangers and hardships of mining in the 1800s in the underground reconstruction. See a collection of disaster glass, which was sold locally to raise money for the families who were left devastated by accidents at the pit and meet three young lads going through their gruelling labours in the video presentation – a trapper opening the ventilation doors in the mine and two putters, pushing the coal tubs.

Secrets of the Past –

Ground Floor

Meet the ancestors and find out what a prehistoric burial can tell us about the way people lived in Sunderland thousands of years ago. Learn about the Anglo-Saxon monks who lived at St Peter’s Monastery, Monkwearmouth, home of the young Bede and part of the twin monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Find out about the archaeological techniques which enable us to uncover the secrets of the past.

The Winter Gardens –

Ground Floor

This amazing glass and steel structure surrounds a world of plants in miniature. Come and experience a garden for all seasons, and discover the plants that feed, clothe and protect us in our daily lives.

Sunderland’s original Winter Gardens opened in 1879. Badly damaged during the Second World War the Winter Gardens were eventually demolished. A successful bid to replace the Gardens was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 1997 and on 21st July 2001 the new Winter Gardens opened to the public.

Today the Winter Gardens reflect different climate zones from around the world. Changes in location, temperature and levels of moisture within the gardens create conditions which can support a huge variety of plants. Some 1500 plants of over 100 different species grow together under the same roof, despite their widely different origins.

Sunderland’s Glorious Glass –

1st Floor

Glassmaking in Sunderland has its origins in Anglo-Saxon times when the monks of St Peter’s monastery at Monkwearmouth created coloured glass windows, more than 1300 years ago.

This glittering display features many objects made during the last 300 years when the glassmaking industry was at its peak. See many fine examples of 18th and early 19th century glass including a collection of rummers, friggers, cut and engraved glass and pressed glass.

20th Century Sunderland –

1st Floor

In this gallery one hundred years of the history of Sunderland is seen through the eyes of women. Watch four characters come to life in the video presentations, then experience their surroundings for yourself in four atmospheric room sets.

Explore the themes of seaside, fashion, diet, cost of living, public entertainment and housing over the century. Find out how politics, convention and fashion have shaped and changed all of our lives.

Lost Worlds –

1st Floor

The rocks beneath our feet are full of stories of the past. They tell us how Sunderland was once a place of steaming swamps, how it became a baking desert and then a tropical reef.

The displays look at the local geology of the Sunderland area and concentrate on the Carboniferous and Permian periods. The sounds of lapping waves, howling winds and bubbling swamps add to the atmosphere of a gallery where millions of years of history have been squeezed into one fascinating space.

Worlds Alive –

1st Floor

Hundreds of animals have been brought together to show the huge variety of life that exists on the planet. Explore the themes of diversity, adaptation and extinction and see animals at home in a range of recreated habitats. Live insects, spiders, amphibians and fish are all part of the attraction.

Enter the gallery and enter the animal kingdom. A huge range of creatures from all over the world illustrate the variety of life that exists on the planet. See a tiger, lion, deer, a polar bear, a llama, a turtle, exotic birds and many more wonderful creatures. Live tarantulas, axalotls and other exotic creepy crawlies can all be found in the gallery as well as tanks with colourful marine and tropical fish.

The Art Gallery – L S Lowry –

2nd Floor

LS Lowry is one of the country’s best known artists, famous for his paintings of industrial scenes in Lancashire. Much less well known is the fact that during the last fifteen years of his life he spent a considerable amount of time in the North East, staying at the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland. A collection of oil paintings and sketches of local scenes are on display in the gallery.

The Victorian Gallery –

2nd Floor

Oil paintings from the collection are ‘salon’ hung, to show many paintings, as they would have been in Victorian times. Highlights include ’The castle of Ischia’ by Clarkson Stanfield. ‘The Gardens of Tranquillity’ is a sculpture on loan from the V&A Museum. Made around 1800, this model shows a Chinese Taoist temple in a mountain landscape. It is made from carved ivory and wood with mother-of-pearl, semi-precious stones and various metals.

Faith and Science –

2nd Floor

This display brings together artists who have engaged with ideas about religion or science, and looks at how both fields influence our understanding of the world around us. The artists have all worked in Sunderland, continuing the City’s long tradition of glassmaking.

Launched on Wearside –

3rd Floor

Find out about shipbuilding on the Wear between 1880 and 1950. Discover what made a Wearside ship, how it was built, who built it, where it travelled to in the world and what cargoes it carried. See several of the Museum’s collection of fabulously detailed model ships built on the Wear when it was ‘the largest shipbuilding town in the world’. The models were made by skilled model makers employed at the shipyards.