About us

Discover Sunderland’s fascinating history all in one place…the city’s first ever museum, which opened its doors back in 1810!

With a collection dating back to 1846 there are plenty of surprises in store for visitors to Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens.

Perhaps the most famous object of all is Wallace the Lion. Wallace was part of a touring wild animal show which visited Sunderland during 1868 with the then famous African tamer Martini Maccomo. When he died, some years later, Wallace the lion was stuffed and came into the Museum’s collection. Over 135 years later, he’s still here and remains one of the most popular exhibits…now posing for selfies!

These day’s Wallace is also in the company of the first Nissan car to roll off the production line at their Sunderland factory in 1986. The car plant replaced shipbuilding as one of the major industries in Sunderland.

Sunderland has a rich history of industries, all of which are explored throughout the museums four floors. Exhibition spaces are dedicated to shipbuilding, coal mining, glass making and pottery as well many other aspects of the city’s past. Our ‘Secrets of the Past’ gallery, for example, delves into the lives of the Anglo-Saxon monks who resided at St Peter’s Monastery in Monkwearmouth.

The Museums Art Gallery shows a significant collection of the works of LS Lowry, an artist who spent lots of time in Sunderland. Our temporary exhibitions include high profile visiting exhibitions including works by Leonardo Da Vinci and Canaletto.

The Museum has recently been awarded a grant as part of The Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme. The programme will see exhibitions that showcase and are inspired by work from the Arts Council Collection, which includes work by incredible global artists Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, Paula Rego, and Gillian Wearing. This means that over the next three years the museum will have access to an amazing collection of British art from 1948 to date.

The Winter Gardens, a 21st Century addition to the museum is a tropical paradise and home to our resident Koi Carp. Over 2,000 plants thrive in the glass rotunda and from the tree top walkway visitors have a bird’s eye view of beautiful Mowbray Park.

2019 has seen a facelift for the Museum’s main entrance and shop which now has a fantastic range of Sunderland themed gifts alongside locally made craft items.

Alongside our permanent and temporary exhibitions, our ever-changing events programme means that there is always something new and exciting to see and do for all the family.

Please note that the Pottery Gallery is occasionally closed to the general public due to special events taking place. Please contact us before your visit to check opening information.

Entry to the museum is free but donations are welcome.

  • The History behind Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens

    The first museum in Sunderland opened in 1810. It was a small, private museum housed in one room, the collection was mainly natural history specimens ; 72 birds, 12 fish, and 427 minerals and fossils.  Other items listed include Colonel Lilburne’s boots (which are still on display today in the Time machine gallery).

    Following the Museums Act of 1845, Sunderland Corporation arranged to take over the running of the museum from the Sunderland Natural History and Antiquarian Society and Sunderland then had the first publicly funded museum outside London.

    A number of years later a competition was held to design a building to house the ever growing collections. Local architects J & T Tilman won the contract and the purpose built museum, art gallery, library and Winter Gardens opened in 1879. The foundation stone was laid by the Mayor on 24 September 1877 in the presence of ex- president of the USA General Grant.

    The museum was redeveloped with money from the Heritage Lottery fund and reopened with a new Winter Gardens in 2001.

  • Meet Our Team

    Exhibitions

    Jo Cunningham – Collections, Exhibitions and Archives Manager
    Shauna Gregg – Collections, Exhibitions and Archives Officer

    Contact us: [email protected]

    Learning & Engagement

    Jennie Lambert – Public Learning & Engagement Manager
    Marie Harrison – Public Learning & Engagement Officer

    Contact us: [email protected]

    Operations

    Carolyn Bowes – Operations Lead
    James Large – Business Developer Officer
    Graeme Easton – Visitor Services Manager
    Karen Lillistone – Assistant Visitor Services Manager
    Tonia Dagg – Visitor Services Assistant
    Bill Walker – Visitor Services Assistant
    Kim Franchino – Visitor Services Assistant
    Sean Dykes – Visitor Services Assistant
    Tony Drake – Visitor Services Assistant
    Dave Mulligan – Visitor Services Assistant
    Chris Beeton – Visitor Services Assistant
    Christine McKenna – Visitor Services Assistant

    Contact us: [email protected]

    Marketing, PR & Communications

    Laura Reed – Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator

    Contact us: [email protected]