A historic pub interior of national importance
This pub is currently closed (since 17/03/2020)
Listed Status: IIHigh Street West
Tel: (0191) 567 2262
Real Ale: Yes
Real Cider: Yes
Lunchtime Meals: Yes
Evening Meals: Yes
Nearby Station: Sunderland
Public Transport: Near Railway Station (Sunderland)
View on: Whatpub
An impressive corner site building of 1901–2, next door to the Empire Theatre and patronised by many of the stars who performed there. It was designed by architect Benjamin F. Simpson of Newcastle to replace a pub that had been on the site since at least the 1830s. A good sense of the original two-room layout remains, despite the filling in of a corner doorway and removal of a wall to the sitting room at the far end. The bar-back is one of the most stunning in the country. It has three sections, divided by semi-circular projections, and is richly decorated with delicate Art Nouveau-style woodcarving and various plaster reliefs. The formidable bar counter also has strong detailing. The side entrance led to a lobby with a hatch to the servery – the curvaceous screen with stained glass panels dividing it from the main bar is still there, though partly opened up for easy access. The pub was taken over by Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust in 2014 as part of a project to regenerate the area as a cultural quarter. The building was meticulously restored in partnership with Camerons Brewery Head of Steam chain in a 20-week project. Everything was carefully cleaned with the finishes and colours being restored to the Edwardian originals.
In 2014 the Dun Cow was purchased by the Sunderland Music Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, whose aim is to create a cultural hub around the Edwardian Quarter of the city, which incorporates the Sunderland Empire, the Dun Cow and the old fire station. After a three month closure for a careful restoration the pub has been leased to the Head of Steam chain of pubs and reopened selling a wide range of real ales.
Re-built in 1901-2, this three-storey pub of Edwardian baroque has two Dutch gables and a corner copper domed tower which houses two clocks. The impressive exterior has stone carvings including '1901' and 'RD Ltd' for Robert Deuchars, Brewers of Edinburgh; it was designed by architect Benjamin F Simpson. It is one of a number of impressive Edwardian pubs built in Sunderland (another is the Heritage pub the Mountain Daisy in the Millfield area. Above the three doorways are decorative stonework including figures of a cat, a cow, a frog and a lizard - can you find them?
From the entrance on High Street West is a vestibule entrance with etched panels in it. There is a passage from which the ladies leads off - when built this was the Managers Room. The left hand side partition wall has both stained and leaded also decoratively etched panels and a door for staff (was this the original off sales?). A further door on the left leads to the large public bar with panelled walls including some bevelled mirrors and fine sectioned plasterwork ceiling with very decorative cornice picked out in red, gold and green. The fireplace is a grand affair with a two sectioned mantelpiece held up by pillars but it has a reproduction interior of cast iron and modern tiles. Modern fixed seating. A corner doorway has been filled in and a wall removed to the small smoke room on the side street.
The Dun Cow has one of the most stunning bar-backs in Britain which as part of the 2014 refurbishment has been subject to an impressive restoration to remove many years of nicotine stains. Rory F Johnson, Paintings Conservation & Restoration spent some five weeks using a cotton wool swab style of instrument to return the colour back to the original off-white colour. The back fitting, which has been recently lacquered, is a splendid traceried Indo-Gothic web billowing out to form platforms on which bottles can be displayed. It has three sections, divided by semi-circular projections, and is richly decorated with delicate Art Nouveau-style woodcarving and curious reliefs in plaster in some of the recesses – look for the figures including a cow’s head.. It has two rows of bevelled mirror sections, two drawers and is topped off with a balustrade and a clock, but the letter box is an S&N addition in the 1970s to show customers the details on the till. Formidable original bar counter with strong detail such as unusual indentations at the top and pilasters all the way along the front.
A curved screen divides the main bar from the smaller rear sitting room and it has coloured stained and leaded panels in it as well as some decorative etched panels. One panel has been removed from it for access. In the recent past one of the colourful glass leaded panes had been destroyed and in the refurbishment of 2014 a very accurate replacement has been made to make the screen complete once again. Can you spot which of the 4 panes on the window side is the replacement one? From the door on Garden Place there is a vestibule entrance with 'Smoke Room' etched panel. The original plans show that the present room is an amalgamation of a much smaller sitting room and a small Hall i.e. the right hand part of the wall separating them has been removed in modern times. In the former Hall area is another original bar counter front with service via a hatch or door to the servery. This small room has another good cornice picked out in red, gold and green, some panelling, the odd bevelled mirror, a Victorian reproduction tiled & cast iron fireplace and modern fixed seating.
The outside gents' have been covered over in recent years. As part of the refurbishment of 2014 the first floor has been refitted and a new but quality bar fittings added including a counter with a tiled panel on the front. The first floor is open to the public from 12 noon to 8pm on Saturday; for a Blues Club on Fridays from 8.30pm to close; and is also available for functions. Hidden away on the top floor (not accessible to the public) is another fine original bar back fitting with bevelled mirror sections and a canopy held up by pillars but no bar counter.
Sources: Pearson, Lynn F. The Northumbria Pub, Morpeth, Sandhill Press, 1989. The National Heritage List for England Entry 1208545.