Built between 1718-1719, the Church of Holy Trinity was once at the heart of a busy port that served the mercantile classes. It is one of only two Grade I early Georgian churches in North East England. It housed the first public library of Sunderland, first civic rooms and, at one point, even the fire engine! However, by the mid-19th century, the focus of civic activity had moved west, and, by the 20th century town planning had effectively cut Holy Trinity off from the city centre.
Very fine examples of high quality craftsmanship and design can be found within Holy Trinity. The building itself reminds us of the remarkable and unique history of Old Sunderland and the prosperity, trade and activity that formed the basis of daily life.
The 1712 Act of Parliament that gave permission to build the church stated that ‘the gentlemen of the vestry’ were in charge of the new Parish, these twenty four ‘men of the vestry’ were the local authority in the town for 120 years. The vestry men played an ever increasing part in dealing with pressing civic issues, such as health and environmental problems. In 1831 Sunderland was the centre of the first outbreak of cholera in the United Kingdom. The vestry men responded by setting up a health board and agreeing measures to improve public health. They also created a local fire service based in Holy Trinity, an illustration of the building’s historically eclectic mix of uses.
The church continued to be at the heart of community life until the mid-19th century. The 1850s witnessed the start of economic decline in the area, with the gradual decline of the ship building industry and movement west of the middle classes. This led to the development of a new East End of Sunderland and Holy Trinity is one of the few surviving historic buildings in the area.