‘Secrets’ behind the mysterious Mowbray Park mediaeval door
Few Wearsiders can have failed to notice the ‘enchanted’ doorway; a mediaeval arch surrounding a wooden door, set in a cliff face in deepest Mowbray Park.
It certainly has an appropriate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland look to it and generations of children, having asked their parents the purpose of the doorway, have delighted in being fobbed off with pure wind about goblins, fairies, elves, pixies… that lot.
Not that adults asking the question tend to receive any more reliable information. Any time I asked I was always been presented with blind guesses or outright flippancy.
The beautiful lion’s head doorknocker notwithstanding, it won’t take you to Narnia. It also turns out that the council’s parking meter committee doesn’t have clandestine meetings or acid house parties in there after all.
Nor does it contain Nazi gold bullion. It isn’t even part of a secret tunnel network which merges into a Neolithic portal to Pennywell Comrades Club. It isn’t a casino…
You get the picture. There is a literally endless list of things that are not behind the door. But the truth of the matter turns out to be slightly more modest.
People's memories may have been playing tricks because, for a start, the door isn’t particularly old. Both the door and knocker were commissions given to artists Craig Knowles and Carl Fisher in the late 1990s.
However, there is a genuine historic value to the stone archway, which is medieval and originally an entrance to the rectory of St Michael’s Church, now Sunderland Minster.
The rectory stood roughly where the Empire Theatre is today. It was demolished not long before Mowbray Park opened in 1857. The arch was relocated there. If it looks on the short side, it’s because much of it is buried.
Notables to have sauntered through the Grade II listed archway at its previous location include Rector of Bishopwearmouth 1827-1848
Gerald Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s younger brother, although Gerald only turned up occasionally.
Another rector, between 1796 and his death in 1805, was William Paley, best remem
bered for his 1802 book Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity.
Apart from having a title which is the very antithesis of “snappy”, this is notable as a rebuttal to Evolution, even though it was published seven years before Charles Darwin was born. Paley remains eminent; as well as a user of the Mowbray Park arch.
Like Roker Park’s legendary Spottee’s Cave, there’s a cave in Mowbray Park too behind said door.
Today the mystique of Spottee’s is undermined somewhat. The council uses it to store distinctly unmagical items; wheelie bins, traffic cones, etc.
According to official information: “There is a cave behind the doorway, where the park keeper used to store supplies in years gone by. This cave has now been blocked up for safety reasons.”
So, not only might the doorway never be opened again, it would only lead to a parky’s cupboard .
Oh well. It’s a lovely ornament with history attached.
And if the little ones ask, it’s the home of goblins, fairies, elves, pixies… that lot.