The Empire Theatre's immediate neighbour to the east is the lovely green copper-domed tower of the beautiful Dun Cow public house, its tower perfectly complementing the tower of the theatre. The two impressive buildings are separated only by the narrow street called Garden Place over which the two towers stand like guarding sentinels on the north side of High Street West. A grade II listed building, the Dun Cow is very much built in the same spirit and style as the Empire which must surely have taken inspiration from this pub.
In County Durham a Dun Cow was a dun-coloured (greyish) cow, strongly linked to legendary connections with St Cuthbert and the foundation of Durham. According to legend Dun Cow- which is carved into the stone of the outer walls of Durham Cathedral - seemingly guided the carriers of that saint's coffin to Durham in the last days of their many years of wandering. Their last stopping point was Warden Law, a prominent hill near Sunderland. Given Bishopwearmouth's medieval links to Durham it is not unreasonable to suggest that there may have been a pub called the 'Dun Cow' in the village of Bishopwearmouth long before 1834 and perhaps on this very site.
The pub exterior is extremely impressive with much attention to detail. Most of the building is of a rich sandstone that glows in the sunlight highlighting its details. Such details include black polished marble shafts that rise from the plinth around the doorways supporting the hoods above the two doors. There are subtle but elegant bay windows on the first floor and on the second floor where the windows are smaller and bordered by what is architecturally termed "rustication". This consists of rough masonry blocks with wide joints between them that have rough edges in contrast to the smooth ashlar blocks of the remaining building. This feature is confined to the outer edges of the windows so the effect is again subtle.
The fourth storey of the Dun Cow is the crowning glory of the building's exterior and is accompanied by the faces of handsome Roman numeral clocks that look out onto High Street West and towards The Empire, just across Garden Place.
The Dun Cow is certainly a wonderfully ornate building but the real surprise lies within. Here is an exceptionally beautiful interior, remarkably well-preserved consisting at ground-level of a main room and a smaller sitting room to the rear. It is one of the wonders of Sunderland and listed in the National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. The interior includes what has been described as "one of the most stunning bar-backs in Britain".
In addition to the etched panels, other features of this extraordinary Edwardian pub include bevelled mirrors, fine plasterwork and a grand fireplace. During 2014 the pub interior underwent painstaking renovation that has respected and preserved the beautiful and remarkable historic interior.
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