In the early part of the nineteenth century the commercial centre of Sunderland was well and truly established at the lower end of High Street East with the housing and industrial patterns of the town being intrinsically linked. Workers needed to live no more than a short walk from their place of employment and the east end of Sunderland with its proximity to its industry was therefore packed with residential as well as commercial premises.

   High Street, which had grown from its days as a link from the east End to Bishopwearmouth Church was, by the 1820s, packed with commercial premises. These had grown up alongside the popular outside markets which, every FRIDAY, were thronged with Wearsiders.

   By 1900 there were a number of markets offering everything from fresh bread to leather ware. The Burchers' Market was set in the middle of the road close to the High Street.Church Street junction and there were also butchers' shops operating from the ground floors of the houses in the main street. The Bakers' Market was close by, near Baines Lane, and this merged into the Poultry and Dairy Produce Markets as well as the Seed and Corn Markets close to Bodlewell Lane. Stalls selling shoes, leather ware and clothing also stood in High Street. It wasn't until 1820 that Market Day was changed to a Saturday. Before that, Friday was the day when Wearsiders flocked to the busy stalls as well as the shops of High Street and Low Street which served the crowded urban community of the township of Sunderland. Drapers, mercers, grocers and saddlers' shops were intersperced between the 144 public houses and 51 brothels that served St. John's Parish.

   The outside market was gradually phased out and, by 1830, and an indoor market opened linking High Street with Coronation Street. This would eventually become known to Wearsiders' as 'the old market' and was to last for over a century before closing in the mid 1930s.

   In 1874 a new arcade opened, linking High Street West with St Thomas Street. Originally it had the feel of a bazaar with numerous small shops. In 1900 Marks and Spencers had one of their Penny Bazaar shops there. Before the First World War it was the practice for the arcade traders to remain open until 9 or 10pm on Saturday nights. The shopkeepers each hung bunting and attractive banners over their shop fronts announcing their wares and outside the shops it as usual to have the goods standing on small tables or hanging from the exterior.


   The Arcade suffered bomb damage after a raid on the night of 13th March 1943 when St Thomas Church was completely destroyed. Part of the arcade which adjoined the church was very badly damaged, the roof collapsed and not one pane of glass remained in any of the shops. Re-opening did not take place until July 1951 when many of the former tenants returned to an arcade that had been given a modern face-lift.

   During the 1950s the Arcade became a popular shopping centre with shops that included Palmers, Marshalls the Chemists, Willie Watson's Sports Shop, Hugh Mitchell Shoes and Reed the Jewellers. By then all the shops closed at 5.30pm and the Arcade's metal gates were locked at 6pm sharp.


   With the focus of shopping in Sunderland in the late 1960s moving westward in the town, the diminishing trade of the Arcade led to its closure and it was eventually demolished and replaced with a new telephone exchange. 

Today, of course, it would be a listed building and kept as a treasure.