Archive for December 2014

The Life of a Northern Cyclist – James Willie Wood (1892 – 1972)

James was born in County Durham, but brought up in Northumberland. At the age of three, he was with his mother at Red House Farm, Monkseaton and by age seven, he was living with his grandparents in Ashington where he attended the Hirst North Boys School until leaving at twelve years of age. His first job was as a lather boy at a local barber shop and at age fourteen he was working at Woodhorn Colliery, Ashington.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy December 1914, James had enlisted and was placed in the Northern Cyclists 2/1st Battalion, ‘C’ Company, commanding officer Captain Alister Hardy. The Cyclists Battalions were primarily a Home Defence Unit and also provided trained men for the regular Army – usually the infantry.

‘C’ Company was billeted in Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, for training and for coastal defence both south and north of the Castle. Christmas Day, 1915, saw the Norwegian barque Lovespring floundering off shore with the crew being rescued by the steamer Copsewood and as the Lovespring broke up, some of the cargo was salvaged by C Company.

Early 1916 saw ‘C’ Company being relocated to Chapel St. Leonards, near Skegness, Lincolnshire, where once again, they were used for coastal defence, building trenches and outposts in readiness for a possible invasion. It was here that James met his future wife, Mahala Hunter

Somerset Light Infantry cap badgeIt wasn’t long before James found himself being transferred into the regular Army; he was placed in the Somerset Light Infantry and was shipped to the Western Front. Like many infantrymen, he was wounded and was returned to England for recuperation. When declared fit, he returned to France as a Corporal where for a short time he was a guard at a POW camp.

Mid 1917 found James back in England where he was placed in the Labour Corps – a common practice for soldiers who were deemed to be unfit for service at the front line. It is thought that James never fully recovered from the wounds he suffered in 1916. James was stationed in Seven Oaks, Kent and in November 1917 he was allowed to return to Mahala’s home village where they married in the local church. After a very short time together, James returned to his unit in Seven Oaks and remained there until the end of the war.

After demob, James returned to Mahala in Lincolnshire and then in late 1919, he brought his wife and his two young daughters back to Northumberland where they lived in Hollymount Cottages, Bedlington with James working at a local colliery. Circa 1923 found the family moving across to Ashington and to a newly built house in Garden City Villas with James working at Woodhorn Colliery where he worked until retiring at age 65.

Every year in late October / early November, James’s old commanding officer, Captain Alister Hardy, (now a Professor in Marine Biology and later to be knighted in 1957) hosted a reunion dinner for surviving members of ‘C’ Company. James attended each and every year with his final attendance being in 1971.

James passed away at his home in Garden City Villas in December of 1972, having been survived by his wife, Mahala who later died in 1977.

James Wood with C Co. of Northern Cyclists

We would like to express our sincere appreciation to Allan Robinson in supplying this article for the Northumberland At War Project.

Christmas in Stannington Sanatorium

 Many of the children in Stannington Sanatorium were patients there for many years and would have spent several Christmases in the sanatorium away from their families.  However, by all accounts great efforts were made by the staff and the local people to ensure that the children had an enjoyable time and didn’t miss out on the Christmas spirit.  A report from the Morpeth Herald and Reporter of 1916 recounts the occasion as such:

A most enjoyable time was spent by the children at Stannington Sanatorium during the festive season.  The rooms were gaily decorated for the occasion.  On Christmas morning each child had his or her stocking well filled with toys and other suitable gifts.  Special fare was provided.

NRO 10321-3 [MAG P1]

NRO 10321/3

We find similar accounts of Christmas in Stannington year after year throughout its operation.  In1931 one of the children even described Christmas in her own words in the Sanatorium’s in-house children’s magazine. (see below)  The magazine was created by the children themselves and contains many accounts of life in Stannington as well as some of the children’s own stories and poems.   


NRO 10321-3 xmas magazine

NRO 10321/3

Merry Christmas!

xmas tree

The Opening of Stannington : the First Children’s TB Sanatorium

This week we have another guest post kindly provided by Dr Hazel Jones-Lee on behalf of Children North East detailing the establishment of the Sanatorium by the Poor Children’s Holdiay Association, the predecessor to Children North East:


The opening to patients on 15 March 1908 of the first Children’s Sanatorium in Great Britain at Stannington, Northumberland, was the culmination of a lengthy and tireless process by the Poor Children’s Holiday Association to improve the health and wellbeing of poor children by taking them out of the fetid air of the slums of Newcastle to the fresh air of the seaside or countryside.


Against a background of a national Fresh Air Movement, the PCHA’s founders, J.H.Watson & J.T.Lunn, began work in 1891, by taking 120 poor children for a day at the seaside in Tynemouth. Supported by the generosity of local people, this modest scheme expanded rapidly in 1894 to include country holidays of two-three weeks for those sickly or weak children who needed a longer period of fresh country air. By 1901, 8796 children a year went on day trips and 214 on country holidays: even so, it was soon clear that more was needed.


At least as early as 1903, the charity’s honorary physician, Dr.T.M.Allison, was calling for separate treatment to be available for the many consumptive children in the region, whose condition might be improved significantly by a prolonged stay in the country with “food and fresh air, shelter and sunshine’ , but who could not be sent into the country homes where they might infect others.


Accordingly, a small sub-committee of the PCHA was set up in 1903, and having established that there was no conflict with the focus of the existing County of Northumberland Sanatorium Committee chaired by Lord Armstrong, produced a plan at the AGM of 1904 proposing an interdependent three-part scheme: a farm on which to train rescued street boys who were not suited to city life; a Boys’ Convalescent home and finally a Children’s Sanatorium.


White House Farm at Stannington, with 173 acres, had already been found by the time the formal appeal for the £11,000 needed to fund the scheme was launched on 28 April 1905.  Thanks to the CNE 1generosity of one of the Charity’s supporters, Mr. Roland Philipson, £5000 was promised to add to the £3500 already available from the Trust Fund of another supporter, the late Mr.Robert Scott. These gifts, together with further donations or low interest loans, meant that the plans could go ahead. (Their magnitude is apparent if we compare the ‘pleasant surprise’ at the donation of £500 to a rival southern scheme felt by Rev. Edward Bedford of Great Ormond Street, writing to Dr. Allison on October 6, 1905 )


The tenant farmer, Mr. Atkins was retained as farm manager to train young boys in farm work to produce the high quality food and milk needed for the future Sanatorium and by the autumn, 6 boys were already at work, with a further 14 to follow.


The design of the Sanatorium was heavily influenced by Dr. Allison, who insisted on the inclusion of many French windows topped with fanlight arches to let in as much light as possible (see photograph below) and on occasion the architect, W.T. Spence, was asked to modify his design to suit. Finally, on October 5, 1907, the building was opened by the Duke of Northumberland and the first of the 50 patients admitted on March 15 1908.


 CNE 2

There is an early example of the effectiveness of the simple regime of ‘food and fresh air, shelter and sunshine’ on the patient to the left of the photograph (left), taken in 1908. ‘M__J__S came to us from a Workhouse. She was in the last stages of consumption, having a cavity in both lungs, and was terribly wasted and thin. In a month’s time she put on 6 1/2 lbs. weight…her cough has now almost gone, all spitting has ceased, and we are hoping that instead of an early death there is a long and useful life before her.’ 


Between March 15 and October 31, there were 52 patients, of whom 10 left with the disease ‘arrested’, 2 very much improved, 3 went home to die and 37 remained under treatment. Given that there was no attempt to select only the ones most likely to thrive, this was a remarkable achievement. More was to follow.

Northumberland’s Airship Bases.

In the months leading up to First World War, there was great concern that Zeppelins would wreak havoc on British cities. The other new weapon of war, the submarine was dismissed as being of little threat to the country. The Germans had a relatively small fleet of them in 1914 and it was presumed that the War would be over before they would have time to build many more. The conflict was only a few months old when the Admiralty became alarmed at the increasing number of ships being lost to German submarines. A number of measures were implemented to counter this new menace. They included the construction of a chain of airship stations stretching from Cornwall in the south to the Orkney Islands in the north. Aeroplanes at that time had a very limited range and airships had the advantage of being able to stay airborne for many hours.

There was a large airship station at the entrance to the Firth of Forth at East Fortune. Their machines escorted convoys along the coast as far as Northumberland.  Airships from Howden, Yorkshire would then take over responsibility. It was not until 1918, that an airship station was established in Northumberland at Chathill. It was one of several “mooring out” stations that appeared during that year. Sometimes the weather would change when the airships from East Fortune reached the vicinity of Holy Island and they would have difficulty in returning to their base. This problem was alleviated by the construction of a base at Chathill. They could divert here if the prevailing wind was against them or wait to rendezvous with a north bound convoy of ships.

Chathill was commissioned on 31st July, 1918 and lay a short distance to the east of the railway station of the same name. Unlike its parent base of East Fortune it was a very primitive affair. There were no sheds to house the airships. Instead clearings were made in the local wood where they could then be moored. The personnel were housed in tents. On 2nd November, 1918, Submarine Scout Zero S.S.Z.59 had to be quickly deflated when a gale blew up. By this date Chathill was being used frequently by this class of small non rigid airships. It was intended to erect two small portable airship sheds here and have three Submarine Scout Zero and two Submarine Scout Twin airships operating from this location by the summer of 1919. The end of the War put paid to these plans and Chathill was abandoned shortly after the end of hostilities.

In 1917, the Admiralty drew up an ambitious plan to create a large fleet of rigid airships which would be the British equivalent of the Zeppelins. Large sheds to house them would be built at a number of locations including Northumberland and Yorkshire. The lack of enthusiasm in some quarters of the War Office coupled with the shortage of steel for new sheds ensured that these plans never became a reality.

NRO 3441-076Some rigid airships were built and operated from a small number of sites. A modest scheme was given approval to create further bases for the smaller non rigid airships at Killeagh (Southern Ireland), Moreton, (Dorset) and Cramlington, (Northumberland  see image). At the latter site, an airship station was constructed next to the London to Edinburgh railway. On the opposite side of the tracks was Cramlington Aerodrome.


Most major airship bases and aerodromes in First World War, were in fact located close to a railway. A siding lead off from the main line to serve the airship station. A single Coastal class airship shed was constructed which was 358 feet long and 110 feet wide. It was reportedly painted a brownish colour. NRO 3441-571There was a small hydrogen gas making plant in a building behind the shed. It was intended to eventually base four non rigid Submarine Scout Twin airships here. The complement of the airship station was to be 20 officers and 281 men. the First World War ended before Cramlington became operational. Like most other airship stations in Britain it was hastily abandoned.


In the early 1920’s a company considered using the facilities to operate an airship service to Norway but nothing came of this plan. Some of the buildings were used as a hostel for miners. The closing years of that decade saw a revival of its fortunes. A small enterprise which went by the name of British Airships Ltd.; which later changed its name to the Airship Development Company thought it could revive the fortunes of the small non rigid airships. They constructed an airship designated the A.D.1 in the airship shed at Cramlington. The machine was 138 feet in length and maximum diameter of 29 feet .It was advertised as being suitable for private flying, passenger flights, instruction, advertising , aerial photography and surveying. The main revenue was anticipated to come from advertising and for this role it had panels on its side measuring 76 feet by 24 feet.

NRO 3441-078The A.D. 1 first flew on 13th September, 1929 bearing the registration G-FAAX. The following month it appeared at the Newcastle Air Pageant where it circled with its engine throttled back and was so quiet that the spectators could hear the two crew talking to each other. During the following summer it left Cramlington for the south of England to demonstrate its capabilities. Construction was also started on a second airship, the A.D.2.


The Airship Development Company, however was liquidated at the end of 1930 having overestimated the demand for its services. Britain at the time was in deep recession. The two airship envelopes were sold to be made into dust sheets for furniture and the airship shed at Cramlington vacated  ,never to be used again by airships.

NRO 3441-575


Towards the end of its days, the airship shed was used by a firm called Concrete Utilities Ltd ., to make concrete lamp posts. It was eventually demolished in 1967 having outlived its contemporaries by many years. Most other airship sheds had in fact disappeared by the outbreak of World War II.




We would like to express our sincere appreciation to Malcolm Fife in supplying this article for the Northumberland At War Project.

Case Study – Tuberculosis of the Hip

The radiographs from the Stannington collection allow for a detailed insight into the effects that tuberculosis had on the body. One such example is patient 132/1951, a nine year old individual transferred from Fleming Memorial Hospital to the Stannington Sanatorium with Tuberculosis of the Hip. There are a total of 31 radiographic images allotted to this individual, mostly of the pelvic area but also some of the right knee.



Figure 1 – HOSP/STAN/7/1/2/2046


Infection is evident in the right hip, the femoral head (head of the femur) and the acetabulum (socket of the pelvis) show visible signs of bone destruction which continues down into the lower part of the pelvis, the ischium. The reduced gap in the joint between the femoral head and the acetabulum is also indicative of tuberculosis (Figure 1). There is also some porosity shown in the femoral head, which displays the weakened state of the bone due to the extent of the infection.

This can be compared to the healthy, left side of the pelvis where a clear ball shaped femoral head can be distinguished with structured shape, lined up with the acetabulum. The gap between the upper and lower sections of the pelvis is evidence of this being a child as the pelvis has not yet fused.

Due to the level of destruction to the right hip, there would have be a significant impact on this individual’s standard of living, the possibility of reduced mobility due to ankylosis of the hip and atrophy.


Figure 2 – HOSP/STAN/7/1/2/2046


Figure 2, however, shows the results of a surgical intervention to repair damage caused by the tuberculosis infection, a procedure known as arthrodesis. This procedure is descried in the patient’s notes in a letter from the surgeon at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle to a doctor at Stannington:

‘… a cortical graft was taken from the anterior aspect of the right tibia. This would was closed with catgut and silk-worm gut to the skin. The right hip was approached from an incision over the posterior aspect of the greater trochanter…. The shaft of the femur was divided just below the greater trochanter and a gap made in the ischium. The bone graft was inserted into two gaps between the femur and the ischium…..’


As a result of the surgery it is noted that there was some flexion in the right hip and some apparent lengthening of the right leg. The tuberculosis infection was deemed quiescent and this individual, after being monitored as an outpatient, went on to be discharged as ‘healed’.

View more radiographs on our Flickr stream

The Extraordinary Life of Able Seaman Robert Tweddell

Robert Tweddell was born 7 January 1892 to Robert Tweddle and Isabella Scott in Radcliffe, Northumberland, the fifth of eleven children. The family lived in Radcliffe for some years, but by the 1911 census, they are listed as living at Cement Row, Widdrington. This census shows that Robert was a coal miner (Hewer), and the eldest child still living at home.

[TheTweddell Brothers – Robert is back row, second from left]

NRO 10198-1-1 web

He enrolled with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 10 April 1915, aged 23 years, after having a medical examination at Ashington, and joined ‘Z’ Company on HMS Calliope. He was given the service number 4225. We also know from his service certificate that he worked as a miner for Stobswood Coal Company, and lived at 7 Grangewood Terrace, Stobswood. We can also glean some personal details about Robert: he is described as 5’6”, with a fair complexion, fair hair and blue eyes; his religious denomination was Church of England, and he could swim.

The only documents relating to Robert’s war service that seem to exist are a service record, which was passed through his family, and the enrolment application and report card, which were obtained from the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset.

Rated as an Able Seaman in July 1915, he served with the 1st Reserve Battalion on H.M.S. Victory at Crystal Palace. Robert found the time to return home to Northumberland this year to marry Jane Telfer on 31 July. The marriage took place in St. John the Baptist parish church, Ulgham, and the family story is that Robert was the first man in uniform to marry here, although this cannot be verified.

Robert’s report card only runs from 1917. We know he embarked at Folkestone on 3 January 1917, landing at Calais the same day. Joining Howe Battalion on 26 January, he was transported to the 1st Field Ambulance, Royal Naval Division, for dental caries (or cavities) on 6 April, and did not return to his unit until 5 May.

NRO 10198-3Whilst Robert was away from his unit his wife, Jane, gave birth to their first  child, a son, on 17th April 1917. He was named Robert after his father and  grandfather. [Image of a sweetheart brooch that Robert gave Jane]

The report card then jumps to his service in 1918, starting with his leave to    the UK, commencing on 25 January 1918 – this was probably the first time  he saw his baby son. Robert re-joined the Howe Battalion on 16 February,  but was disciplined two days later, having overstayed his English leave by two days W.O.A.S. (whilst on active service) – he received 14 days of Field Punishment Number 1. This punishment, sometimes known as ‘crucifixion’, would have involved Robert being shackled in irons and secured to a fixed object, perhaps a gun wheel. Officially, men could only be fixed like this for up to 2 hours in 24, and not for more than 3 days in 4, or for more than 21 days in a sentence.

He joined the 7th Entrenching Battalion on 22 February 1918, and was then posted to the Drake Battalion on 14 March. On 21 March, he was admitted to 150 Field Ambulance with tonsillitis, and invalided to England on 27 March. A family story notes that this illness was not tonsillitis; instead he had been gassed in the trenches. Again, we have not been able to prove this.

He was granted his first (and last) good conduct badge on 9 April 1918. His service certificate notes that in January 1919, he was ordered to resume civil employment as a miner, with the Stobswood Coal Company, and was discharged from actual service.

Robert and Jane’s second child, another boy, named James Telfer Tweddell, was born on 25 April 1920.

The last piece of military information we have on Robert comes from his service certificate, which records that, on 1 September 1922, he was eligible to be presented with
the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Robert continued working as Miner for the rest of his life, also being a member of the Mines Rescue NRO 10198-05 webUnit. During World War Two, he served in Stobswood Home Guard, helping to train the men in use of grenades and other weaponry. It is also believed that he was a member of the Stobswood Auxiliary Unit, nicknamed “The Death or Glory Boys”. [Image of Robert wearing his life saving apparatus].

Robert died in 1953, at the age of 61 years, of lung cancer. Using the parish records for Ulgham Church [EP 19] I managed to find Robert’s name in a notebook which lists plot numbers in the graveyard [EP 19/67], which corresponds with the plan of the churchyard extension [EP 19/48] – we have been able to stand at the spot where my great-granda is buried, impossible to do before as a gravestone was never erected.

Northumberland Archives staff have been undertaking research into the contribution that some of their own family members made to the First World War. Robert Tweddell was a relative of Sarah Littlefear, Trainee Archivist.

Conservation Work on the Early Patient Files

The earlier patient notes from Stannington Sanatorium were bound together in what were known as ‘Discharge Books’.  We had 15 of these large volumes and took the decision to have them unbound and to keep them stored as individual sets of notes instead.  They still remain in their original order but thanks to the work of the conservators at Durham Record Office are now much more accessible and neatly stored in their own custom-made boxes.  The conservators have very kindly given us a step-by-step account of the work they carried out on these records:


During their time at the sanatorium each patient had annotated medical notes charting their progress.  These came in a standard format; a bifolio (a sheet of paper folded in half to make two leaves), often with additional sheets or photographs attached. After the patients had been discharged these bifolios were bound together into volumes.    Whilst keeping the notes safe, the bindings were very tight, meaning it was difficult to read text written in the fold or ‘gutter’.  Furthermore, small pieces of paper that were adhered to the notes were often trapped within the gutter, unable to be lifted and thus obscuring text beneath them. (Figure 01)

03  'Trapped' paper obscurring text

Figure 01 – ‘Trapped’ paper obscuring text


Whilst normally all care is taken to preserve bindings as part of an object’s historical context, the decision was made that the information that was inaccessible due to the binding structure was more important than the bindings themselves.  As such, I and two Conservators at Durham County Record Office have been dis-binding the volumes.


Dis-binding begins with removing the boards and mechanically stripping as much leather from the spine as possible.  The leather was adhered directly to the text-block paper with a thick animal glue.  To remove the glue a poultice of sodium carboxymethyl cellulose was applied which gradually softens the animal glue without wetting the paper beneath.  When the glue was sufficiently softened we gently scraped it away, exposing the sewing and paper beneath.  (Figure 02)

05  Application of sodium carboxymethyl cellulose

Figure 02 – Application of sodium carboxymethyl cellulose


We were then able to cut the sewing and separate one bifolio at a time from the rest of the text-block.  In doing so we were able to see the stab sewing the bookbinders had used, which was the reason it was impossible to open the book properly to access the text in the gutter.  When each bifolio was detached, we removed any remaining animal glue from the fold. (Figures 03 & 04)                                                                                    

06  Stab sewing

Figure 03 – Stab sewing

07  Removal of glue from fold

Figure 04 – Removal of glue from fold









Patients who had spent many years in the sanatorium had additional sheets added to their notes.  These were attached to their bifolios with a linen tape.  Over time the adhesive of the tape has failed, becoming dry and grainy.  Whilst this meant the tape carrier was very easy to remove, the adhesive remained on the paper and had to be manually scraped off each sheet. (Figures 05-07) 

Figure 5

Figure 05 – ‘Before’ linen tape

Figure 6

Figure 06 – Removal of adhesive from tape

Figure 7

Figure 07 – ‘After’ tape removal








Whilst most of the paper is still in very good condition, the bifolios with many additional sheets were found to have split in the binding process as the paper could not stretch over the bulk of the inserts.  Furthermore, the inserts often protruded further than the rest of the text-block and so had suffered damage along the edges.  Some damaged bifolios had been ‘repaired’ with tape or paper, and often these repairs were failing.  When collections are being digitised, it means the originals will be rarely accessed.  As such conservators carry out minimal intervention, or repairs for ‘once-only’ handling.  This means we only repair a tear or damage if text is obscured or if we think a tear might be caught and worsened in the digitisation process.  We carried out these repairs with a thin but strong Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. (Figures 08 & 09)

12  'After' paper repair

Figure 09 – ‘After’ paper repair


11 'Before' repair - with an old repair piece

Figure 08 – ‘Before’ repair – with an old repair piece



 There were also a number of photographs within the medical notes, adhered with a similar linen tape.  The adhesive was gently removed to prevent scratching the emulsion layer.  Four-flap folders were made out of SilverSafe paper; an unbuffered paper specifically for storing photographs to prevent acidic decay and abrasion. (Figures 10-12)

15  Removal of tape I

Figure 10 – Removal of tape I

16  Removal of tape II

Figure 11 – Removal of tape II

17  'After' page with photographs

Figure 12 – ‘After’ page with photographs






Bespoke clamshell boxes were made from acid-free archival card to house each volume, which are then ready to be digitised. (Figure 13)

19  Archival clamshell box

Figure 13 – Archival clamshell box


Jenny Halling Barnard, Lisa Handke, and Zoe Ross – Conservators at Durham County Record Office