WWII And The Move To Hexham Hydro

Yesterday the Stannington Sanatorium Project team took a trip to Hexham Hydro, now the Queen Elizabeth High School, to have a look around the building and the grounds as the children from Stannington Sanatorium were moved down to Hexham during WWII as it was deemed to be safer.  After visiting it is easy to see why the Hydro building was chosen by the Sanatorium Committee as it is in beautiful surroundings with views over to Hexham Abbey and the large open rooms making it ideal for the sanatorium’s needs.  The building also has its own walled garden, still well looked after and in use today by the school’s students, with evidence that the sanatorium patients grew produce there which they then went on to sell to local businesses in Hexham.  The Hydro building began life as a private house built in 1859 and known as Westfield House, but was later purchased by the Tynedale Hydropathic Establishment Company and alterations were made so that it could open in 1879 as the Tynedale Hydropathic Hotel.  Over the years additions were made including the large glass Winter Gardens, which would have been used by the sanatorium patients, and many famous clientele reportedly visited including Charlie Chaplin and Ramsay MacDonald. The Hotel eventually went into decline allowing it be used by the sanatorium during the war years as well as acting as a army billet and services bakery.


Read more below to see how WWII affected Stannington:


WWII broke out on 1 September 1939 with the UK officially entering the war 2 days later on 3 September.  Comments made by the matron in the annual report for 1939 highlight the immediate affects the war had on the Sanatorium:

 “…So rapid has been the growth of the Sanatorium that almost every year there has been some change in the structure or equipment to report, but all the changes have been for the securing of that first high ideal – the stamping out of tuberculosis in children.

Now war has come and much has changed.  At any moment a great strain may be put upon our hospitals, and we have had to open wide our doors and be ready to receive 218 adult patients in addition to our own 311 children.  We already have over 100 adult patients in residence, and among them are a number of men of the forces who either from accident or sickness require medical attention.” [HOSP/STAN/1/3/6]

The encroachment on space that the sanatorium had taken for granted for so many years was felt by all.  In the same year the school was evicted from its buildings to make way for beds and lessons were initially undertaken outside on the verandahs until more suitable accommodation was found in the small side wards.


Like people across the country the staff and patients contributed to the war efforts despite the illness faced by the children and additional pressures on the staff.  In 1940 the schoolchildren knitted over 100 woollen comforts for soldiers and 3 large blankets and together staff, children, and friends of the sanatorium raised £352, 17, 1 for the War Savings Scheme as well as additional monies for the Finland Fund, Lord Mayor’s Air-Raid Distress Fund, and the Greek Relief Fund.


After managing to continue operations for nearly two years at Stannington it was decided in 1941 that it was necessary to evacuate the children to a safer place.  The Hydro at Hexham was eventually settled on and over 200 children were moved on 11 August.  The Hydro lacked the vernadahs that were so common in Stannington for open-air treatment but was seen to be a suitable location owing to its lofty rooms, large windows, and beautiful surroundings.  The capacity at Hexham was significantly less than the facilities at Stannington and so the number of patients treated during the war years declined.


It was not until January 1945 that patients and staff were able to return to Stannington on a permanent basis.  Whilst early reports of the sanatorium’s time at Hexham appeared positive it is clear that by 1944 and continuing into the post-war years, the stress of the move and in particular shortages of nursing and domestic staff took its toll on the whole operation.  The 1944 annual report describes how that due to this the full operation of the sanatorium was prevented and consequently the number of patients treated was reduced further still following the initial curtailment felt following the move to Hexham.

This Week in World War One, 23rd April 1915

Berwick Advertiser title 1915

23rd April, 1915



Golden Wedding-Congratulations are due Mr and Mrs Hattle, 77 Low Greens, who on Sunday attained their golden wedding. Mr and Mrs Hattle were married at the Registry Office, Berwick, on the 18th April, 1885. Mrs Hattle’s maiden name was Isabella Elispeth Burgen. Although they have both passed the three score and ten- Mr Hattle being 75 and Mrs Hattle 71- they carry their years exceedingly well.


Golden Wedding celebration badge.
Golden Wedding celebration badge.


For a few years Mr Hattle followed the occupation of his father as a fisherman but afterwards entered the employment of the North British Railway Company where he remained for 40 years as porter at Berwick Station, retiring in 1910. Mr and Mrs Hattle have had twelve of a family of which five daughters and two sons are living, one son and two daughters having died. One of the surviving sons, Mr Thomas Hattle, is a postmaster in South Africa, and the other son James is at present serving in the auxiliary cruiser H.M.S “Macedonia” on which he took part in the Falkland Islands engagement. Two of Mr Hattle’s daughters are married and of these marriages there are six grandchildren. Mr Hattle has been a constant reader of the “Berwick Advertiser” for the past fifty years and during that period he has also been a staunch teetotaller. It is our hope that Mr and Mrs Hattle will be long spared to enjoy the evening of their life.

Information from the 1891 Census:

John Hattle aged 51 was living with Isabella Elspeth Hattle, his wife aged 46 at 13 Low Greens Berwick -upon-Tweed, Northumberland with their children Isabella Elspeth 17, Thomas 15, Alice 12, James  8, Mary Burgon 6, and Christina 3 ½ .


23rd April, 1915



“The Playhouse.” – Again programmes of outstanding merit are displayed at the “Playhouse” this week. The star turn of the week is “The Fordyce Family or the Lads of the Highland Brigade.” In their military speciality act they provide an entirely up-to-date and novel turn. They dance cleverly to Scotch tunes and introduce some very intricate step-dancing. The rifle spinning and dancing at the same time is very cleverly performed, and no one could be but pleased with their performance. The excellence of their turn is exemplified by the fact that they have had to respond nightly to encores. in the bioscope exhibition.

The Playhouse, Sandgate, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Berwick Advertiser, 23 April 1915. The Playhouse, Sandgate, Berwick-upon-Tweed, advert for The Fordyce Family.

“The Trap” was the feature at the beginning of the week. It was a thrilling drama in three parts and featured Irene Bordini. The picture for the week commencing on Thursday, is entitled “The Black Countess.” It is a photo play that is fascinating in every respect and a film all should see. A splendid programme is billed for next week. The turns are “Ford and Lewis, the Scotchman and the-?” and “Jessie Adams, ” a dainty comedienne with a style of her own. The feature of the first part of the week is “The Loss of the Birkenhead” which is a thoroughly British picture portraying a well told story, finely produced and excellent photography. It is exclusive to this hall. For the second part of the week there is a laughable Keystone Comedy entitled “The Property Man” in two parts. Charles Chaplin is in the leading part and it gets funnier and funnier as it goes on. The feature for the latter part of the week is a strong drama entitled “The Night Watchman’s Daughter.



Patient 81/39 – A Questionable Diagnosis?

Patient 81/39, a five year old boy, was admitted to Stannington in December 1937 due to ailing health following a two month period in bed suffering from mumps. He had developed a cough, was easily tired and was losing weight. The initial x-ray reports detail a blocked apex in the left lung and marked mottling in the right lung leading to an initial diagnosis of Pulmonary TB, Figure 1. However, following his admission further symptoms started to manifest themselves which indicated that the diagnosis of this patient was more complex than it was initially considered to be.

FIGURE 2: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_01
FIGURE 1: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_15








FIGURE 3: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_14


In April 1938, it was noted the patient had two subcutaneous abscesses on the iliac crest and the knee. A sample of the mucus taken from the abscess on the hip was sent for bacteriological examination. Results of this testing were as follows:

scanty pus cells and much granular debris. No definite organisms seen and tubercle bacilli not found.’

Furthermore, periostitis was noted in the upper end of the ulna which ‘appears septic’ but was regarded as being non-tuberculous. The patient still suffered with a cough but sputum tests were negative and notes state that no tuberculosis was seen. At this stage the x-ray report indicates that no bone lesions are seen in either the leg or the iliac crest, Figures 2 and 3.

Throughout the rest of 1938, the patient’s condition is very variable. An additional abscess is noted in the lumbar region with slight discharge and the apex of the left lung becomes more blocked with the lower lobe of the right lung being described as having been ‘studded with deposits’, however, the sinuses in the thigh and gluteus region are healed.

FIGURE 4: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_19
FIGURE 5: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_13
FIGURE 5: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_13









The main focus of the notes centre upon the right elbow which, in September 1938, was described as being very active with discharging abscesses; periostitis was greatly increased in the ulna and also present in the humerus with the joint being ‘badly involved’, see Figure 4. In November 1938 large sequestrum was removed from the elbow, at this time all lesions were considered very active. The elbow continued to be active with an increasing number of ulcers noted to have appeared; a maximum of four seen in February 1939 including one in the right cubital fossa which is incised to produce ‘copious…pus’, Figure 5.

X-ray reports from September 1939 read as follows:

11/9/39 –              Ulna hollowed out to cavity

                            Radius dislocated upward & forward

                            Lower end humerus eroded & partly destroyed.

15/9/39 –            Ulna – upper end partially destroyed, disorganisation of elbow joint’

No further comment is made regarding a diagnosis of tuberculosis in the elbow.


In addition to ongoing changes in the elbow an abscess appeared on the right mastoid, which was opened and drained in October 1938 and is noted to have become less active by November 1938. However, this abscess continued to open throughout the patient’s stay at Stannington and is often referred to as ‘discharging freely,’ with a diminishment in its activeness finally being noted in October 1939.

FIGURE 6: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_09
FIGURE 7: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_02










Further skeletal changes are observed in the x-ray report notes from September 1939, Figures 6 and 7:

11/9/39 –             Leg – large cavity in fibula L and in head of R. tibia

15/9/39 –             Left fibula large focus

     Right tibia large focus passing through into epiphysis.

Combined with this the medical notes indicate that a sinus developed on the left ankle and another on the right tibia during the same period with a further sinus developing in November 1939.


This patient was transferred from Stannington in February 1940 to a local hospital in West Hartlepool, his home town, as showing No Medical Improvement and a final diagnosis of TB Bones and Joints and old lung lesion.  His final x-ray report, see Figures 8-12, dated 27th February 1940, reads:

Large cavity head of R.tibia & sequestrum seem smaller than 11/9/39

Elbow –Improved

Fibula – large cavity little change.

Skull – little seen

Chest – L.apex clearer much mottling’

FIGURE 8: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_18
FIGURE 9: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_17










FIGURE 10: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_03
FIGURE 11: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_04
FIGURE 12: HOSP-STAN-07-01-02-91_05










The multifocal nature of this patient coupled with comments throughout the notes on possible non-TB origin is suggestive of a potential differential diagnosis. Any further comments based upon the information provided and radiographic images would be welcomed.