Archive for December 2016

This Week in World War One, 29 December 1916





Our Christmas pudding is a mere culinary parvenu that about two centuries ago supplanted the original plum porridge, but the Christmas pie, which must not be confused with the mince pie, is of immemorial antiquity. It was a “Christmas pie” that Pharisaic Little Jack Horner was eating when he “sat in a corner,” according to the historians. These pies were sometimes of colossal dimensions. Perhaps the largest on record was sent from Berwick to London at Christmas 1770 for Sir Henry Grey, an ancestor of Earl Grey.

Traditional Christmas pudding


It contained 2 bushels of flour, 20lb. of butter, 4 geese, 2 turkeys, 2 rabbits, 4 wild ducks, 2 woodcocks, 6 snipe, 4 partridges, 2 ox tongues, 2 curlews, 7 blackbirds, and 6 pigeons. It was 9ft. in circumference, weighed 168 lb., and was fitted with four wheels for the convenience of Sir Henry’s guests.





CHRISTMAS, which on three successive occasions has now witnessed the prosecution of the great war, was quietly observed in Berwick and district. The restrictions put upon railway travelling had the natural effect of keeping many people from visiting friends at a distance. The closing day of the week, however, witnessed the arrival of many of the gallant lads in khaki who are serving their country, and the welcome they received from parents and relatives was hearty and spontaneous. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening the streets presented a very busy and animated appearance. Despite the severe times we are passing through most of people seemed desirous of purchasing some kind of seasonable article to recognise the great Festival of the year. To accommodate customers the shops remained open a little later than usual, and more especially in view of the fact that Monday and Tuesday were both to be closed days. The weather on the whole was pleasant though somewhat damp. On Sunday special services were held in all the Churches, and references was made to the advent of Christmas both in the sermon and the praise part of the worship. On Christmas day the streets presented a somewhat deserted appearance those soldiers on leave remaining indoors to spend a quiet time with their friends. The various church services were well attended. In the afternoon a musical service was held in St. Andrew’s Church by Col. Peterkin’s Male Voice Choir of the Royal Scots.

St Andrew’s Church of Scotland, Berwick-upon-Tweed. © Bill Henderson, Creative Commons Licence.


Infirmary Patients Entertained

The patients in our hospitals are always remembered as the great festival of the year comes round, and Berwick Infirmary maintains the good rule. Through the kindness of Dr C. G. Maclagan, Chairman of the House Committee, the patients were entertained to a Christmas dinner, while in the evening the children enjoyed gifts from a Christams tree. Among those present were Lady Dalyell and Miss Dalyell, His Worship and Mayor and the Mayoress, Dr and Mrs Maclagan, Mrs Fraser, Ravensdowne; and Mrs Mackay, and Mr D. H. W. Askew.

At the Workhouse

The inmates of the Workhouse enjoyed their usual Christmas treat, when the wants of the poor people were attended to by a number of ladies and gentlemen who take a keen interes in their welfare. Mr John A. Stewart, chairman of the House Committee was unable to be present owing to indisposition, but among others who assisted were Mrs J. G. Willits, Miss A. E. Henderson, Mr Thomas Thompson, ironmonger, Mr Alex. D. Watt. The inmates were entertained to dinner consisting of roast beef plum pudding, following by fruit the men also receiving supplies of tobacco. Mr Samuel Stirling, Tweedmouth, as on previous occasions, sent a liberal supply of beer, and this was much appreciated by the poor people. Mr T. Thompson presented each of the inmates with a threepenny piece at the close of the proceedings.



Berwick Councillor’s Silver Wedding. – The many friends of Mr Joseph McDonald, fruiterer, High Street, Berwick-on-Tweed will be interested to learn that he and his good lady celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of their marriage on Christmas Day, having been married in 1891 at the Mapel Street Primitive Methodist, Church, Newcastle-on-Tyne, by the Rev. J. Hopkins. Mr McDonald has a family of two sons, both of whom are on active service, and one daughter. As is well known Mr McDonald is a prominent Methodist, and one of that body’s local preachers. He is also a member of the Town Council and Education Committee, and acts as secretary to the Shepherd’s Friendly Society. The happy couple have received numerous congratulations on attaining the 25th anniversary of their nuptials.

Masonic Installation.- The festival of St. John was celebrated by St. David’s Lodge, No. 393, in the Lodge Room a Berwick, on Wednesday evening, when there was a large attendance of the brethren. The recommendation from the Finance and General Purpose Committee to subscribe five guineas to the Freemasons’ War Hospital and Nursing Home was approved of, as was also a motion by Bro. Alex. Darling, P.M., that the sum of ten guineas be voted for the relief of aged and deserving poor at Christmas, and that the distribution be entrusted to the same gentleman as last year.

Masonic Lodge, Berwick-upon-Tweed. © James Denholm, Creative Commons Licence.


Thereafter Brother James T. Robson, Past S. W., was duly installed as the Worshipful Master by W.M. Brother John Cockburn. The brethren afterwards sat down to an excellent supper in the Club Room purveyed by Bro. P. Cowe, at which several toasts were honoured, and a very pleasant hour was passed. It was mentioned that the following officers of the Lodge were on active service:- Brother W.H. Trainer, S.W.; Brother R. W. Seaton, J.W.; Brother W. E. E. Rutherford,  S.D. ; Brother H. R. Peters, J.D.; Brother G. M. How, I. G.; Brother J.T, Shiel S.S.; Brother John Blench. J. S.; Brother Robt. Gray, 1st Assistant S.; Brother S. E. Dixon, 2nd Assistant S. the following Brethren are meantime respectively discharging the duties of the above officers; Brothers O’Connell, Cowe, Howe, Shiel, Lyall, Dixon, Oakley, Black, and Hall.

Soldiers Entertained. – In the sailors and Soldiers’ Recreation Rooms, Hide Hill, Berwick, on Wednesday evening there was a free night, every service man in the Borough being entertained and welcomed. The Mayor and Mayoress graced the proceedings with their presence, and the Committee were in attendance to see to the comfort of the soldiers. In the refreshment room excellent music was provided, while a go as you please programme was carried out in the concert hall. Among those taking part in his were Petty Officer J. Martin, W. B. Dickinson, ex-Corporal Renwick, N.F., Private Howat, Private Donaldson, L. C. Smellie, Mr Wm. Foster (violin), Private Macdougall, Mr Hetherington, Private Adams, Second Air Mechanic Hughes, Second Air Mechanic Pont, Private Mason, Private Dick, Private Dunbar, and Pte. J. N. Bell. The latter two aced as accompanists very efficiently. The entertainment was one which said much for the public of Berwick and the soldiers were prolific in their admiration.




Year of never ending sorrow,

Drawing now towards a close,

Casting shadows on the morrow,

Which a new year’s dawn disclose

Year of untolds desolation,

Passing o the hidden rest,

Scarce a hope or consolation,

Honouring its last bequest.

Year of Death, the ghastly token,

Of man’s avaricious soul:

Showing solemn pledges broken,

To possess some cherished goal.

Year whose memories shall darken,

Ages yet in Time’s dark womb,

When our children’s children hearken,

To those voices from the tomb.

Year to all a hideous spectre,

Of men’s failure to up hold,

All the glories of that sceptre,

With which nations are controlled.

Year of destinies deep written,

That some future day shall show,

When earth’s depots shall be smitten,

By Democracy’s fell blow.

Year whose tragedy is lasting,

Unforgotten, unforgiven,

Whilst the flames of Hell are blasting,

‘Gainst the sacred rights of Heaven.

Pass then, o’er the ridge eternal,

With your wretchedness and sin, –

From the unknown land supernal,

Let the new year enter in.

THOMAS GREY, Tweedmouth.


A peppercorn at Christmas and other presents

Christmas as we understand it today has formed within the last two centuries, and is quite alien to the localised traditions of the medieval and Tudor periods. Though the religious importance of the day was celebrated, everyday business often still carried on. Documents still had to be signed, assizes and courts held, and yes, unfortunately even rents had to be paid at Christmas. This marked one of the four financial quarters of the year. The financial New Year began on Lady Day (25th March), with Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December) forming the quarters. Rents, tithes, charity and other payments could be due quarterly, half-yearly or annually on these or other specified religious days. For example in 1296 the tenantry of West Chirton township annually paid 3s at Martinmas and Whitsuntide for fine of court, 1s 3d cornage at Michaelmas, one mark every seven years at Easter and Christmas, and 3s 4d on St Barnabas’s day.

However rents were often paid in supplies, or items that were more like presents. In the compilation of our Manor Authority files we often come across these payments in kind, so here are some of the more seasonal gifts we have spotted. If you have come across any others we would love to know.

Some of the rents we have come across – a peppercorn, chickens, cinnamon and a feast.


These payments in kind were often made in edible commodities, such as the 11d., and a pound of pepper paid yearly by Robert Freman for land in Hadston. The services of tenants in Bywell were also worth £14 13s 3d and 4lbs of pepper.

Though pepper was an important commodity, we more commonly find payments of a single peppercorn. If you wished to give your son a house on one of your manors you needed some form of payment to be given to ensure you both had rights as landlord and tenant. Even a tiny sum ensured this, which gave birth to the ‘peppercorn rent’, where a property would be given in exchange for a single peppercorn annually. It was often used to provide family members with entitlement to property. John Salkeld, in his will in 1623, gave his new house at Rock to his son Thomas, who was required to pay ‘a peppercorn yearlie’ to his older brother John, the new owner of Rock. Thomas Forster rented a number of tithes and properties in Carham and Wark to his son for a peppercorn in 1711.

A peppercorn was paid by Elizabeth de Felton for part of ‘Thresterton’ (Thirston), and by Walter de Edlingham for an area of Edlingham. The request of a peppercorn was sometimes followed by ‘if demanded’, showing this was a symbolic gesture.


Unfree tenants often paid part of their rents through the year in crops, and this includes chickens. In Fenwick the eight bondmen paid sixteen hens to the lord of the manor, with the five cottars required to pay five hens. They also gave eggs at Easter. In Acklington a fowl (or a penny) was paid every Christmas by the bond tenants in addition to the rest of their rent, while the inhabitants of Thirston gave the Acklington park keeper a ‘wod henne’, to allow them to gather wood there through the year. In the sixteenth century Chatton’s bailiff also received a wood hen, allowing locals to take firewood from the lord’s wood, including an oak tree as a yule log. Free tenants in Thirston also paid a rent of hens and nuts at Christmas in the fourteenth century. In 1717 a description of Edward Riddell’s estate described the East Farm in Great Swinburne as let to four tenants for £95, a goose and a hen each year. Unfortunately the estate register does not say what time of year this was paid, but perhaps this was Edward’s Christmas goose.


Though spices have become closely connected to our traditional Christmas cooking, they have been an important commodity for longer than you think. In around 1280 Gilbert de Withill purchased land at Dunstan and was required to pay the overlord a pound of ‘cummin’ annually at Alnwick fair. Isoud and Aviz the widow held 12 acres in Felton for a pound of cumin, and this continued to the rent for this land later, likely in fealty to Mitford Castle. A pound of Cinnamon was paid, fittingly, by ‘William the cook’ for the two bovates of land he held in Belford. Heaton manor was held at different times for a payment of a sparrowhawk, or a rose, but  after the land and the manor were divided into separate moieties Robert of Ryal paid Margery of Trewick a pound of cumin for land there and a root of ginger for the manor.

A festive feast

In return for his land Liulf of Middleton Hall was required to give four ‘waitinges’ yearly in 1154 to his lord Patrick I earl of Dunbar. Waitinges were where a leaseholder provided the lord and his household with hospitality, usually on feast days.


Though not quite a Christmas jumper, Titlington was granted for one robe at Christmas with 100 shillings and four quarters of corn and barley. Robes were also received at Christmas by the foresters of Rothbury Forest in addition to their wages.

We hope to put up more of these unusual rent payments that we have found soon, let us know if you have come across any. All of the above were sourced from the Northumberland County Histories series and Hodgson’s History of Northumberland, which are invaluable sources to our manorial research.


Northumberland and Durham Sword Dancing

‘Calling on’- song


The image above is one of the earliest examples of a Sword Dancing ‘calling -on‘song. Sword Dancing in Northumberland and Durham is very peculiar, for unlike the sword dances found elsewhere in the country, the sword in the Northern area is two handled.

The earliest written description of sword dancing in Northumberland is part of the seasonal festivities written by John Wallis, Curate of Simonburn in his book “The Natural History and Antiquary of Northumberland” published in 1769, he relates the dances still performed at Christmas time he states:

“Young men march from village to village, and from house to house with music before them, dressed in antic attire, and before the vestibulum or entrance of every house entertain the family with the Motus incompositus, the antic dance, or Chorus armatus, with swords or spears in their hands, erect and shining. This they call, the Sword-Dance. For their pains they are presented with a small gratuity in money, more or less, according to every householders ability, their gratitude is expressed by firing a gun. One of the company is distinguished from the rest by a more antic dress; a fox’s skin generally serving him for a covering and ornament to his head, the tail hanging down his back. This droll figure is their chief or leader he does not mingle in the dance”.

On the 7th January 1843 the Newcastle Journal published an article formerly printed in The Times of a custom called “Sword dancing”

“The sword-dancers are men entirely or chiefly composed of miners or pitmen, and of persons engaged in the various other vocations of a colliery, who during the week intervening between Christmas and New Year’s Day, perambulate the country in parties, consisting of from twelve to twenty, partly in search of money, but much more I believe, of adventure and excitement”  “on these occasions they are habited in a peculiarly gaudy dress, which, with their dancing principally attracts attention. Instead of their ordinary jackets they wear others, composed of a kind of variegated patchwork which, with their hats, are profusely decorated with ribands of the gayest hues, prepared and wrought by their sisters or sweethearts, the sword dances being usually young and unmarried men. This, with slight individual variations is the description of dress worn by all the members of a sword-dancing party, with the exception of two conspicuous characters invariably attached to the company and denominated amongst themselves respectively the “Tommy” and the “Bessy”  These two personages were the most frighteningly grotesque dresses imaginable; the former being usually clad in the skin of some wild animal, and the latter in petticoats and the costume of an old woman; it is the office of those two individuals, to go round amongst the company which collects to see them dance, and levy contributions in money; each of them being furnished for this purpose with a huge tin or iron box which they rattle in the faces of the bystanders, and perform other antics and grimaces to procure subscriptions. A fiddler also is an indispensable attaché to a company of sword dancers”….”The sword dancers are each furnished with long steel wands, which they call swords, and which they employ with a very peculiar and beautiful effect during the dance”.

In Northumberland the villages which continued the tradition into the 20th century were Amble, Bedlington, Earsdon, Monkseaton, Newbiggin by the Sea, Prudhoe and Mickley, Walbottle and Westerhope.


Sword Dancing Team



In 1910 Cecil Sharp, keen folksong and folkdance collector was invited north, by William Parker Brewis of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, and between 1910 and 1922 he collected five sword dances, and published them in the book “The Sword Dances in Northern England”, and within the first few months of publication was using the dances in the English Folk Dance Society as part of their “Advanced Certificate” course of folk dance, what the sword dancers themselves made of this we shall never know.

The term “Rapper” for the name of this kind of dancing comes from an interpretation of the poor written word which Cecil Sharp wrote in his notes as to the name of the implements the Earsdon men were holding in their hands, no earlier account of this word in combination with Sword Dancing has been found.

In Northumberland and Durham today, very few of the traditional Sword Dancing sides still perform. High Spen Blue Diamonds in County Durham, being one of the very last, passed down through the generations of the Forster family. Even though there are little traditional sides left, the dance still goes on with the likes of the Demon Barbers, from Newcastle upon Tyne bringing back the excitement of the fast dance, or the Monkseaton Morris Men who still perform every New Year’s Day at 12 noon outside the Ship Inn, Monkseaton. As traditions change and die out and everywhere becomes less magical and more mundane, it is good to support and remember the little things that make the North East a little bit different from anywhere else.


Some information kindly supplied by Phil Heaton, author of “Rapper – The Miners’ Sword Dance of North East England”.


Season’s Greetings!


This Week in World War One, 15 December 1916









Corprl J.E.Boal

It is with deep regret that we announce today the death of Corpl. J. E. Boal, N.F, only sonof Mr Thos. Boal, West Street, killed in action in France while engaged at the Trench Mortar School, behind the lines. The deceased lad was at the opening of a brilliant career when war cast its pall over the homes of Europe. Every honour which the Berwick Grammar School could offer, be it scholastic or athletic, he secured by ability which was recognised by all in the school, which has lost one more from its glorious roll of honour. Only so recently as October it was a pleasure to us to record the wining of the Military Medal by this gallant lad, and the fact that he had accepted a commission and was expected to arrive home at any time, has bought a deeper sadness with his untimely death. Corpl. Boal was a student at Skerry’s College, Newcastle, when war broke out, and he immediately left his studies and enlisted. His record of army service has been as excellent as when at school, and with the sorrowing father and family in this over whelming loss we are sure all most deeply sympathise.

The following is the letter received this morning:-

Trench Mortar Battery

9th December

Dear Mr Boal,

It is with the very deepest regret that I write to tell you of your son’s death. He was killed today, at a Trench Mortar School behind the lines, together with two of my officers, and six men of the battery. I was wounded myself and have not yet got over the shock that the loss of such grand men gave me, so I trust you will excuse this very short and disjointed letter. I only trust that you will be given strength to hear this terrible blow, and I hope if consolation is possible at such a time that you may derive a little from knowing that your son is buried in a village cemetery, and that his grave will be under the care of the good French people of the village. I will write you again in a few days, when I have had time to recover from this terrible blow, but please write me if there is anything you wish me to do. With my heart-felt sympathy.

I am

Yours sincerely,

L.S. Thomson, Capt.



© Berwick Record Office, BRO 1894-29.


Farm Labour in Berwick District. – In view of the recent hiring fairs, the Board of Agriculture for Scotland have obtained specially full reports on the subject of labour. In the Lothians skilled labour is unobtainable, and in Berwick, Roxburgh, and Selkirk, where little regular hiring is done at this season, great difficulty has been found in filling vacancies. The wages of foremen in Fife are reckoned at £75 per annum, including perquisites, while in the Lothians ploughmen get 30s a week, with allowances, and women 20s.



Fatal Burning Accident. – About 12.30pm on Tuesday an unusual and fatal burning accident occurred at 61 Castlegate, Berwick. Mrs Thompson, wife of James Thompson, Army Ordinance Corps, stationed in England, went into a neighbour’s house on an errand, leaving her child, Blanc Rena Alice Thompson, nine months, sitting in a chair on a rug in front of the fire. When she returned a few minutes later she discovered the child’s clothing and night dress to be on fire, which she immediately extinguished. It was found that the infant had been burned on the legs and lower part of the body, and it was speedily removed to the Infirmary, where it was attended to by Dr Maclagan. Despite all that could be done for it the little sufferer died on Wednesday. It is supposed that the child’s clothing was ignited by a spark from the fire.

Berwick-upon-Tweed Infirmary HB1-68 (c) Berwick Record Office


Belford and District News



On Sunday evening last a memorial service was held in the Presbyterian Church, Belford, in memory of the young soldier Private W. Anderson, who has given his life for his country. The minister, the Rev. J. Miller, preached a most impressive sermon from Psalms 46, verses 1-6, the subject being entitled “The Song of Faith in the Season of Sorrow.” Private Howard of the Northern Cyclists sang very feelingly “O Dry Those Tears.” The Church was crowded.

Disquieting News. – news was received by someone in the district about the beginning of last week that Private William Anderson, son of Mr and Mrs Anderson, of Easington Grange, Belford, had died in a hospital in France from wounds received in battle. At the time of writing the parents of the brave young lad have had no definite information from any source, but we regret to say they are inclined to believe the rumour will be correct.




George Clark Relief Fund. – The Hon. Treasurer has received a further sum of ten shillings to this fund from Mr Wm. Chisam, Yetlington. Mr Chisam, who recently lost a son in France, says – “I have, unfortunately, no one in the trenches to send a Christmas parcel to now, so George is welcome to the “mite” that would probably have gone elsewhere under other circumstances.” He adds very truly, – “Our damaged fighting men should not have to depend on charity, they have a right to due support, and I hope the new Government will get it.

Medicine, school and games; daily life at Stannington Children’s Hospital

Daily life at Stannington didn’t just revolve around patients recovering from illness.

The daily schedule for patients in 1966. (click to enlarge)

The daily schedule for patients in 1966. (click to enlarge)

Education and time for recreational activities were also included in the daily lives of children staying in the hospital. As patients often stayed for many months or years at a time continuing education was considered so important the hospital had its own school. For part of its history the hospital also had a member of staff whose sole job was to look after the patient’s welfare and recreation needs.

In one of our patient files from 1966 we have found a daily schedule of activities. This illustrates how structured daily life was at the hospital.

As the daily timetable shows, the day started with postural drainage, breathing exercises or the taking of medicine, the exact nature of this varied with the patients and their complaint.  After breakfast the school day began at 9.15. During a long lunch break children were again allocated time for treatment and a short period of free time. In addition, in the middle of the day, 45 minutes of bed rest was scheduled before the children returned to school for afternoon lessons.

A Stannington Sanatorium classroom pictured in the 1930s (ref: HOSP-STAN 11/1/13)

A Stannington Sanatorium classroom pictured in the 1930s (ref: HOSP-STAN 11/1/13)

At the end of the school day time was again allocated for treatments before tea time at 4:30. Visiting by relatives was allowed between 5.00 and 6.30pm. We know that this element of the child’s day did change over time. Until the mid-1950s visiting was only allowed on the 1st Saturday of each month meaning that children went long periods without seeing their parents; and other children including siblings and friends were not allowed to visit at all. Even in the 1960s its unlikely parents visited regularly during the evening due to the hospitals rural location and the wide geographical area from which patients were admitted. Bath time was between 6.30 and 7.30pm and bed time was set at 9.00pm.

During weekends and holidays without school to attend the children had much more free time but much of the other daily structure remained. On Sundays church services took place between 9.00 and 9.45 am, we know the hospital had its own chapel where these could take place.

The dining room at Stannington Sanatorium during the 1930s. (Ref: HOSP-STAN 11/1/11)

The dining room at Stannington Sanatorium during the 1930s. (Ref: HOSP-STAN 11/1/11)

To manage this time in its earlier days the hospital employed a Welfare and Recreation Officer who arranged activities for the children. In this role he reported to the Hospital House Committee which oversaw the daily workings of the hospital. Activities organised included handicrafts, walks around the grounds, billiards, table tennis and film shows.

In addition to regular film shows which took place during the winter months the hospital also had television in the wards, it is often noted in a patient’s care summary card when they were judged well enough to be allowed out of bed and watch television. These televisions were installed early in the 1950s, 5 were purchased by the hospital’s Coronation Celebrations Committee which was formed to arrange the celebrations to mark the queen’s coronation in 1953. The Stannington Scout and Guide Group Committee contributed £40 to this.

For the January 1954 meeting of the Hospital House Committee the Welfare and Recreation Officer reported on the range of activities in progress: ­­

“Handicrafts The following handicrafts are still being done, rug making, stool making and seating, some plaster cast work, lampshade covering, leatherwork and embroidery.

Indoor Games Two billiard tables are always in full use and also the table tennis table, a new set of table tennis bats and a set of billiard and snooker balls have been purchased from a money allowance from the Sanatorium Scout and Guide Fund.

Film Shows Two film shows were held this month and the following films were shown – “Rock River Renegades”, “Thunder River Feud”, “No Indians Please” also a good selection of cartoons.” (HOSP/STAN/1/2/6)

In addition to the regular activities on occasions the hospital played host to touring Gang Shows and local pantomimes. The hospital’s League of Friends arranged day trips for the children and each year the hospital held a sports day and fancy dress parade. (You can read more about Sports day and the special event to mark the hospital’s golden jubilee here).

Outdoor activities for the children included going on walks around the grounds led by the Welfare and Recreation Officer, playing sports such as cricket and football on the hospital sports field and using the swings and roundabouts which the hospital also had. For a short time in the 1950s and 60s the hospital also had its own Scout, Guide, Cub and Brownie groups.

Part of the hospital Scout Troop on a trip to Alnmouth (NRO 10510/3/2)

Part of the hospital Scout Troop on a trip to Alnmouth (NRO 10510/3/2)

The children clearly made use of the facilities as now and again we see reports of accidents in patient files where children have been injured during these activities. For example in 1946 one child was hit in the right eye with a cricket bat (we presume accidentally!) and suffered bruising. Whilst practising on the morning of Sports Day in 1958 a child fell, put her arm through a plate glass window and suffered lacerations. On occasions accidents whilst playing resulted in broken bones and children had to be referred to general hospitals in Newcastle for orthopaedic treatment.

The daily activity timetable mentions that children were able to play with toys, games and jigsaws. These were often donated to the hospital by local groups, businesses and the hospital’s League of Friends and were listed by the Matron at the end of her monthly reports to the Hospital House Committee along with other gifts to the hospital.

Whilst this post has looked at what daily life was like in the 1950s and 60s children would have been occupied in many of the same ways throughout the hospital’s existence. Education always formed an important part of the daily routine for patients around which other activities were organised. You can read an earlier blog post about Mary Ann Fulcher who was headmistress of the Sanatorium for 30 years until her retirement in 1951 here.

Disaster on the Home Front: The Robson Family

On the evening of Wednesday 1st December 1943, tragedy struck the communities of Togston and Amble.  An RAF aircraft – a Short Stirling Mk. III – crashed into the top floor of Cliff House Farm, just outside Amble.

The bomber had taken off from RAF Mepal, Cambridgeshire, on 1st December.  Its mission, along with other aircraft, was to drop sea mines off Denmark.  On the return flight, the aircraft were diverted to RAF Acklington due to fog.  The survivor reported that the plane had experienced trouble but that the Pilot, Warrant Officer Kerr, had managed to keep the plane in the air until he was safely over Amble, but could not maintain control and crashed into the farmhouse at 10.40pm

Mr and Mrs William Robson were entertaining their friends, Mr and Mrs Rowell, at the farm that Wednesday.  Mr Rowell, a butcher in Amble, had visited the Robson’s to roll some bacon, and Mrs Rowell had been invited along for supper.  They had just finished their meal when the plane crashed into the house.  Mr Rowell described the incident in the Newcastle Journal and North Mail (in an article published on Friday 3rd December 1943),

there was a deafening roar and the house came down about our ears… Our first thoughts, naturally, were for the children.  We pulled at the wreckage in an effort to find them.  Then fire broke out and we had to throw water to keep down the flames.

The four adults were injured and in shock.  Neighbours and rescue squads arrived at the scene quickly.  The five Robson children, who were sleeping upstairs at the time of the crash, were killed on impact:

Sylvia, aged 9 years

Ethel, aged 7 years

Marjorie, aged 5 years

William, aged 3 years

Sheila, aged 19 months


The bodies of the children were found on Saturday 2nd December.  The image below is from a register, a ‘Record of Civilian Death Due to War Operations’.  All five children’s deaths are recorded within the register.  Sheila’s body is noted as being found at 1.30am.


Shelia Robson

Shelia Robson


The Stirling bomber had a crew of seven men, but only one survived the crash.  He was spotted by Mrs Rowell, running around the field on fire.  She called to her husband who ran across to the airman, rolled him on the ground, and extinguished the flames.  Mr. Rowell than rushed to the plane to help the aircrew, but could find no one else.


The aircrew were all members of 75 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve:

Warrant Officer (Pilot) George John Stewart Kerr, aged 22 years. Son of John and Georgina Kerr of High Ongar, Essex.  Buried in Chevington Cemetery, Northumberland.

Sergeant (Air Gunner) George William Thomas Lucas, aged 22 years. Son of George and Ellen Lucas of Shepherd’s Bush, London.  Buried in East Finchley Cemetery and St. Marylebone Crematorium.

Sergeant (Air Bomber) Ronald Smith, aged 20 years. Son of Basil and Sarah Ann Smith of Leeds; husband of Joan Smith of Halton, Leeds.  Buried in Leeds (Whitkirk) Cemetery.

Sergeant (Navigator) Donald Frank Wort. Son of Mr. and Mrs Frank Wort of Parkstone.  Buried in Poole (Parkstone) Cemetery.

Flight Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) Derek Arthur Holt. Son of Mr. and Mrs A. Holt of Shrewsbury, Shropshire.  Buried in St. Helen’s Cemetery.

Sergeant (Flight Engineer) Leonard George Copsey, aged 20 years. Son of George and Jessie Copsey of Hornchurch.  Buried in Hornchurch Cemetery.


G.J.S. Kerr

G.J.S. Kerr



The survivor of the crash was Sergeant (Mid Upper Gunner) Kenneth Gordon Hook of Hambledon, Surrey, who was 20 years old at the time.  Even though he sustained serious injuries, he was flying again by February 1944.  On 13 March 1944, he was in another Stirling bomber, again taking off from RAF Mepal, for a minelaying operation near Brest, when the aeroplane malfunctioned and the plane crashed, with three of its five mines exploding after impact.  Sergeant Hook survived, and by the end of the Second World War had flown 75 operational missions.  He retired from the RAF in 1977 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.  He died in 1989 in Devon.


School Log Book

School Log Book


The crash at Cliff House Farm was reported the next day in the Log Book of Amble Church of England School, which Sylvia and Ethel both attended.  It notes that a wreath was purchased, and we know (from a newspaper article which reported on the funeral) that this was laid on the grave of the children by staff and pupils, when the funeral took place on Saturday 4th December.  The service was held at Amble St. Cuthbert and the interment took place at Amble West Cemetery, where the children were all laid to rest in one grave.





Today, the children and the tragedy that befell them are still remembered.  A memorial table stands at the west end of Amble St. Cuthbert’s, and there is a housing estate named after the children, near the site of Cliff House Farm.  The estate is named Robson Way, with each of the closes named after a child.  The airmen who died are remembered on a plaque inside Acklington St. John the Divine, which was the official church for RAF Acklington.

Mr. and Mrs Robson moved to a farm at Shotley Bridge, before moving to Stannington and later, Fenrother.  They are buried in Amble West Cemetery, in the same grave as Sylvia, Ethel, Marjorie, William and Sheila.


This Week in World War One, 1 December 1916






The finding of a butcher’s van in which was yoked the dead body of a horse, on Holy Island sands on Sunday, brought to light the tragic end of Thomas Foreman, a well-known butcher.

The unfortunate man who belongs to Lowick, Northumberland, regularly crossed these dangerous sands to the island and was familiar with the perils attending a crossing with the flood tide.


BRO 0515-127 (c) Berwick Record Office


It appears that having served his customers he left the island at 5 o’clock on Saturday night and although little enough time was left to cross in safety, no fears were entertained as to his regaining the other side.

The high tides, however, had not been taken account of and it is feared Foreman met his end while at least half-way across. Up to the time of writing no trace of the body has been found.



 Feeding Stuffs and Milk Prices. – Although the price of milk is to be restricted there is no restriction upon the price of feeding stuffs for the cows. Some farmers, assert that unless some limit is imposed upon the price of the feeding stuffs it will be impossible for them, except at a loss, to continue supplying milk. It is stated that in some parts of the country farmers are disposing of their cows. To avoid any possibility of a shortage in the supply of milk from this cause, it has been suggested to Mr Runciman that he should summon a conference of farmers and manufacturers and importers of feeding stuffs to discuss the situation with a view to arriving at a voluntary agreement for the limitation of prices. The president of the Board of Trade, who is considering the suggestion, will be asked on Thursday, 30th November, to indicate whether he is prepared to adopt it.

Steamer Refloated. – The large steamship Tredegar Hall, 3,764 tons gross register, which stranded on the sands at Monkhouse, Bamburgh, two months ago, has been successfully refloated. As the steamer stranded during spring tides fears were entertained that some time might lapse before she was salved, but the exceptionally high ide experienced at the week-end, allowed a large salvage tug to successfully tow the ship into deep water. It is understood the vessel is little the worse.




Christmas. – we are reminded that Christmas is again approaching, and the annual prize show and sale at the Wooler Mart is announced for Monday week. We are assured that an excellent display may be looked for. The quality of the stock presented by the Wooler Mart, Co., at their Christmas show is always equal to any, and that it will be up to the usual standard goes without saying.

An early twentieth century photograph of Wooler Mart, where the annual Christmas Show was held in 1916. © Berwick Record Office, BRO 2134-10.

An early twentieth century photograph of Wooler Mart, where the annual Christmas Show was held in 1916. © Berwick Record Office, BRO 2134-10.


Gifts for Soldiers. – A subscription list has been opened by the Vicar to provide the sailors and soldiers who have left the parish with a suitable Christmas parcel. Over £21 has already been subscribed and is expected to be still further increased. A chocolate service is to be held in the Parish Church on Sunday afternoon, when gifts of chocolate, etc., will be welcomed. The collection will also be for the soldiers and sailors gifts. The total number reaches over a hundred. The Presbyterian churches are also sending parcels to members connected with their places of worship.




Concert for Soldiers’ Chritsmas Gifts. – A very successful concert, organised in connection with Scremerston Church with the object of sending a Christmas token of remembrance to all Scremerston men on active service abroad, was given in the large hall of the local Workmen’s Institute on Monday evening last. The concert had aroused a very general interest in the parish and neighbourhood, and the highest anticipations of the Vicar and those associated with him in the venture were more than fulfilled. The entertainment itself was of a very interesting and varied character. Through the good offices of Mr J. M. Dudgeon, a number of the Royal Scots now billeted in Berwick promised their assistance. During their stay here they have proved themselves most able and successful entertainers in various ways, and they repeated their triumphs on this occasion. Corpl. Dells, humourist, Private Cummings and Corpl. Howitt, vocalists, and Private Burnett, impersonator and soft shoe dancer, all justified the reputation they have gained. Mr Dudgeon’s ability is too well known to require description further than to say that he proved himself as popular as ever.

© Copyright Raymond Chisholm, and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).


A cymbal dance by Miss Dormer and a tambourine dance by Miss Douglas were gracefully given and heartily received. A beautiful stage picture representing Britannia and the nine Allied Nations, devised and arranged by Mrs Lightfoot, was represented by Miss E. M. Lightfoot as Britannia and by members of the Church Girls’ Guild. The supplemental act saluting the British flag by the separate nations individually give the audience the opportunity of greeting each ally with welcoming applause. Part songs by Scremerston Church Choir as a body, and songs by individual members further associated the Church with this pleasing effort to send tokens of remembrance to the local men now serving in France, Egypt, Salonica, and on the high seas. The seating of the large gathering was looked after by Mr R. Thomson, ably assisted by his sons. Much of the success of the undertaking was due to the untiring interest and assistance given by Mr and Mrs W. J. Blackett, Scremerston Post Office, who also bore the cost of conveying the Berwick and Spittal vocalists to and from the concert. A goodly sum was realised by the venture, and the parcels thus secured will be despatched to the men at the Western front without delay; parcels have already been sent to those in Egypt and Salonika.