Archive for January 2017

The Murder of Joe the Quilter

On 3 January 1826 a 76 year old man named Joseph Hedley was brutally murdered in his cottage in the parish of Warden. Joseph’s throat and face were slashed and multiple stab wounds were inflicted upon his body. He was commonly known as Joe the Quilter due to his skill with needlework. He was a quilter by trade and travelled around the country seeking employment. Joe’s skills in quilting were celebrated, and his handiwork was known in various parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and America.

On the evening of the murder, Joe obtained a pitcher of milk, a pound of sugar, a sheep’s head and pluck (offal) from farmer’s wife Mrs Colbeck of Warwick Grange. At approximately 6pm William Herdman, a labourer living in Wall called in on Joe on his way home from work at the local paper mill and sat with him for a short time. Joe had a good fire going and was busy preparing some potatoes for his supper.  Around 7pm Mrs Biggs, a female pedlar from Stamfordham knocked at the cottage to ask directions to Fourstones having missed the turning due to the excessive darkness of the night. Joe came to the door and gave her the necessary directions. Apart from the murderer(s), Mrs Biggs is said to be the last person to have seen him alive.


Plan of Joe’s cottage where the murder took place


At approximately 8pm a Mr Smith of Haughton Castle rode past the cottage on his way home from Warden and all at the cottage was silent and dark. It is suspected that the deed took place between 7-8pm. Concern for Joe’s safety grew after his neighbours didn’t see the elderly man for a few days. It was reported that there appeared to be marks of blood in the snow outside the cottage and marks to indicate that a struggle had taken place. His neighbours found the cottage door locked and after knocking several times with no reply proceeded to break into the property. They were faced with a chilling sight as parts of the walls of the cottage were stained with blood and a quilt spread on a frame bore a distinct mark of a bloody handprint. The pitcher of milk, sheep’s head and pound of sugar which he had recently purchased were found lying on a table. A search of the house was conducted and nothing was found. An old outhouse which stored wood and coals was then searched and Joe’s body was discovered. Both cheeks were cut widely open with deep wounds. A garden hoe was found laid across his chest. A coal rake was also found with its shank bent. As two weapons were discovered it then raised a suspicion that there were 2 murderers. Joe was found with knife wounds on his hands so had obviously fought with the attacker(s).

The small cottage had been ransacked and bore evidence of a struggle. All of his boxes and drawers had been disturbed and it was believed that two silver tablespoons, four teaspoons and two old fashioned salt cellars of silver net-work had been stolen.The bed tester had been violently torn down and the face of the clock broken. Prints of 3 bloody fingers were distinctly visible on the chimney jamb . The plates on the dresser were also streaked with blood. Outside in the lane some clogs were found and a small piece of coat was discovered on a hedge.It was supposed that Joe had fought hard with the murderer(s) and had managed to escape about 100 yards from the cottage before he was caught. Judging by the marks in the snow it appeared that a struggle had taken place and then Joe had been overcome and dragged back and murdered. After this had taken place the cottage door had been locked on the outside and the key taken away.


Reward Poster


A one hundred guineas reward was offered to catch the perpetrator(s) of the atrocious murder . The reward was offered from the Overseers of the Poor of the parish of Warden on 17 January 1826. Home secretary Robert Peel offered his majesty’s full pardon to any accomplices who came forward with information (as long as they were not the actual murderer). A jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.  Although several people were arrested and questioned nobody was ever charged and sadly the murder of Joe the Quilter was never solved. Joe was buried in Warden churchyard on 10 January 1826. On his burial entry the word murdered can clearly be read underneath his name.



On Wednesday 29 March 1826, an auction was held to sell the household furniture belonging to the ‘late unfortunate Joseph Hedley, commonly called Joe The Quilter’.


Auction Poster


This Week in World War One, 26 January 1917






Delia Curry, Berwick, married, was charged with concealing two deserters- Private Martin Conroy and Private Curry, in her house on 23rd January.

The Chief Constable explained that Sergeant Wilson got information that there were two deserters in the defendant’s garret in Chapel Street on Tuesday. From snoring the Sergeant heard outside he came to the conclusion that there were several men in the room. He called later, but the defendant refused to open the door for a considerable time. By the aid of a pen-knife he enlarged a hole in the door and saw a man partly dressed in khaki. He also saw a uniform lying about, and on getting in he only saw one man. There was a cupboard which he at last forced and found a man concealed there. Conroy had been an absentee since 9th April, 1916, and Curry since the 11th December- both from Duddingston.

(c) BRO 1250/163 Chapel Street 1950’s

Sergt. Wilson gave evidence as to his visit to the house. The keyhole of the door was choked up. After getting hold of one of the soldiers defendant said that there was no one in the house though the other was concealed in the cupboard. Conroy was defendant’s husband, the other man her brother.

Sergt Harvie, the Barracks, proved that the men were both deserters.

Defendant denied the charge, and said that the soldier went into the cupboard to put on his trousers – it was not a cupboard, it was a small room.

The Chief Constable said that the defendant was one of those who travelled the country and had no permanent residence.

Sentence – one month’s hard labour.




Laying the foundation Stone of Berwick Pier. In connection with our short article

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

regarding the Masonic ceremony at the laying of the foundation stone of Berwick Pier, it is of interest to note that there are framed in St. David’s Lodge two masonic aprons worn on that occasion. The inscription on the first is as follows: – “Presented to St. David’s Lodge No. 393, by Bro. J. Crow, on behalf of Mrs Smith, Magdalene Fields House, August 1914. Worn by her uncle, Bro. John Fox, who was surveyor of Berwick Pier under Sir John Rennie, and was used by him in the procession at the laying of the foundation stone, “July 27th, 1810.” The second bears a similar inscription, and was worn by her grandfather, Bro. John Good. There is a small trowal attached to this which was carried on the volume of the sacred law, in the procession and used in the ceremony.

Present Day Conditions in Germany: Mr D Thomas Curtin, whose articles and lectures descriptive of conditions in present day Germany have attracted much attention here and abroad, is to lecture in the Queen’s Rooms, on Wednesday, 31st inst., at seven p.m. Mr Curtin spent ten months in Germany, and during that period he travelled from one end of the country to the other, carefully noting what was going forward and the methods adopted by the authorities to cope with the famine brought about by the blockade. He will give his hearers an admirable opportunity of learning how the Germans succeed in organising for war, and the ruthless manner in which regulations are enforced. The lecture should be heard by everyone, and as a large audience is expected those desirous of being present should secure tickets immediately.

Soldiers’ Recreation Rooms. – The popularity of this institution as a resort for our local soldiers is well maintained. Every night the premises are well filled, and while supper is served in one room, innumerable letters written in another, great advantage is also taken of the concert hall. Last week was a specially busy one in the latter department. Tuesday saw the first tie in a whist contest; on Wednesday there was a concert; while every Sunday an hour is spent singing hymns. And in all this activity it is noticeable that the soldiers play the main part. A whist league has been formed consisting of eight teams of eight men each. Great keenness was shown in the first match, and the feature has been enthusiastically taken up. The concert proved a most enjoyable one. It was opened  by the orchestra, consisting of six instrumentalists, with a spirited rendering of “Sandy Mac,” and in response to an encore, “Stop Shorty” followed. Next came a song, “Scotland Yet.” by Private Mason. This soldier has a pleasing tenor voice, and while the audience, being mostly Scotch, would have liked a little more vim, he sang very sweetly. By way of variety Mr W. B. Dickinson told a few racy stories about bulls – the Highland, not the Irish variety. Private Burnett, a youthful soldier, gave a step dance, which was much appreciated. But the lion of the evening was Private Cumming, a splendid baritone, who sang, “Sons of a Nation.” A very few bars only were necessary to convince all that this handsome soldier had submitted his voice as well as his body to discipline and training. He is far above the ordinary run of vocalists. Praise in such a case would savour of patronage, but we may remark that his effort was hugely enjoyed and in response to rapturous applause he returned and sang “The Old Soldier” to the genuine delight of all present. A cornet solo, “Afton Water.” By Bugler Russell so pleased the audience that they insisted upon another, when the Bugler gave “Killarney.” The deep voice of Lance-Corporal Staples was heard in “When the ebb tide flows.” This was followed by another piece “Melodyland,” by the orchestra, and the concert closed with “God Save the King!”




A Berwick native, Mr William Purves, who resides in London, near the seat of the recent Munition factory explosion, writes as follows:-

The situation of the house is in close proximity to the centre of the explosion, and the remarkable part is that although all the other houses round about us were damaged in one way and another, such as a windows out, doors smashed, ceilings down, furniture upset, etc, we escaped with a broken lock, not even a window cracked. My wife and self are both natives of Berwick, she being the daughter of the late captain H. J. Rutherford, 61 Ravensdowne, and just a few hours before the explosion took place had received intimation of her mother’s death.

BRO 2103-4-2-71 Castlegate looking North mid 1900’s


That, coupled with the fact that she was thrown right across the room with the force of the explosion, causing a wound to her hand, completely unnerved her, but I am pleased to say she is progressing favourably. I am a Freeman of Berwick, serving my apprenticeship with Messrs J. Cockburn and Son, Castlegate. At present I am shop foreman of joiners in a munition works. My mother, who is still alive, and also a native of Berwick, resides at Cheviot View, Lowick.



Scouting at Stannington

Three Scouts practising map reading on a hospital veranda (ref: NRO 10510/2/2)

Three Scouts practising map reading on a hospital veranda (ref: NRO 10510/2/2)

Children were kept occupied in several ways during their long stays at Stannington, perhaps one of the more unexpected was by being able to join the hospital’s own Scout and Guide groups.

A patient’s stay at the Sanatorium (later Children’s Hospital) normally lasted for several months and often extended into years. Keeping children occupied during this time was an important consideration for the institution’s staff. Outside of attending the on-site school which all children did as soon as their recovery from illness allowed there were several ways the hospital staff kept children busy and entertained during their stays.

To provide children’s evening and weekend activities the sanatorium staff included a Welfare and Recreation Officer. At the start of the 1950s this role was held by Mr Holmes and it was his responsibility to organise and manage activities for the children. In this role he was a member of the Hospital House Committee which met to discuss and oversee the day to day running of the hospital. For each meeting he submitted a report of the various activities he’s arranged in the previous month. In his monthly report for the meeting of August 1950 he noted that:

“I have attended two meetings in conjunction with forming a Scout and Cub section at the Sanatorium. I think this is a helpful scheme for the boys, as some of them are already members of the Boy Scout Movement and if we form a group at the Sanatorium patients leaving would be transferred to Scout Clubs in their own district. …

…I also propose to form a Girl Guide Section.” (HOSP/STAN/1/2/5)

Report on Ralph Readers visit to Stannington in the Morpeth Herald, 29th January 1952

Report on Ralph Reader’s visit to Stannington in the Morpeth Herald, 29th January 1952

By the end of September 1950 four sections had been established; Scouts, Cubs, Guides and Brownies. In January 1952 Ralph Reader, actor, theatre producer and originator of the Scout Gang Show visited to hand the Scouts and cubs their first colours. On this occasion the membership, which totalled 40, including 22 Scouts, assembled on the veranda to receive the colours. Several troop members confined to bed were wheeled out onto the veranda to also be involved in proceedings.

Soon after this a Scout and Guide Group Committee was formed to oversee all 4 sections. At their meeting held on the 30th April 1952 Mr Holmes and Mrs Driver, the Scout and Guide leaders, reported on activities which had taken place:

“Two lessons on woodcraft and tracking and 2 scouts were to take their 2nd class badge. Mrs Driver reported that she now had 22 guides… … an expatient had been presented with the Badge of Fortitude at the Sanderson Orthopaedic Hospital and it was agreed that the Secretary write a letter of congratulations.”

 “Arrangements were being made to hold the competition for the Mitford Cup at the sanatorium and it was suggested that the committee might act as host.” (HOSP-STAN 1/2/14)

The Scout Troops posing for a photograph on the steps of a hospital veranda (NRO 10510/3/15)

The Scout Troops posing for a photograph on the steps of a hospital veranda (NRO 10510/3/15)

When it was held the Hospital Scout troop went on to win the Mitford Cup for their skill in knot making, knowledge of scouting law and oral relay skills. The range of activities undertaken by the Scouts carried on and even expanded to include Scout camps held in the grounds of the hospital as long as “Mr Holmes was present the whole time and returned the children to the ward each morning” (HOSP/STAN/1/2/14 9th July 1952).

Later that year Mr Holmes resigned as Welfare and Recreation Officer. In time he was replaced in this role by Mr Pullen and Douglas Johnstone took over as Scout Master. Douglas Johnstone, after his time with the Scouts, would go on to become to the General Secretary of the PCHA, later Children North East, the organisation which half a century earlier had originally built the sanatorium.

Activities carried on including a salvage drive, where used paper, bottles and jars were collected to sell and raise money, but it was decided not to collect bones due to the possibility of encouraging rats! This happened in conjunction with the normal activities of learning skills and gaining badges. In 1952 some scouts were noted in the Welfare and Recreation Officers report as being ready to sit tests for Semaphore and First Aid Badges and one guide had recently taken her Music Lover’s badge and was ready to take her Needlewoman’s Badge test.

Later the Scouts were allowed away from the hospital on troop outings. These included trips to places such as Northumberland National Park and the beaches of Craster, Alnmouth and Boulmer. Pictured below are 6 of the scouts whilst on an outing to Alnmouth in 1961.


Six members of the hospital Scout Troop on a trip to the coast near Alnmouth. (ref: NRO 10510/3/4)

The groups also carried out fundraising activities in addition to their salvage drive, hosting dances and other events. With the money they raised they contributed £40 to the purchase of 5 TVs by the committee which was set up to celebrate the queen’s coronation in 1953. The Girl Guides also contributed to the fundraising efforts which included having a stall at the 1952 sanatorium garden party and raising £22 towards the installation of radio throughout the hospital.

The short history of the Scout Troop at Stannington ended in the autumn of 1962 when Douglas Johnstone, the Scout Master, disbanded the troop. However we know the Guide and Brownie sections continued after this as in the spring of 1964 the hospital recreation hall was refurbished and a timetable drawn up for its use; this included a slot for the Girl Guides on a Monday night between 5pm and 7pm and a slot for the Brownies at the same time on Tuesday nights. Though the scouts only had a relatively short history the troop was just one of many ways we’ve came across in the patient files and other records in which children were kept occupied and entertained during their stays. You can read more about this in an earlier blog post here.

Private stocks and gallows – crime and punishment in the Manor

We have covered a little about how law and order was kept by the manorial system when we looked at customs in a previous blog, but what about crimes that broke laws, not just customs? The manorial court or court Leet met around twice a year and dealt with minor boundary issues and scuffles. Most manor courts, though not usually recording such punishments, seem to have kept stocks, pillories and tumbrels for punishing those guilty of smaller crimes. Stocks trapped the prisoner around the ankles, while a pillory held them around the neck and wrists. In both the prisoner would be further subjected to abuse and refuse thrown from the crowd. The tumbrel was a two-wheeled manure cart, which would be used to transport the prisoner and perhaps tip them into a pond – the practice often referred to as ‘ducking’. Tuggal Manor was fined 1 shilling 8 pence in 1683 for not keeping a pair of stocks. Presumably they would have been a common sight as you travelled around the country, and some towns like Berwick still have theirs on display.

From an engraving of Defoe in the pillory in the early eighteenth century, SANT/BEQ/15/4/40. Daniel Defoe was pitied for his charge of seditious libel, and the crowd threw flowers, a vast improvement on their usual weapons of choice.

However in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a manorial court could, with royal permission, become a franchised law court dealing with more serious cases, and we have found evidence of a few of these as we have been researching the manor authority files. The whole picture of medieval law is too complex to delve into in a short blog post, but the various parts of the machine can be grouped into three types of legal administration: the central courts of law; different types of smaller courts held by itinerant commissioned justices as they progressed around the country; and permanent local franchise courts. The franchise of the legal responsibility for a particular area might be given by the crown to a hundred, borough, or the feudal courts of the Court Baron or manorial court. Some lords held the ancient right of ‘infangthief’ and ‘outfangthief’, where if they caught thieves from within or from outside the manor red-handed on their land, they could try and fine them. Those whose manor was franchised held royal permission to maintain a gallows and tumbril to execute anyone found guilty. This was possibly a hangover from the Anglo- Read more

The travels of TB patients – other sanatoria from the Stannington patient files

As shown in our previous blog home visits were not possible for all Tuberculosis patients in the community, and the medical officer therefore looked to sanatoria as a means to both help sufferers and prevent its spread. Sanatoria began as open air resorts for wealthy patients in late nineteenth century Europe, usually located in mountains or spa areas. The idea spread and many were created for different types of clientele, religious groups, companies and even trade unions. However they were run, sanatoria were usually in the countryside, and the presence of pine trees was thought to bring benefit. Covered verandas protected patients from the elements when outdoors, or French windows allowed patients to enjoy fresh air inside. Firm adherence to rules, hygiene, feeding-up, and an increase in movement and work were thought to both improve the patient and prepare their return to health.

The Stannington files have revealed that children were admitted from or to a range of 58 hospitals and sanatoria, as far away as Great Ormond Street. The files show Stannington in the context of the wider tuberculosis movement in the UK and even abroad, as during WWII there were Stannington patients who were refugees and evacuees, who had attended sanatoria and hospitals much further afield. Here we will examine Stannington’s connection with some of the local sanatoria.

A map showing the location of the sanatoria mentioned in the patient files in relation to Stannington Sanatorium.

Barrasford, Northumberland.

Situated on the moors north of Hexham, Barrasford shared much of its history with Stannington. It was funded by the raising of a public subscription, helped by a large donation from an individual, in this case William Watson-Armstrong (later Baron Read more

This Week in World War One, 12 January 1917






New Year’s Day at the Workhouse. – A tea, consisting of hot pies, bread and butter, and cake, given by the Guardians to the inmates, was very greatly appreciated. The tea was followed by the distribution of tobacco, fruit, and sweets. Mrs Willits, Miss Henderson, and Mr A.D. Watt were present. Mrs Willits and Miss Henderson expressed the pleasure it gave them to see the inmates enjoying themselves, and also expressed the hope that they would all have a brighter and happier year than had been possible for some time past.



Continuing, the Mayor said – That is not the only reference of the kind I have to make this evening. An old official of this Corporation, Mr James Johnston, Sergeant-at-Mace, has been passing through deep sorrow during these past days, owing to the loss which he has sustained in the death of his youngest son in the Military Hospital at Catterick Camp. Private Thomas Marshall Johnston of the Scottish Rifles, who was well known in Berwick and much esteemed, joined the Colours only in April last, so that his military career was a brief one. He bore a high character in his regiment. He was under orders to embark for Egypt when seized with the serious illness which terminated fatally on the 27th ult.


I think I can assure Mr and Mrs Johnston of the sincere sympathy of every member of this Authority in this time of sorrow and bereavement. I should like to couple with this an expression of our sincere gratification at the fortunate escape from death of their daughter and son-in-law (Mr and Mrs Ferguson), who, having been in Berwick in connection with the funeral of the deceased soldier, were travelling to Glasgow in the train which met with the disaster at Ratho on Wednesday last. In that ill-fated train may I say that Mr and Mrs Lyall of Glasgow, with whom Private Johnston stayed for over ten years, were also travelling home. They were both killed, along with two of their children, the other two, being seriously injured, are now lying in the Infirmary. Mrs Lyall (who was a Miss Hepburn), is a native of Berwick. Our sincere sympathy goes out to the relatives of both the deceased in the sad calamity that has befallen them.




Lifeboat Supper and Presentation – A supper was given in the schoolroom at Holy Island on Wednesday evening to the lifeboat crews, the rocket lifesaving company, and the coast watchers. The Vicar, the Rev. Irvine Cranshaw, presided. Mr Joseph Shell proposed the Lifeboat Institution, including the Holy Island branch. This was responded to by Coxswain Cromary(sic), who referred to the fact that the lifeboat had been called out for service eleven times during the year, resulting in the rescue of 59 lives. Mr T. Kyle proposed the toast of the rocket lifesaving company and the coast watchers, which was responded to by Mr Ben Kyle.

Pictured are crew members of the Holy Island lifeboat ‘Lizzie Porter.’ From left to right are Tom Kyle, John Markwell, George Crommarty, Tom Stevenson and Robert Henderson. Between them they gave 200 years of service to the RNLI. © Berwick Record Office – BRO 2421-018.


After supper the public were admitted for the presenting of a silver medal to Coxswain Cromarty, a pleasing sequel to the rescue of the crew of the barque Jolani. Mr Robertson occupied the chair, and called upon the secretary to read a communication from the Lifeboat Institution, from which the following are extracts: “The Committee of Management are of opinion that was a specially fine service, carried out in a hurricane, in a heavy sea, amid driving rain and very rough weather.” “The Committee of Management decided to mark their appreciation of this fine service by the following awards – To George Cromarty, coxswain, the silver medal of the Institution, and the thanks inscribed on vellum. To Thomas Kyle, second coxswain, the thanks of the Institution on vellum. To the two coxswains and to each member of the crew an additional award of £1.”

In pinning the medal on Coxswain Cromarty, Miss Carlyn Crawshaw, the young daughter of the Vicar, said – Mr Cromarty, – I am glad you have been awarded the silver medal by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, because you and your crew have deserved it, and I am pleased to have the honour of pinning this medal on the breast of a very brave man. I hope you will live a long time to wear it.





We are pleased to learn that Rough-Riding Sgt. Matthew Burke, Royal Field Artillery, who is married to a grand-daughter of the late Mr Patrick Davis, of West Street, Berwick, has been awarded 4th Class Order of St. George from the Czar of Russia for conspicuous service on the battlefield in France. He has also been recommended for a Serbian Order. When he was Corporal prior to the outbreak of war, he was a prominent Fencing Instructor to the troops. He has seen considerable service on several fronts, and is a well-known and popular figure in the Borough. Sergeant Burke, who in his early soldiering days was for a long period trumpeter on the Artillery permanent Staff at Berwick, is the son of Mrs Rose Ann Burke, West End, Tweedmouth.





Sir, – Being a reader of our local paper every week, I have been surprised to see that there was nothing being done to give the children of our brave men a little pleasure. All the other towns have done as much, and surely when Berwick can collect £100 for Foreign Missions they could have a little to spare for charity at home. Owing to the cost of living we are not able to give the children any extras at home this year. Wake up, Berwick, and think of what our men have left behind them to safeguard us all from the foe, and what a pleasure it would be for them to read in the good old  “Advertiser” and the pleasure Berwick had given their children. Their hearts would not be so heavy for he loved one’s left behind.                                                                               A SOLDIER’S WIFE



Sir, – I observed a short time ago in a north country paper that our local battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers are in urgent need of socks, and the question which was raised in my mind was, “are we not neglecting our own lads and sending considerable quantities of comforts to a central organisation who distribute these goods to corps who have no connection with the district?” In December I saw the Local Guild of Aid appealing for additional comforts to be sent to the Northern Cyclists Battalion, and I have no doubt by this time a generous public will have seen to it that all wants have been supplied. With all due respect, however, to the Northern Cyclists Battalion, it is a matter of doubt whether they require comforts so much as our lads who are now roughing it on the Somme. I am also informed that local officers attached to corps with no connection with the district, are provided with a generous supply of comforts for their men while our own go without. Surely the Guild of Aid might be able to supply our local lads before entertaining any appeal from outside sources. It is a very laudable practice to be good to all soldiers, but above all, let charity begin at home, and ensure that the needs of Berwick and North Northumberland boys will be supplied not by the needy mother or wife, but by an organisation which derives is strength from the district.          “POPERINGHE”



First World War Stannington – Hilda and Robert Atkin’s story

We have covered John Atkin’s life in our previous blog, but now will look at the younger generation of the Atkin family and their relationship with Stannington.

Robert Atkin

Robert was born at Stargate, near Ryton 1882, where his father John was working as a colliery Blacksmith. He followed his family in their various moves, though he and his sister Minnie lived with their grandparents during the 1891 census, and settled with the family at Whitehouse farm. He is described as a Gardener on the 1911 census. He served in the First World War, and there are two medals roll index cards that may refer to him, both showing a private in the Northumberland Fusiliers that received service medals. He met nurse Hilda Currie at the sanatorium, perhaps through the gatherings and dances that were held for staff.

Robert Atkin during the First World War, kindly provided by his granddaughter.

Robert is one of the staff from Stannington Sanatorium and the Philipson Farm Colony who served in the First World War that are being researched in a new project. As part of the Stannington Parish Centenary Festival of Remembrance (8-11th November 2018), Richard Tolson is producing a series of books looking at Stannington parish 100 years ago, and recording the story of the men who left the parish to fight in the First World War.

The festival is intended to involve the whole community and will include a  flower festival, book signing, School trips, WW1 Re-enactments, village dance, brass band concert, a talk about the WW1 history of the village, displays of the research, and a special Remembrance Service. For more details, or to help out with any relevant photos or information contact Stannington History Group via

Hilda Currie

Hilda Jane Currie was born in Percy Main or Willington-on-Tyne in 1892. Her father was Captain John Currie, a master mariner, and her mother was Georgina Margaret Robinson, recorded on the census as Meggie. She grew up with sisters Meggie, Ella, and Eva, and her brothers John (known as Jack) and James Herbert. The brothers served at sea in WWI, and they seem to have been a very close family, sending letters from the various parts of the world they travelled to. Jack became an engineer in the Navy, and was killed aboard the SS Whitgift 20th April 1916 in a submarine attack, aged 32. James was a Mercantile Marine, 3rd engineer on the SS Northumbria. On the 9th Jan 1919 he was killed by a mine explosion at Newbiggin-by-the-sea, aged 29. Jack is commemorated on Tower Hill memorial, and James is buried at Wallsend (Church Bank) Cemetery.

Hilda in her uniform holding a kitten (NRO 10361/1/237)

In 1911 Hilda and her sister Ella are not recorded with their mother and other sisters, but were visiting Anne Isabella Richardson, perhaps an aunt, in Willington. She must have gone into nursing sometime after this, and from the album we know she would have been at Stannington around 1915. She was there when her brother Jack wrote to her from the SS Whitgift on the 24th June that year, saying he was glad she was enjoying her new job.  A photograph in the Album titled ‘London Hospital Nurse’s training home, Tredegar House, Bow’ suggests she may have learned her skills there. It is clear from her album that Hilda forged some very strong bonds with her young charges, and we see them in her photographs  around the grounds, in costumes, and even photo postcards from after their discharge.

Hilda and Robert, photograph kindly provided by their granddaughter.

The Atkin family moved to The Birches in Tranwell Woods, and John built the family a home there in 1910, named White House after the farm. Robert and Hilda married in late 1922, and moved into the Birches, later moving into the White House after John and Margaret died. The family lived there for many years, with successive generations building and living around the two houses.

Hilda’s album

Hilda collected a fascinating album of photographs from her time at Stannington and her later, which has very kindly been deposited with us by her granddaughter. In it we see many snatched moments of quiet for the staff, and fun for the staff and patients. Below we have included some of our favourites such as the 1922 PCHA trip to Cresswell beach, Matron Campbell off duty, and a nurse riding sidecar on a motorbike. We think it shows a very personal view of Stannington around the time of the First World War, and if you would like to see more of them they are now available to search using the reference NRO 10361* through our online catalogue.

Staff, patients and adults paddling in the sea at the 1922 PCHA day out to Cresswell (NRO 10361/1/122).


The nurses and a brass band at the 1922 PCHA outing to Cresswell (NRO 10361/1/270).


Matron Campbell and another nurse during a break (NRO 10361/1/12).


A patient and nurse on a motorbike and sidecar (NRO 10361/1/105).

Northumberland Archives would like to say a huge thank you to Hilda and Robert’s granddaughter for depositing Hilda’s album with us, giving us permission to use the photographs in the blog, and supplying further information and photographs which have helped us to explore the Atkin family’s connection with Stannington.


Killer in the community – the County Council’s approach to Tuberculosis

When the PCHA created Stannington Sanatorium in a bid to combat Tuberculosis (TB) they were not alone in the fight against the disease. In 1906, the year before Stannington Sanatorium opened, the National Association for the Prevention of Consumption highlighted to local authorities that deaths from the disease of 60,000 people each year in England and Wales were preventable if they acted.

Northumberland County Council acted by urging district councils to notify them of cases of disease, punish spitting, appoint health visitors for sufferers and their families, and place strict controls on dairies. However they put great emphasis on the district councils to improve the major problem of sub-standard housing. As one County Medical Officer put it ‘Tuberculosis is a housing disease’.

A pamphlet from 1849 titled Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the sewerage, drainage [etc…] of the borough of Morpeth and the village of Bedlington by Robert Rawlinson (NRO 2164) shows just how bad this could be. Rawlinson described the collier’s cottages of the area, where a flagstoned 14ft square room served as living room and bedroom for a large family, with a small bedroom in the roof space ‘open to the slates’. Other houses like the above in Morpeth, had a 16ft by 15ft bedroom in which 8 people slept. Worse however were the overcrowded lodging houses. He quotes the Town Clerk’s account of them, where beds were occupied by ‘as many as can possibly lie upon them’. When these were full others would sleep on the floor in rows. The Town Clerk added ‘nothing but an actual visit can convey anything like a just impression of the state of the atmosphere… what then must it be like for those who sleep there for hours?’ This description shows an atmosphere in which TB could easily spread, where the occupants of the lodging houses (often labourers moving between work) could then spread it at the next lodging house they came to.

However if you think this only happened in the mid-nineteenth century, think again. Dr Allison, who worked for many years at Stannington, described the inside of a house he had visited in 1905:

Dr. Allison’s story from the Yorkshire Post, 14th September 1905

In the five years leading up to 1914 it was calculated 92 people for every 100,000 in the county died of consumption. This was more than Scarlet fever, Diphtheria, Enteric fever, Measles, and Whooping cough combined, as these diseases together killed 70 people in every 100,000 (NRO 3897/4, 1914, p.26). Notification of cases became compulsory, and the County Medical Officer was under a lot of pressure when asked to assist TB sufferers, and so a full time post was created for a Tuberculosis officer from January 1914. Tuberculosis dispensaries with the TB officer and nurse were established in densely populated areas (NRO 3897/4, 1914, p.25). During the 1920s one in every ten deaths in Northumberland was caused by TB, and the County Council used around 75% of their health expenditure to tackle the disease.

Tables from NRO 3897 showing the condition in 1922 of adults and children treated in 1914 for different stages of TB.

The Council felt provision of sanatoria was vital, providing uninsured patients with 10 beds at the private Barrasford Sanatorium, 9 at Stannington Sanatorium, and housed insured patients at other sanatoria as well. However many patients shortened their stay and returned to work to keep a wage. Likewise many tried to avoid going to see doctors in the early stages of TB as they feared taking time off work. The Medical Officer’s report for 1922 noted that many were coming to see the Tuberculosis Officer at the dispensary in the late stages of the disease. Above are tables showing what condition patients who applied for treatment for TB in 1914 were by 1922, and many had worsened or relapsed.

 The Medical Officer also feared that once the patients had left the sanatorium, without further help the disease would return. The Stannington Sanatorium patient files echo this reluctance to return their patients to poor living accommodation. The majority of files give us some idea of the living arrangements in each child’s home, who the family members were and whether they had had TB. Below is part of a letter written in 1953 between Dr Miller and the Whickham Chest Clinic, in which he describes a patient’s home conditions:

The patient was kept at Stannington longer than medically necessary because of this. Another patient was only discharged when their family moved into a council house. Though the longer treatment received by the children at Stannington Sanatorium gave patients a much better recovery rate, improved home conditions were seen as essential to their long term improvement.

In 1944 the TB After-care Sub-committee was formed from the Public Health and Housing Committee. The central committee met quarterly, and worked with local sub-committees and an almoner to look after patients discharged from the sanatoria and new patients in the community. The county was divided up into 12 of these sub-comittees based on the then existing dispensary areas: Wallsend; Gosforth and Longbenton; Whitley and Monkseaton; Seaton Valley; Blyth; Ashington; Morpeth; Bedlington; Newburn; Hexham; Alnwick; and Berwick (CC/CMS/PROPTBA/1). Cases were referred to sub-committees by the Tuberculosis officer through the dispensary or local health visitor. Patients’ needs were assessed after a visit by the committee members, who would provide additional medical treatment such as nursing, free milk, extra food, training for employment, and financial assistance such as with rent. They also helped families move to better accommodation, provided travel expenses for patients and their families, clothing, shoes, and importantly, bedding ‘to enable patients and contacts to sleep apart and thus prevent the spread of infection’ (CC/CMS/PROPTBA/1). They provided equipment, from beds to back supports and bedpans, sputum mugs and even deckchairs. Gifts of drinking chocolate, tinned fruit, and magazines also went through the sub-committees. As at Stannington occupational therapy was important (see our previous blog post) with after-care patients crafting everything from embroidery to fishing flies, leatherwork, and even cabinets.

An important function was to refer patients for help with different organisations too, such as the British Legion, Ministry of labour, and the Poor Children’s Holiday Association. A patient assisted by the committee to become a shorthand typist was provided with holiday travel expenses by the ‘BBC Children’s fund for Cripples’, likely describing a forerunner of BBC Children in Need. The County Council paid the PCHA to board out children from homes with a Tuberculosis case, and many of these children likely went to Stannington.

There are several references to individual cases, including one lady:

During the Second World War mobile mass radiography became a huge boon to diagnosing the disease, with factories and workplaces often used as bases, and later mobile vans with their own generator operated in the community. They were used across the world and even reached Alaska by dog-sled. The County Council paid a shilling to the Newcastle local authority for each Northumberland case x-rayed with their machine. The County Council knew they would require an adaptable and economic mobile unit, but first used Newcastle Corporation’s unit at Ashington Colliery, where radiographs were taken from the 30th April 1947 (CC/CMS/PROPTB/2). By September that year 3,642 had attended in Ashington, with 23 referred to the Dispensary, and 1,780 attended the unit at Blyth, with 25 referred for treatment. Though the disease is by no means eradicated, improved housing conditions, the TB Vaccination, and early diagnosis with mass radiography made such a dramatic impact on the disease that sanatoria like Stannington were converted to other uses.


Bynum, H., (2012) Spitting Blood: a history of Tuberculosis. Oxford: OUP

Taylor, J., (1988) England’s border county: a history of Northumberland county Council.