Archive for Stannington Sanatorium

Putting the project to bed – what the Stannington Sanatorium project has achieved

Over the course of the two phases of our Wellcome Trust funded project we have catalogued, conserved and digitised over 5000 patient medical files, as well as other records and photographs. In this time we hope we have taken an inaccessible, uncatalogued collection and made it accessible to study. In our final blog we will take a look back at what we have done in that time.

Some of the boxes of files waiting to be conserved early last year

Phase one conserved and digitised 949 discharge books, catalogued these, the patient files and the rest of the collection, and digitised a whopping 14671 radiographs (taken of only 2245 of the patients!). The team also created our online exhibition, our exhibition banners, and attended conferences to publicise the collection. You can read more about the first phase in the team’s final blog here.

The radiographs being digitised

After the Wellcome trust kindly granted more funding for a second phase new team focused on the 4095 patient files, which had been catalogued.

A patient file conserved in its new acid-free cover

A patient file ready to be digitised


We conserved and digitised these, and redacted images were attached to our searchable online database. As they are closed records the names and addresses cannot be released, but this enables those researching the disease to access medical information about the cases for the ‘core’ documents. Here is how these look.

Print screens of the search and reference detail

As we could not digitise the entire files in each case the team decided to upload some examples on Flickr. Though there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ or ‘average’ Stannington file, we tried to choose a few redacted examples of the patient files that gave an impression of the collection as a whole, and the type of documents found within them. You can view these here.

The work began in phase one to raise awareness of the collection has continued. We have continued to blog about our progress and discoveries we have made about the collection, the sanatorium itself, and new collections that relate to it, such as May Brown’s the Atkin family’s photographs. There has been academic interest in research projects using the collection from a number of universities, which we hope to will continue to grow.

Our former colleague Rebecca Cessford is using the collection of radiographs and patient files in her PhD thesis to look at the potential as an aid to diagnose the disease in skeletal remains. You can find out more about her research in the blog she contributed to us on World Tuberculosis Day.

Margaret Wilkinson (right) with Dame Sian Philips at the recording of the play.

We also worked with playwright Margaret Wilkinson, who used the collection and our research to write a radio play for BBC Four’s Writing the Century. The play was based on the experiences of former Stannington Sanatorium nurse Marjorie Wilson. Margaret established the scene with Marjorie’s reminiscences, and used excerpts from letters within the patient files. The play was a great success, and listeners found the performance very moving. You can read more about Margaret’s inspiration in writing the play in the blog she wrote for us, and you can listen to the play through Audioboom.

We hope to continue further interest in the collection by launching an education resource, now available through our website. In this we have laid out a little summary of the disease, history, treatment and the records at Stannington, and what life was like for staff and patients. This can be used as a resource for teachers to dip into in developing lessons, but also for older students to use for themselves.

The exhibition on display at St. Mary’s Church, Stannington.

Recently the team have also set up our collection of banners at St Mary’s church in Stannington, with the Stannington History Group. It was a wonderful finish to the project to see them displayed so close to the sanatorium itself, with locals and visitors finding out more about the story of Stannington Sanatorium. We hope to tour the exhibition more throughout this year.

The project has revealed the rich value of the collection in terms of its research potential, as it contains files with detailed medical information and an excellent radiographic record. However it is also rich in the stories of the staff and patients who were associated with the sanatorium, many of whom have recounted their experiences to us during its course. We feel proud to continue to care for the documents, and feel it is important to continue to raise awareness. Far from this being the end of our research with the collection, this is a beginning of a new and more accessible way of learning from them.

The collection itself is housed at Northumberland Archives, and though a hundred year closure period is still in place (from the date of the document’s creation), former patients and some immediate family can still seek permission to access the patient files. If you are interested in accessing the collection for research purposes (we have statistics on the records as well as the files themselves), are interested in loaning our banners exhibition, or have any other queries about the collection please don’t hesitate to contact us at

NRO 11036/3, one of May Brown’s photographs

If you are interested to know more please have a look at:

Our online exhibition

Our Flickr sets

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.

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

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.



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.

First World War Stannington – John Atkin’s story

During the First World War Stannington Sanatorium continued to run, but there is no doubt the lives of those there were affected by it. We can gain an excellent insight into that time through the lives of a family closely connected with it, the Atkin family. Here we will look at the Philipson Farm Colony manager John Atkin’s wartime farm, and will follow this with another post that will look at his son Robert’s war and a project exploring the men of Stannington village in WWI, and unveil sanatorium nurse Hilda Currie’s (Robert’s wife) album of photographs.


John Atkin from Hilda Currie's photograph album (NRO 10361/1/286).

John Atkin from Hilda Currie’s photograph album (NRO 10361/1/286).

John Atkin

John was born on the 28th March 1858 in Rothbury. On the 1861 census we find him living with parents Robert and Joanna in Corbridge. Robert was a Blacksmith from Corbridge, and Joanna was from Rothbury. John had a sister, Isabella, and his 11-year-old uncle Adam lived with the family. This would be a big and busy household as Robert and Joanna would go on to have another six daughters and five sons, and apprentices and visitors also shown on the census. John followed his father into the Blacksmithing trade, and married Margaret. The couple are found on the 1881 census living in Stargate, near Ryton, with John working as a colliery Blacksmith. Their son Robert was born there in 1882, though the family had moved to Scotswood-on-Tyne by the birth of daughter Minnie two years later.

However the family were divided on the 1891 census. John was living at Newburn Hall, Lemington, the sole occupant of a house, and was working as a Blacksmith. Margaret is harder to locate, but it is likely she was a patient in the Royal Infirmary in Newcastle at the time. During her stay there Robert and Minnie had gone to stay with their grandparents Robert and Joanna in Corbridge, the house still busy with aunts and uncles Joanna, Minnie, Matthew, James and Jane, and three visitors.


A 1910 photograph of the Atkin family of Corbridge kindly sent to us by John's Great-granddaughter. John and Margaret are 4th and 5th from left at the back, with Robert on the far right.

A 1910 photograph of the Atkin family of Corbridge kindly sent to us by John’s Great-granddaughter. John and Margaret are 4th and 5th from left at the back, with Robert on the far right.

John became the farmer at Whitehouse Farm in 1900, and on the 1901 census Margaret, Robert and Minnie are all present at Whitehouse, with Robert employed as a farmer’s son. However John was not there. He was boarding with the Nylander family at Newburn Hall, and working as a Blacksmith. Perhaps this was a transition, or he was supporting the family while the farm was still being set up. Five years later the Philipson Farm Colony was established by the PCHA, and John was asked to remain and train the boys in agricultural skills. John grew crops, raised livestock, and he and Minnie kept hundreds of chickens, with the eggs sold to the sanatorium. They also supplied the sanatorium with milk, and sewerage from the sanatorium was used as manure on the fields.

John gave a talk to the Newcastle branch of the Rotary Club, published as an article in the August 1918 volume of the Rotary Wheel magazine, in which he described his endeavour to maximise yield from the farm. At the end of the First World War this was vital as the country became affected by food shortages. John argued these were caused by the farmers’ preference for producing only sheep or cattle, though he felt “they could hardly be blamed for adopting a system that pays them best”. A reliance on imported wheat meant:

“The doctrine of the cheap loaf has carried the day, and we are now paying for it in millions – the neglect of this most important industry has brought us almost within measureable distance of defeat.”

He then described how he had taken on and run Whitehouse farm. The first year’s profits were entirely used in rates, taxes etc., perhaps suggesting why John had found work Blacksmithing again. He turned over more fields to hay, and made a 100% profit on poultry farming. The fields, once drained, produced better crops, and in eight years the yearly value of the farm’s produce rose from £400 to £1200. This was with the help of the boys from the farm colony, and they took the ideas learned from John with them into their adult careers, and even overseas.

John felt that “Well-cultivated land is a national asset, and at any time like the present is equal in value to many Dreadnoughts”. He felt the war would revolutionise farming, and though it did not bring many ‘back to the land’ as he suggested it did bring about greater use of machinery: “In many farm operations the motor will supersede the horse”. However his most important argument for farming to help the war effort lay in the diversity of stock and crops he had introduced in his own farm:

“We scour the world for eggs that might be produced at home … Organisation, co-operation and modern appliances will, I am convinced, make the farming of the future an industry such as it has never been in the past in our country”.

This seems to have worked, as the National Farmers’ Union statistics show that only 50% of eggs and 19% of wheat consumed in Britain originated here in 1914, compared to 87% and 83% in 2013.

John beside an apple tree from Hilda Currie's photograph album (NRO 10361/1/233).

John beside an apple tree from Hilda Currie’s photograph album (NRO 10361/1/233).

The family moved to The Birches in Tranwell Woods, and John built the family a home there in 1910, named White House after the farm. The family lived there for many years. Robert’s granddaughter recalls her father’s memories of following John around his different pursuits, such as beekeeping (never wearing a hat) and growing apples for shows. He also won trophies for shooting with the Hexham Volunteers. His huge greenhouse in which he grew tomatoes and chrysanthemums was destroyed during the Second World War.

We will continue the story with Robert, Helen and Helen’s photograph album in a future post.

Asthma, school phobia and broken bones: other conditions at Stannington in the era of antibiotics

Whilst the majority of the case files we hold are for patients who suffered from tuberculosis, a significant number of the latter case files we hold are not. In the middle part of the 20th Century detection and antibiotic treatment for T.B. developed and social conditions improved. This resulted in fewer children suffering from the disease requiring hospital treatment and beds being made available to children suffering from other complaints. From just a few non tuberculosis patients admitted in the mid-1950s numbers grew and in the 1960s around 80 in every hundred patients did not suffer from tuberculosis. Here we will look at the range of other illnesses and afflictions which children admitted to Stannington suffered from during this period.

To begin with, starting in 1956, non T.B. patients were admitted by referral from the same three visiting consultants who oversaw the treatment of tuberculosis patients. These patients were children who had chronic illnesses including asthma, respiratory infections, rheumatism and orthopedic conditions. This reflected the individual specialisms of the visiting consultants who were treating T.B. patients, and the illnesses it was thought would benefit from the environment and experience of the sanatorium and its staff.

By 1959 the situation had changed to the extent that most patients did not have tuberculosis; In the extract below from a letter found in a patient file, Dr Miller, one of the consultants who oversaw the care of patients at the hospital, explains what has changed.

Until a few years ago it [the sanatorium] was used entirely for children with tuberculosis, but recently as the number of children suffering from clinical tuberculosis has decreased so remarkably and social conditions have improved, we have been able to use the hospital for non – tuberculosis chronic respiratory disease and now the children with tuberculosis are in the minority.

From this point onwards the range of conditions which patients admitted to the hospital suffered from continued to grow. The table below summarises the range of conditions patients admitted to the hospital were diagnosed with in 1966, the last year of admissions for which we have case files, and is also illustrative of the preceding years in the decade.

Diagnosis Cases admitted in 1966 % of total
Asthma 36 23
Tuberculosis (all types) 21 14
Behaviour Problem 15 10
Bronchitis 13 8
Chronic Respiratory infection 9 6
School Phobia 7 5
Bronchiectasis 4 3
Rheumatism 4 3
Diabetes 4 3
Muscular Dystrophy 3 2
Enuresis 3 2
Epilepsy 3 2
Malnutrition 2 1
Chorea 2 1
Eczema 2 1
Bronchopneumonia 2 1
Meningocele, glomerulonephritis, leg injuries, abdominal pain for investigation, endocarditis, headaches, osteitis of pubic ramus, Coeliac disease, Marfan’s  syndrome, post pneumonia, neuroblastoma, Perthe’s disease, streptococcal infection, paralysis, obesity, for observation, habit spasms, post burns, fractured leg, scoliosis, mesenteric adenitis, post road accident, fibrocystic disease, pschomatic vomiting and  amystonia congenita all accounted for 1 diagnosis on admission each. 16

The largest proportion of patients admitted to the hospital suffered from respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and respiratory infections. Orthopaedic cases, conditions and injuries affecting bones and joints are also present. Patients diagnosed with psychological complaints make up a large group of patients admitted to the hospital. In addition to these there a number of other conditions are represented in the patient files; these include diabetes, obesity, chorea and admittance for a period of recovery after suffering from burns.

Patients suffering from asthma or other bronchial conditions were often admitted for several months or years at a time with the aim of improving their condition. For these patients treatment often included antibiotics such as penicillin, breathing exercises  and postural drainage. If judged well enough, patients were often allowed home for holidays with permission from doctors. This allowed the patients to visit their families and also appears to have been used to trial patients in their home environment to see if they could sustain improvements in their health outside the hospital environment.

Treatment summary card

The treatment summary card of a patient admitted to Stannington Children’s Hospital in 1959 suffering from Asthma (HOSP-STAN-07-01-01-3710-03)

In the latter years of the time for which we have files patients were admitted with a range of psychological complaints. These were varied and include depression, psychosis, anxiety and school phobia. School Phobia, or the refusal to go to school, often had an underlying cause of depression or anxiety. These patients often came from difficult home backgrounds and were often admitted in part to give them respite from the home environment and the conditions which were causing their conditions. During the 1950s the care of these patients was overseen by Dr Connell, a consultant who had originally started visiting the hospital to see patients who had been admitted with conditions which it was felt may have in part had psychosomatic causes.

Case file cover

Case file cover for a child suffering from School Phobia (ref: HOSP-STAN-07-01-01-4501-01)

Children with orthopaedic conditions made up another group admitted to Stannington. Some of these were congenital, for example Perthe’s disease and talipes equinovarus (club foot), and some had other causes such as accidents. These patients were often admitted for recovery in a medically supervised environment following procedures and operations carried out at the general hospitals. The Royal Victoria Infirmary and Fleming Memorial Hospital in Newcastle feature regularly as places from which cases are referred.

In a large number of cases other factors played a role in a child’s admission alongside their medical condition. The continued provision of education meant that children were able to continue learning whilst their health improved. This appears to have been a particularly important factor in the cases of children with bronchial complaints such as asthma who outside Stannington could be missing large chunks of education.  Schooling played such a large role in hospital life that admissions, discharges and holidays were commonly scheduled to coincide with school terms.

Home and social condition also played a role in the decision to admit children to Stannington. Examples include poor or overcrowded housing, a disrupted family environment, or where it was considered care or treatment administered by parents may be unreliable.

The case files for patients not suffering from T.B. largely follow the same format as that for T.B. patients. The case files for non-tuberculosis patients often include numerous letters regarding the progress of the patient’s recovery and arrangements for check-ups and procedures at other hospitals.  These could often involve Stannington, the visiting consultant overseeing the patients care, specialists at other hospitals who were involved in a patient’s treatment, the family of the patient and the family doctor. In addition there can be other documents included in the files such as weight and height charts. One example is the page below, which is a dietary guide found in the file of a patient who was admitted to Stannington after being diagnosed with diabetes.

Recommended diet for a patient with diabetes. (ref: HOSP-STAN-07-01-01-3310_19)

Recommended diet for a patient with diabetes. (ref: HOSP-STAN-07-01-01-3310_19)

Writing the Century: Stannington

Stannington Sanatorium collection will feature in a play broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this week by Newcastle University’s senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Margaret Wilkinson. The play will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 each day from Monday 3rd October to Friday 7th October at 10.45am, with a repeat at 7.45pm. Margaret often uses archival research in her plays, including working with post graduate students to tell the story of the 1649 Newcastle witch trials in The Newcastle Witches, performed at the Newcastle Guildhall in 2014. Margaret’s play Queen Bee has been performed at the Northern Stage and 8 other venues, and Blue Boy has been performed at the Durham Literary festival. She won the Northern Writer’s awards Time to Write award in 2000. We asked Margaret to tell us a little of what it was like to write the play and the sources of her inspiration for it.

Margaret Wilkinson (right) with Dame Sian Philips at the recording.

Margaret Wilkinson (right) with Dame Sian Philips at the recording.

My inspiration for writing ‘Stannington’ came from the wonderful resource I found at Northumberland Archives based at Woodhorn, Ashington and the kind assistance of the Read more

Roland Philipson: ‘Inasmuch’

Without the philanthropist Roland Philipson, who died on the 19th September 1906, the Stannington Sanatorium and Farm Colony would have been drastically different, or may never have existed at all. Descended from Philip de Thirlwall of Thirlwall castle, the Philipson family were famous for coach and train carriage building, and as solicitors and Aldermen of Newcastle. However they were also famous for their philanthropy, establishing many institutions and hospitals, for which Men of Mark Twixt Tyne and Tweed by Richard Welford is recommended reading. Roland’s grandfather, Ralph Park Philipson, was Town Clerk, Alderman, and solicitor to the North-Eastern Railway Company. It was after Ralph’s wife the ‘Philipson Memorial Orphan Asylum’ on Newcastle Town Moor was dedicated, a cause supported by the family for many generations. Roland’s father Hilton was a Justice of the Peace in Newcastle, and he and his wife Jane had five children. Born in Tynemouth in 1863, Roland was raised with his brothers Ralph and Hylton, and sisters Annie and Mary Seely Philipson, later Woosnam. He and his brothers attended Eton, where they can be found on the 1881 census.

Roland Philipson

Roland Philipson

He is described in later census as a mechanical engineer, and on the 2nd June 1905 became a director of the North-Eastern Railway Company. He was also involved in several coal companies, and was a director for the Wallsend Slipway Company, the Consett Iron Company, and North-Eastern Marine Engineering Company. As a Justice of the Peace he acted as chairman for the Wallsend Petty Sessions, and was a Juror at the Northumberland Assizes. The census and Kelly’s directories show he lived at 6 Prior’s Terrace, Tynemouth, but likely had other residences, possibly including one at Howick. He married Louisa Warden Parr in 1888 in Chorlton, Lancashire. She was born in North Shields. They had sons Hilton, Roland Thirlwall and Thirlwall, and a daughter, Vera. Roland was a philanthropist like the rest of his family, and gave the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade £2000 for a searchlight to help rescuers.

Mr John H. Watson, a founder and later Secretary of the PCHA, established the Newcastle Poor Children’s Holiday Association and Rescue Agency in 1888, to tackle the impact of poverty on children and bring homeless children off the streets (EP 10/75). When on holiday he came up with the idea of taking children from the slum areas of Read more