Sanatorium stories are brought to light

The sun lounge at Stannington Sanatorium, 1926.
The sun lounge at Stannington Sanatorium, 1926.
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Morpeth Antiquarian Society

Members and many visitors were treated to a fascinating lecture on the oral history project, Voices Of Stannington Sanatorium, by Dr Liz O’ Donnell at the October meeting of Morpeth Antiquarian Society (MAS).

Liz sensitively presented the human stories of the sanatorium with memories and black and white photographs of patients, staff and the buildings, spanning 60 years.

“Never tell anyone you had tuberculosis” was how many families felt about TB, regarded as the scourge of Tyneside. With their permission, Liz was able to tell their stories, often for the first time.

One child patient had never told anyone throughout her life, other than her husband, about her illness. Decades later, being able to talk to Liz about her experiences came as a most welcome release.

Started in 1905, the Sanatorium for Consumptive Children at Stannington was the first in the country, and probably the world, established for the treatment of tuberculosis in children. Opened with 40 beds in 1907, it provided ‘modern’ methods of treatment. The wards were fitted with Vita glass, giving UV light, and an operating theatre, x-ray department and artificial light rooms were built.

But without drugs in the early days there was no cure. The main treatment was rest, good food, warmth and fresh air. Doses of cod liver oil, raw eggs and Virol malt were frequent.

But there was also good fun, as illustrated by photographs of fancy dress parties, games, painting and music.

Children were admitted from throughout the North East, with the length of stay varying from four months to seven years.

At first a teacher was appointed to work on the wards. In 1918 a Fresh Air School was established, followed by a purpose-built school, completed in 1932.

Visiting passes were restricted to two people, no children, for a few hours monthly. Some patients found it difficult to fit into family life when they returned home.

The Welcome Trust made money available for this research project, which is regarded as one of international medical importance.

Further information is available through Woodhorn Museum archives, or at www.northumberlandarchives.com/stannington-childrens-hospital

This includes an interactive tour of the hospital, which had only 14 TB patients in 1963 and closed in 1985.

Former patients, nursing and teaching staff at the meeting contributed to the conclusion of Liz O Donnell’s marvellous talk.

The next MAS meeting is tomorrow (Friday) when Julia Say will talk on Northumbrian Pipers In And Around Morpeth. The lecture is in St James’s Centre, Wellway, at 7.15pm, and visitors are most welcome. Admission is £3.