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September 22, 2021

Inside Stannington Sanatorium, the Very First Purpose-Built Children’s TB Hospital in the UK

Stannington Sanatorium was the first purpose-built children’s tuberculosis sanatorium in the UK which officially opened on October 5, 1907 near to the village of Stannington, Northumberland. The institution was established by a local charity, The Poor Children’s Holiday Association (PCHA), which developed into the modern-day charity Children North East, and also took contributions from local Poor Law Guardians for the upkeep of patients.

Tuberculosis at the beginning of the 20th century was one of the biggest killers in the UK, responsible for more deaths than any other disease. The disease had long been associated with poverty and poor living conditions and by establishing a dedicated institution the PCHA hoped to make a difference to the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children.

When the sanatorium first opened in 1907 it contained only 50 beds but high demand and generous donations soon saw it expand with many new wards and additional facilities added over the coming years. Stannington was the first TB sanatorium to open in the UK that was dedicated purely to the treatment of children. At this time, while national death rates from TB were still fairly high Stannington maintained comparatively low death rates. By 1928 the hospital had the capacity to treat 310 children and this was the maximum capacity the sanatorium was ever to reach.

The sanitorium witnessed a great number of important changes in the treatment of tuberculosis as well as significant social changes. For example, the introduction of Streptomycin in 1947 revolutionized treatment for some. The National Health Service took over the responsibility of the sanatorium in 1948 and it continued its work dedicated to the treatment of tuberculous children up until 1953 whereupon it became a general children’s hospital. With the introduction of effective antibiotic treatments in 1947 and an array of other public health measures, tuberculosis had now begun to steadily decline, however, even after this date it continued to take in tuberculosis patients. It continued its operations as an NHS children’s hospital until 1984 when it was closed completely. Many of the historic medical records were recovered when the hospital closed.

‘Senior girls - surgical cases’ at Stannington Sanatorium, the first British sanatorium for tuberculosis children in Morpeth, Northumberland.

Interior of ward for non-pulmonary boys, Stannington Sanatorium.

Outdoor terrace at Stannington enabling patients to spend maximum time in fresh air environment.

Group of children at Stannington Sanatorium.

An interior view of Stannington Sanatorium, 1926. The young patients can be seen resting in wicker chairs in a sun room. Exposure to sunlight was part of the core treatment for TB patients.

Inside of a ward at Stannington Sanatorium. The ward was decorated for the visit of HRH Duke of York on May 28, 1926 and features a large banner reading “Happiness” hung from the ceiling.

Four patients suffering from TB in Northumberland, 1945. They are shown getting fresh air and sunshine in large wicker hospital beds on wheels.

Young patients in bed on the verandah at Stannington Sanatorium, ca. 1946.

A young patient resting in bed outside, accompanied by three nurses at Stannington Sanatorium, ca. 1946.

Two young female patients on the verandah at Stannington Sanatorium, 1946.

A nurse with five male patients at Stannington Sanatorium, ca. 1946. They can be seen enjoying each others company in the snow.

A little girl dressed as a flower girl for a fancy dress party at Stannington Sanatorium, ca.1948.

A young girl, a former patient at Stannington Sanatorium, with a dolls’ pram. The girl’s mother bought her the pram so that she could walk without crutches, ca.1950s.

A nurse with a crowd of young patients on steps of Brough Ward (infant and younger girls) at Stannington Sanatorium in the summer of 1953.

Outside of Brough Ward at Stannington Sanatorium in 1953. The photograph shows a nurse outside with very young patients of the Sanatorium.

Artificial pneumothorax treatment being performed in Stannington.

The sun room at Stannington which allowed child patients to absorb the benefits of sunlight.

Charlotte Stephenson Ward interior.


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