Oh my - Middleton Camp was the place to be for Sunderland children

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Our recent look back at school visits to Derwent Hill brought memories flooding back for many readers.

Thousands of you went there and told us all about those great times.

There were often so many pupils wanting to attend that ballots had to be held in schools

Philip Curtis

But it wasn’t the only place that the children of Wearside went to for life-changing adventures away from home.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, takes a look at another favourite place which many of you may remember.

Derwent Hill was a hugely popular place for the children of Sunderland.

And our features on it had many of you sharing your fond memories of the past.

It seems therefore appropriate to recall similar visits to Sunderland’s other major venue for outdoor activities, which was Middleton Camp.

For the uninitiated, it could be found in Middleton-in-Teesdale and the camp had originally been an old school building.

It was bought in 1921 for £960 by the Sunderland Branch of EHA, which was an association which had been formed for the development of modern school practices.

The powers that be felt that visits to the camp would prove character-building for children.

The main part of the building was quickly altered so that it could become a dormitory, complete with bunk beds and lockers.

It all seemed very basic and primitive and some children even likened it to a prisoner-of war camp.

There was also an adjoining dining hall where children would get to have their evening meals.

But as well as enjoying the visits, the youngsters did have to chip in with some duties of their own. The pupils were expected to assist with chores and they included doing the washing up and helping with the cleaning.

Daytime food was always eaten out of doors and it was made up of a daily packed lunch.

The camp did not have many home comforts; for many years there was no central heating and the toilet block was to be found outside.

It was not until the early 1970s that these were improved, with a small recreation room for table tennis also being opened.

The camp was always full of pupils from Sunderland schools and, very often, up to three schools would be there at the same time with all of the children sharing the facilities.

For many children, it was the first time that they had been away from home without their parents so it felt a little like the adventure of a lifetime for them.

Perhaps the popularity of Middleton Camp can be illustrated by the way that children were sometimes chosen to visit it.

There were often so many pupils wanting to attend that ballots had to be held in schools.

Inter-school competitions were often organised at the camp by the accompanying teachers and, during the day, all pupils took part in outdoor activities which included walks to Kirkcarrion, Wynch Bridge, Fairy Dell and Cow Green.

A day trip to Barnard Castle was also usually on the agenda.

Most children loved their stay but there were always one or two pupils who were so homesick that they had to return home early. That was something that never occurred at Derwent Hill as it was much further away.

Usually a teacher from the school would travel out and collect a tearful child for reunion with their parents.

No doubt a few Echo readers will recall the camp song which went like this:

“They say at Middleton Camp the peas are very fine,

One flew off the table and killed a bunch of nine.

Oh my, Oh my at Middleton Camp the peas are very fine

Gee but I want to go home

Gee but I want to go home.”

However, for thousands of Wearside youngsters Middleton Camp WAS character building as well as being a great place for a great adventure.

It closed in 1988 having served Wearside pupils for almost seventy years.

If you have any memories of Middleton Camp email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk