All the fun of Middleton Camp - Sunderland visitors remember trips to Fairy Dell, outdoor meals, and doing the washing up

Who remembers Middleton Camp – the outdoor adventure place which was so popular that you often had to win a ballot to go there?

Love it or hate it, children from Sunderland flocked in their hundreds to this former school building in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Philip Curtis, from Sunderland Antiquarian Society, tell us more.

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Middleton Camp was bought in 1921 for £960 by the Sunderland Branch of the Educational Development Association.

Memories of Middleton Camp.

It was felt that visits to the camp would prove character-building for children. The main part of the building was quickly altered to become a dormitory with bunk beds and lockers.

It all seemed very basic and primitive.

Eating in the open air

There was an adjoining dining hall where evening meals were taken and pupils were expected to assist with chores, including the washing up and cleaning.

These pupils were doing the chores for the last class at Middleton Camp in 1989.

Daytime food was always eaten out of doors and comprised of a daily packed lunch.

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

Fun walks to Fairy Dell

Walks to places such as Fairy Dell were regular attractions at Middleton Camp.
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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, Mr Curtis told the Sunderland Echo.

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Map reading at Middleton Camp in 1989. These pupils were all from Southmoor School.

Most children loved their stay but there were always one or two pupils who were so homesick that they had to return home early. Usually a teacher from the school would travel out and collect a tearful child for reunion with their parents.

70 years of serving Sunderland children

However, for thousands of Wearside youngsters Middleton Camp was character-building as well as a great adventure. It closed in 1990 having served Wearside pupils for almost 70 years.

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Philip’s feature on Middleton Camp is just one of the great articles in the monthly Antiquarian Society newsletter.

The society also welcomes people to its Heritage Centre which is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9.30am to 12pm.

Get along to enjoy huge collections of old pictures, newspapers, books and much more.

Did you spend time at Middleton Camp?
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It also has a website with information on the history of Sunderland including a members area with features and photographs. The society now has more than 1,400 members.

The Antiquarian Society, which was founded in 1900, holds extensive archives which were amassed and donated by people from the Sunderland area.

To find out more, visit the Antiquarian Society’s Facebook page or its website at

And to apply to become a member, email [email protected]

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Peeling the potatoes.
Did you love a trip to Middleton Camp?