Reunion for Cherry Knowle staff proves a sell-out success

Cherry Knowle Garden Fete in August 1986.
Cherry Knowle Garden Fete in August 1986.
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A chance meeting at a shopping complex sparked plans for a reunion of Wearside health workers – which has already proved a sell-out success.

More than 200 Cherry Knowle Hospital staff, both past and present, will descend on the Barnes Hotel this April for a get-together.

Staff relaxing in the common room at Cherry Knowle in the 1920s.

Staff relaxing in the common room at Cherry Knowle in the 1920s.

All profits will be donated to a mental health project.

“I was out shopping at Dalton Park one day when I bumped into Liz Bowler, who was a ward sister at the same time as me,” said Linda Baxter-Rodler.

“We hadn’t seen each other for years and, as we chatted, the idea for a reunion came up. We used Facebook to advertise it, and things just snowballed.”

Wearsiders were forced to travel to Sedgefield for mental health care in Victorian times – until a £161,000 hospital at Ryhope was built.

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Cherry Knowle Carnival - 1920s  and 30s (Private is Tommy Young)

copy pic Cherry Knowle Carnival - 1920s and 30s (Private is Tommy Young)

Designed by architect George Hine, work began in 1893 and involved five million bricks, 1,000 tons of cement and 100 tons of iron girders.

Two years, and 10,000 yards of drains later, Sunderland Borough Lunatic Asylum opened. It was later re-named Cherry Knowle.

“When I first started in the 1970s the hospital still had fireplaces, which we had to light each morning for the patients,” recalls Linda.“It was a thriving little community, with its own laundry, farm and catering. Staff worked together and socialised together.

“There was always something going on, from parties, to garden fetes and pantomimes. It was like an extended family.”

Nurses and cadets at Cherry Knowle Hospital pictured in December 1974.

Nurses and cadets at Cherry Knowle Hospital pictured in December 1974.

Linda left to live in America in the late 1980s and, in 1998, the main Cherry Knowle building, The Laurels, closed.

Today little remains of the old hospital but, as the popularity of reunion proves, the place still holds fond memories for many people.

“It was certainly a great place to work,” said Linda.

** Find out more about the reunion via the Facebook page “I work/worked/drank at Cherry Knowle”.

Cherry Knowle Hospital  January 1979.

Cherry Knowle Hospital January 1979.

The entrance to The Laurels - the largest building on the Cherry Knowle site - pictured in the 1920s.

The entrance to The Laurels - the largest building on the Cherry Knowle site - pictured in the 1920s.