Sunderland hospital’s 120 years of mental health care

A ward at Cherry Knowle - probably in the 1920s.
A ward at Cherry Knowle - probably in the 1920s.
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A RARE glimpse of life behind the walls of a Wearside institution will be on offer next week.

The end of 120 years of mental health care at the former Cherry Knowle Hospital is to be marked by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust (NTW) by an exhibition.

The original Cherry Knowle Farm at Ryhope.

The original Cherry Knowle Farm at Ryhope.

Former and current staff, as well as local residents, have been asked to share their memories and photos for a week-long display at the Barton Centre, Hopewood Park, Ryhope.

“NTW’s lease on the site will expire on February 28, when it’s handed back to the Homes and Communities Agency,” said trust chairman Hugh Morgan Williams.

“As we close this chapter on the trust’s history, this exhibition will give us the chance to illustrate the improvements which have been made to look after those who are mentally ill.”

Wearsiders in need of mental health treatment were forced to travel to Sedgefield, home of Durham County Asylum, in Victorian times - which offered beds for 700 patients.

Staff relaxing in the staff common room in the 1920s.

Staff relaxing in the staff common room in the 1920s.

Local councillors finally decided, however, that Sunderland needed its own hospital in 1891 - with construction of the £161,000 complex beginning at Ryhope in 1893. Builders used more than five million bricks, 1,000 tons of cement, 1,000 tons of lime, 1,200 tons of stone and 100 tons of iron girders to craft the new complex.

Two years, and 10,000 yards of drains later, Sunderland Borough Lunatic Asylum opened on May 16, 1895. Some 50 years later the hospital was renamed Cherry Knowle.

“George Thomas Hine was chosen as the architect, with the site picked for its rural location and sea views,” said Norman Kirtlan, map archivist for Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“Councillors wanted the place to be somewhere “pauper lunatics could find solace and safety” and Hine produced a compact layout featuring six blocks of wards and facilities.

A surprise visitor to the front entrance of Cherry Knowle in the 1920s.

A surprise visitor to the front entrance of Cherry Knowle in the 1920s.

“Other features included a combined recreation hall and chapel, a nurses’ block, lodge cottage, cottages for married staff, a superintendent’s residence and an isolation hospital.

“A villa block was added in 1902 and Cherry Knowle Farm formed a major part of the hospital as, along with the bakehouse, it provided much of the food required for patients.”

Further developments took place from the 1930s onwards, including the construction of an admissions hospital, convalescent villas and a major extension to the nurses’ home.

And World War Two saw emergency medical service huts erected close to the main gate to treat soldiers injured at Dunkirk - the buildings later becoming Ryhope General Hospital.

“The site finally became known as Cherry Knowle Hospital after being incorporated into the National Health Service in 1948 - named after the farm which thrived on the site,” said Norman.

“Later developments under the NHS included a new boiler house and accommodation for staff but, as community care services developed, many of the older buildings were closed.”

Today the hospital which provided a refuge for generations of Wearsiders stands empty, with nearby Hopewood Park - a purpose-built £50million hospital - replacing Cherry Knowle.

Memories of the old institution live on, however, through these photos from the archives of Sunderland Antiquarian Society - many taken by former staff member Frank Denton.

“Little remains of the original buildings but, with images like these, former employees and patients will have a permanent reference in the archives of our society,” added Norman.

•The week-long exhibition of Cherry Knowle photos will be held at the Barton Centre, at Hopewood Park, from February 23.

The patient:

DINGWELL Bailey Tate - first-born son of Wearside painter Dingwell Tate - was committed to Cherry Knowle after ‘suffering a breakdown’ following his grandfather’s suicide.

His father, Dingwell senior, had born in Bishopwearmouth in 1859 and, after serving an apprenticeship as a carver/guilder, made his name as an artist and photographer.

“Mr Tate was often seen sitting on a portable stool, sketch pad and paints in hand, busily capturing images of his beloved Bishopwearmouth,” said Norman.

However, as Dingwell senior was enjoying artistic success, his son Dingwell junior was struggling with life - suffering from both mental and physical health problems.

“It has been said that young Dingwell had problems with a burst mastoid, a bone behind the ear, and this apparently led to him falling foul of the law,” said Norman.

“He also had to struggle with the suicide of his grandfather in 1903, after the elderly gent cut his own throat at the family home on Christmas Day and later died.

“Young Dingwell was obviously burdened by many problems and eventually moved to Yorkshire, but saw out his final days at Cherry Knowle, where he died aged 59.

“Dingwell senior later fell on hard times too, and it would be the poor house of his beloved Bishopwearmouth that would fund pauper’s funerals for him and his wife.”

The photographer:

FRIENDS and comrades fell around him as Frank Denton faced down posion gas, grenades, shells and bayonets to fight for King and Country in the First World War.

His work as a signaller saw the former office boy sent ahead of the front line to lay vital lines of communications in no-man’s land – one of the most dangerous of battlefield tasks.

But Grangetown-born Francis managed to survive against the odds – falling victim to illness rather than wounds in 1918. A job at Cherry Knowle beckoned on his return home.

“He took on an office job in town at first, before securing a clerical post at Cherry Knowle - where he met his bride-to-be, Isabel, who was a baker at the hospital,” said Norman,

“Frank then worked his way up to become assistant secretary and, when not working, he enjoyed taking photographs of beaches, parks, rivers, streets and, luckily, the hospital.

“He really captured the spirit of Cherry Knowle in the 1920s, taking photos of everything from the staff room with its ornate fireplace to the games room and staff accommodation.

“There are also images of the carnivals enjoyed by staff and patients, as well as fancy dress parties and races, His photos provide a unique glimpse behind the walls of a Wearside institution.”