V.A.D. Hospitals in Northumberland and Durham


The assistance of Alan Vickers and James Pasby is gratefully acknowledged.

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In early times medical care on the battlefield was practically non-existent. If one was unfortunate enough to be seriously wounded, the best one could hope for was a speedy despatch from the scavengers who swarmed on to the battlefield to loot the corpses of the fallen. A person of high birth might expect slightly better treatment - a live body to ransom was worth more than a dead one.

During the nineteenth century war became more devastating due to technological advances in armaments, and educated people began to concern themselves with the provision of humanitarian aid to casualties. The Red Cross was formed in 1863 following the Battle of Solferino, and the first Geneva Convention on the treatment of battlefield casualties was signed a year later.

In Britain, the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War was formed in 1870, and operated under the Red Cross emblem during the Franco-Prussian War and several other conflicts towards the end of the 19th century. In 1905 it became the British Red Cross Society.

In 1909 the British Red Cross Society was given the role of providing supplementary aid to the Territorial Forces Medical Service in the event of war. In order to provide trained personnel for this task, county branches of the British Red Cross Society organised units called Voluntary Aid Detachments. All Voluntary Aid Detachment members, who came to be known simply as "V.A.D.'s" were trained in First Aid and Nursing. Within twelve months they numbered well over 6000.

Following the outbreak of war in 1914 the number of Detachments increased dramatically. The British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem, a body which was also empowered to raise detachments under the War Office Voluntary Aid Scheme, combined to form the Joint War Committee in order to administer their wartime relief work with the greatest possible efficiency and economy, under the protection of the Red Cross emblem and name.

V.A.D.'s, who initially were mostly middle-class women eager to "do their bit," performed a variety of duties. At home the organisation administered auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes and much of the V.A.D. service consisted of general nursing duties and administering first aid. Qualified nurses were also employed to work in these establishments. In addition, clerical and kitchen duties were performed by V.A.D.'s, and as many men were engaged in military service, female V.A.D.'s took on roles such as ambulance drivers, civil defence workers and welfare officers.

The first V.A.D. hospital to be opened in the north east appears to have been at West Hartlepool, where a V.A.D. detachment formed by Dr H.W.M. Strover had been registered at the War Office as early as June 29th 1911. On the outbreak of war it was determined that there was insufficient hospital accommodation for the large garrison in the town. At the instigation of Lt-Colonel Robson, the Garrison Commander, a V.A.D. hospital with 25 beds was created in the Masonic Hall on August 9th 1914, and the first patients were admitted 2 days later. Dr Henry Strover was the Medical Officer and his wife Margaret was the Commandant.

Margaret Strover - Commandant, West Hartlepool VAD Hospital

Margaret Strover ARRC
Commandant, West Hartlepool VAD Hospital 1914-16 and 1918-19
(see ref. 1)

During the bombardment of Hartlepool by the German Navy on 16th December 1914 conditions in the hospital were described as being like a casualty clearing station near the front line, and the building itself was struck by a shell. Eventually the building became too small for the purpose, and the hospital was relocated in June 1915 to Normanhurst, a large house on the outskirts of the town, loaned by Sir William Cresswell Gray.

Normanhurst - West Hartlepool VAD Hospital

Dr Henry Strover and the Nursing staff at Normanhurst, West Hartlepool
(see ref. 1)

Many other V.A.D. Hospitals were located in similar large houses which had been loaned for the purpose by their owners. For example, Howick Hall in Northumberland was loaned by Albert, 4th Earl Grey, and his daughter Sybil served there as a nurse.

Sybil Grey as a V.A.D. nurse

Sybil Grey in V.A.D. uniform at Howick Hall
(photograph courtesy of Mrs J Smillie)

Some of them were located in previously existing hospitals - for example Hebburn Hall, the former home of the Ellison family, which had been converted into an infirmary for the town in 1896. On Teesside the Ropner Convalescent Home at Middleton St. George, endowed in 1897 by Robert and Mary Anne Ropner (of the Stockton shipbuilding family), was pressed into service as the 24th Durham V.A. Hospital. The Richard Murray Hospital in Blackhill and Ashington Infirmary also fall into this category. In these instances it seems likely that the V.A.D. operation was in addition to the normal hospital facilities. Things did not always run smoothly; in 1916 a dispute arose between the War Office and the Matron of the Richard Murray Hospital in Blackhill. This resulted in the immediate closure of the hospital. It remained closed until 1919, much to the annoyance of the local population, who had seen it open in 1914 only to be immediately commandeered by the military.

In Hexham the pre-existing convalescent home in Hextol Terrace became the 3rd Northumberland V.A.D. hospital, with an annexe in nearby Cotfield House. The Commandant here was Marjorie Henderson, whose father, Charles Henderson, owned Hexham racecourse. On 21st November 1915 the Hexham Courant reported the arrival in Hexham of a batch of wounded soldiers; "for the first time in living history, though it is possible wounded might have arrived in Hexham during Wellington's Netherlands campaign." The party comprised English, French and Belgian soldiers, who were convalescing after treatment at Armstrong College, Newcastle, itself commandeered for the duration of the war as the Northern General War Hospital. This unusual event would have become all too familiar 12 months later after the carnage of the Somme.

Not all offers of premises were taken up; Lady John Joicey-Cecil offered the use of Newton Hall, Stocksfield, as a convalescent home in August 1914 but this proposal does not appear to have been taken up. Nor was Hexham Rural Council's offer of the Lightwater Hospital in Hexham. (This had been built in anticipation of a smallpox epidemic but had not received any patients.)

Lizzie E Greers - Haggerston VAD Hospital

Lizzie E. Greers(?) - Haggerston Castle
(When lit obliquely the inscription appears to be Greers, and according to the
British Nursing Journal a Sister Greer was transferred to service in Calais in January 1916)

V.A.D. hospitals received the sum of 3 shillings per day for each patient from the War Office, and were expected to raise additional funds themselves. This was not difficult in those patriotic times, and the local newspapers regularly carried lists of gifts received - anonymous donations did not seem to be the fashion! The accounts for the 14th Northumberland V.A.D. hospital at Holeyn Hall*, Wylam makes interesting reading:-

Holeyn Hall accounts

Holeyn Hall annual accounts for 1916
(from the Hexham Courant - 24th March 1917

During the year Holeyn Hall had treated 367 patients at an average cost of 3s. 9d. per day, so the War Office allowance accounted for only 80% of the cost. (A report on Ashburne Hospital in Sunderland indicated the costs there were similar at 3s. 6d per day.)

* Holeyn Hall, the private residence of Sir Charles Parsons, opened as a V.A.D. hospital on 5th November 1915, and during the conflict a total of 1234 convalescing patients passed through its doors.

In all, 27 hospitals were set up in County Durham (although the numbering extends to 28 there does not appear to have been a no. 26) and 17 in Northumberland. The following tables give a full list, with the current (in 2007) status of the buildings in which they were housed 2.


UnitLocationPresent Status
1st Durham VA HospitalWhinney House & Saltwell Towers, GatesheadWhinney House - Gateshead Academy for Torah Studies
Saltwell Towers - coffee shop and resource centre within Saltwell Park
2nd Durham VA HospitalSeamans Mission, Mill Dam, South ShieldsSeamans Mission
3rd Durham VA HospitalHammerton House, 4 Gray Road, SunderlandPrivate residences (building extensively modified)
4th Durham VA HospitalJeffrey Hall, Monk Street, MonkwearmouthDemolished
5th Durham VA Hospital17 North Bailey, DurhamPart of St Chad's College, University of Durham
6th Durham VA HospitalWoodside, Blackwell Lane, Darlington*Demolished in 1938
7th Durham VA HospitalBrancepeth CastlePrivate residence
8th Durham VA HospitalNormanhurst, Grange Road, West Hartlepool§Public House - the "White House"
9th Durham VA HospitalLong Room, Chilton MoorDemolished
10th Durham VA HospitalMayfield, Pine Street, JarrowDemolished during 1970's
11th Durham VA HospitalSocial Centre, SunderlandNow the Royalty Theatre, Sunderland
12th Durham VA HospitalRichard Murray Hospital, BlackhillDemolished
13th Durham VA HospitalVane House, DawdonDemolished
14th Durham VA HospitalMorton House, Fence HousesPrivate residence
15th Durham VA HospitalDrill Hall, Parklands, Castle EdenDemolished
16th Durham VA HospitalShotley House, The Terrace, Shotley BridgePrivate residence
17th Durham VA HospitalThe Red House, EtherleyDemolished
18th Durham VA HospitalHebburn Hall, HebburnPrivate apartments
19th Durham VA HospitalWindlestone Hall, RushyfordVacant (owned by Durham County Council)
20th Durham VA HospitalSt Gabriel's Institute, Kayll Road, SunderlandChurch Hall
21st Durham VA HospitalHerrington Hall, West Herrington, SunderlandDemolished during 1960's
22nd Durham VA HospitalMission House, Evesham Road, New SeahamDemolished
23rd Durham VA HospitalRiversdale, Ashville Avenue, EaglescliffePrivate residence (now known as Riversdale Grange)
24th Durham VA HospitalRopner Convalescent Home, Middleton Lane, Middleton St. GeorgeClosed 1999 and converted into private apartments.
25th Durham VA HospitalAshburne, Ryhope Road, SunderlandIncorporated into Sunderland University Department of Arts and Design
27th Durham VA HospitalBenfieldside House, Benfieldside Road, Shotley BridgeDemolished circa 1960
28th Durham VA HospitalSeaham Hall, Seaham HarbourHotel

* This hospital was originally established in the Friends' Meeting House, Darlington.
§ This hospital was originally established in the Masonic Hall.
This hospital was originally established at "Joanville", Eaglescliffe.

Mill Dam

Staff at the Mill Dam VAD Hospital, South Shields
(The soldiers in uniform are not wearing "Hospital Blues" and are therefore unlikely to be patients)


Staff of Woodside Hospital, Darlington
(believed to have been taken post-Armistice, before the closure of the hospital)


Ropner Convalescent Home - mid-1920's

Etherley House

Etherley House

Etherley House, near Bishop Auckland circa 1916
(photographs courtesy of Alan Vickers, whose mother, Annie Watson, is standing centre front in each)


UnitLocationPresent Status
1st Northumberland VA HospitalHowick Hall, LesburyPrivate residence (gardens open to the public)
2nd Northumberland VA HospitalHaggerston CastleDemolished in 1931
3rd Northumberland VA HospitalHextol Terrace and Cotfield House, HexhamCotfield House - private residence
4th Northumberland VA HospitalDilston Hall, CorbridgeMENCAP FE College
5th Northumberland VA Hospital48 Percy Gardens, TynemouthPrivate residence
6th Northumberland VA HospitalBorough Hall, Wellway, Morpeth and Moore House, WhaltonBorough Hall - Accountancy Practice
Moore House - private residence
7th Northumberland VA HospitalOxford House, Oxford Street, Whitley BayExact location unknown
8th Northumberland VA HospitalAlnwick Castle*Demolished
9th Northumberland VA HospitalChesters House, HumshaughPrivate residence
10th Northumberland VA HospitalPendower Hall & 6, Kensington Terrace, Newcastle upon TynePendower Hall - semi derelict
6, Kensington Terrace - Newcastle University Administration Buildings
11th Northumberland VA HospitalWoolsington CampWoolsington Hall - semi derelict
12th Northumberland VA HospitalFowberry Towers & Hetton House, WoolerPrivate residences
13th Northumberland VA HospitalEtal Manor, Cornhill-on-TweedPrivate residence
14th Northumberland VA HospitalHoleyn Hall, WylamPrivate residence
15th Northumberland VA HospitalBrinkburn High House, PauperhaughPrivate residence
16th Northumberland VA HospitalAshington Infirmary, AshingtonDemolished
17th Northumberland VA HospitalCallaly CastlePrivate residences

* This hospital was originally established at the Duchess's School, Alnwick.

One auxiliary hospital in Northumberland at this time is missing from the above list - Linden Hall near Longhorsley. Unlike the others, this establishment was not under the jurisdiction of the Red Cross and the Order of St. John. It was instead a private venture run by two redoubtable ladies - Muriel and Eve Adamson, the daughters of Colonel John Adamson, the owner of the hall. Both received the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) in recognition of their work during the war. (Linden Hall is now a luxury hotel)

Convalescing soldiers at Linden Hall

A group of convalescing soldiers at Linden Hall

The following photograph is somewhat enigmatic. On the reverse side it is signed; "Yours Sincerely, Frank Grady, V.A.D. Hospital, Hunters Rd, Spital Tongues, Newcastle." There is, however, no corresponding entry in the above table. There certainly was a hospital in Hunters Road; it was originally the "Home for Incurables". It is possible that a part of it was occupied by a VAD unit, perhaps associated with the 10th Northumberland VA Hospital. The building was demolished in 2011 for the construction of a new primary school.

Convalescing soldiers

A group of convalescing soldiers at Spital Tongues, Newcastle

As might be expected, the dedication shown by those at work in these establishments led to a number of the women receiving awards or honours, and in a country that badly needed heroic role models the press were only too ready to publish the fact.

RED Cross awards

Hexham Courant - 27th October 1917

In all, 54 women received this or a similar award for war hospital service in Northumberland and Durham; a full list of these is given in the table below:-

Adamson, Miss Catherine EveNurse, Linden Auxiliary Hospital, Longhorsley, NorthumberlandRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Adamson, Miss Muriel Annie PearlCommandant, Linden Auxiliary Hospital, Longhorsley, NorthumberlandRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Appleton, Mrs JanetQuartermaster, 1st Durham V.A. Hospital, Whinney House, and (subsequently) St John's Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Saltwell TowersMBE
Ballingall, Miss ConnieLady Superintendent and Matron, 4th Durham Auxiliary Hospital, Jeffrey Memorial Hall, SunderlandRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Booth, Mrs Isabella MaryAsst Commandant, 16th Northumberland V.A. Hospital, AshingtonRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Boyne, Viscountess Margaret SelinaOrganiser, Brancepeth Castle Auxiliary HospitalCBE
Brumell, Mrs MaryQuartermaster, 5th Northumberland Auxiliary Hospital, TynemouthMBE
Catcheside, Miss Florence WilsonCommandant, Auxiliary Hospital TynemouthRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Chittleburgh, Mrs LornaSister, Mayfield Auxiliary Hospital, Mayfield, Jarrow on TyneRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Coleman, Mrs Emma LongdonMatron, 3rd Northumberland Auxiliary Hospital, Convalescent Home, HexhamRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Corbitt, Miss L GertrudeCommandant, St Johns Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Saltwell Towers, GatesheadRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Cranage, Miss MargaretNursing Member, 4th Northumberland Auxiliary Hospital, Dilston HallRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Cuthbertson, Miss Margaret SharpeSister, 4th Durham Auxiliary Hospital, Jeffrey Memorial Hall, Sunderland Royal Red Cross 2nd Class
Dillon, Miss Nora GraceCommandant, 25th Durham V.A. Hospital, Ashburne, SunderlandRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Eden, Lady Sybil FrancesCommandant, 19th Durham Auxiliary Hospital, Windlestone Hall, FerryhillOBE
Eltringham, Mrs MaryMatron, 7th Northumberland V.A. Hospital, Whitley BayRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Errington, Mrs IsabelSuperintendent and Quartermaster, Shotley House Auxiliary Hospital, Shotley Bridge Royal Red Cross 2nd Class
Grey, Miss Mary LizetteOrganiser and Commandant, 13th Northumberland V.A. HospitalMBE
Hanby, Miss EthelCharge Sister, No. 7 Durham Auxiliary Hospital, Brancepeth CastleRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Henderson, Miss MarjorieCommandant, 3rd Northumberland V.A. Hospital, HexhamRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Hick, Mrs Annie ProwdeMatron, 23rd Durham V.A. Hospital, Riversdale, Eaglescliffe, DurhamRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Hopwood, Miss Elizabeth AliceMatron, 10th Northumberland V.A. Hospital, Pendower, Newcastle upon TyneRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
James, Mrs Diana LilyCommandant, 14th Northumberland V.A.D. Hospital, Holeyn HallMBE
Lambe, Miss Grace DarlingCharge Sister, 4th Northumberland V.A.D. Hospital, Dilston HallRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Leinster, Miss Elsie MaudeQuartermaster, 1st Durham V.A. Hospital, and St John's Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Saltwell TowersMBE
Marshall, Miss Isabel NortonV.A.D. Nurse, 10th Northumberland V.A. Hospital, Pendower, Newcastle upon TyneRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Mathewson, Miss MargaretMatron, Auxiliary Hospital, TynemouthRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Millar, Mrs Mary Catherine BrunoCharge Sister, 1st Durham V.A. Hospital, Whinney House, GatesheadRoyal Red Cross 1st Class
Newall, Mrs Ethel NestCommandant and Organiser of Auxiliary Hospital, Dilston Hall, CorbridgeOBE
Oldfield, Miss HannahMatron, 6th Northumberland Auxiliary Hospital, MorpethRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Palmer, Mrs MarianMatron and Commandant, 1st Durham V.A.D. Hospital, Whinney House and Saltwell Towers V.A. HospitalRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Pease, Miss EllaCommandant, 10th Northumberland V.A. Hospital, Pendower, Newcastle upon TyneOBE
Petter, Mrs Edith MaryCommandant, 6th Durham V.A. Hospital, DarlingtonOBE
Robinson, Miss Rose Ida5th Durham V.A. Hospital, North Bailey, DurhamRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Rogers, Mrs Elizabeth LouisaNursing Member, 11th Durham Auxiliary Hospital, SunderlandRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Rowell, Miss MaryV.A.D. Nurse, 5th Northumberland V.A. Hospital, Percy Gardens, TynemouthRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Scott, Miss IsabellaCommandant, 10th Durham V.A.D. Hospital, Mayfield, JarrowMBE
Shield, Mrs MargaretMatron, 20th Durham V.A. Hospital, St. Gabriel's, SunderlandRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Smith, Mrs Rosina H.Matron, Seaham Convalescent Home, DurhamRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Stalker, Mrs HenriettaMatron, 2nd Durham V.A. Hospital, South ShieldsRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Stobart, Mrs Jessica OctaviaCommandant, 17th Durham V.A. Hospital, Etherley, Bishop AucklandOBE
Streatfield, Mrs Evelyn OliveCommandant, Hammerton House Auxiliary Hospital, SunderlandOBE
Strover, Mrs Margaret AnnMatron and Commandant, 8th Durham V.A. Hospital, Normanhurst, W. HartlepoolRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Swallow, Mrs ClaraCommandant, 22nd Durham V.A. Hospital, Mission House, New SeahamMBE
Talbot, Mrs Kate Helen EthelMatron and Commandant, 24th Durham V.A. Hospital, Middleton St. George Royal Red Cross 1st Class
Thompson, Mrs MillicentMatron and Commandant, 14th Durham V.A. Hospital, Morton House, Co. DurhamRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Unthank, Miss Agnes ElizabethQuartermaster, 23rd Durham V.A.D., EaglescliffeMBE
Vaux, Mrs Emily Eve Lellamlate quartermaster, Hammerton House Auxiliary Hospital, SunderlandMBE
Vaux, Mrs MaryMatron and Commandant, 21st Durham V.A. Hospital, Herrington Hall, SunderlandRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Walker, Mrs Isabella ShearerCommandant, 18th Durham Auxiliary Hospital, Hebburn on TyneRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Wallace, Miss Charlotte KeirMatron, 3rd Durham Auxiliary Hospital, SunderlandRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Walton-Wilson, Miss Annie Cecilia ElfgyvaCommandant, Shotley House Auxiliary Hospital, Shotley Bridge Royal Red Cross 2nd Class
Warner, Miss Ethel MaryLady Superintendent, Auxiliary Hospital, Middleton St George, DurhamRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Wrightson, Miss HopeCommandant, 23rd Durham V.A. Hospital, Riversdale, EaglescliffeRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class
Wykesmith, Mrs MargaretMatron and Superintendent, A.N.S.R. No. 5 Durham Auxiliary HospitalRoyal Red Cross 2nd Class

Medals and certificates were also awarded by regional VAD organisations, and in some cases for service at particular hospitals; the examples shown below are, respectively, a medal awarded to Miss Annie Watson for service at Etherley House, Bishop Auckland, a medal awarded to Miss C. Venus for service given at Jeffrey Hall, Sunderland, and a certificate awarded to Mrs Ellen Davidson.

Durham VAD medalJeffrey Hall medal

Durham VAD certificate

The certificate is of particular interest as it lists all the Durham VAD hospitals, together with three additional entries - Tyne Garrison, Tees Garrison and Cambridge Hall. The first two entries probably refer to general duties carried out by volunteers (possibly male) at each of these garrisons, and not necessarily medical work. The third entry - Cambridge Hall, is a reference to the headquarters of the Northumberland and Durham Voluntary Aid Organisitions (Cen 3454 and 3440) at Cambridge Hall in Newcastle upon Tyne. This building was formerly the headquarters of the Northern Division R.A.M.C. and was the location of the 1st Northumbrian Field Ambulance and 1st Northern General Hospital. It was situated on the north side of Northumberland Road, between St James's Congregational Church and the Brady and Martin Chemical works. Today only the church remains, and the sites of Cambridge Hall and part of the Brady and Martin buildings are occupied by private apartments.

Surprisingly, very few of these buildings have any form of memorials commemorating this part of their history. Exceptions are St Gabriel's Church Hall3 in Kayll Road, Sunderland, and Linden Hall near Longhorsley:

St Gabriel's plaque

Plaque mounted on the wall of St Gabriel's Church Hall

Linden Hall certificate

Certificate on display at Linden Hall Hotel

1. From "THE HARTLEPOOLS IN THE GREAT WAR", by Frederick Miller, published in 1920 by Butler & Tanner. My thanks to James Pasby for bringing this out-of-print book to my attention

2. An extensive list of war hospitals can be found on the Kent VAD website

3. A short history of St Gabriel's time as a war hospital was included in a booklet written in 1938 to celebrate the Church's Silver Jubilee, and is reproduced here

Further information on VAD workers, in particular service in the battlefield, can be found on the Scarlet Finders website

© Patrick Brennan - February 2008, January 2011, Februaru 2014

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