Sanatorium Stories Inspire Radio Play

The former Stannington Sanatorium in Northumberland is soon to be featured in a play on BBC Radio 4 by Newcastle University’s senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Margaret Wilkinson. She has been working with The Northumberland Archives who hold the records of the sanatorium.

Established in 1907 by the Poor Children’s Holiday Association, now known as Children North East, it was the first purpose built Tuberculosis sanatorium for children in Britain, and provided the children with an airy, light hospital that had its own X-ray department, operating theatre and school.

The Northumberland Archives hold a large collection of the Stannington Sanatorium’s records, including the patients’ medical files from 1937-1966, which have been conserved and digitised in a two-year Wellcome Trust funded project. Letters from these patient files, matron’s report books, and other records from the Stannington Sanatorium collection have helped playwright Margaret Wilkinson in writing the play. She has also used recorded interviews from the archives and spoken to former staff from the sanatorium, to create new characters inspired by real people and events. The reminiscences of Marjorie Wilson were an inspiration to her. Marjorie joined the team at Stannington Sanatorium as student Nurse Dawson back in 1949. A coal miner’s daughter from Newbiggin by the Sea, she applied to nurse unbeknown to her family and found that she loved the work. In the radio play, Marjorie is played as a young woman by Jennifer Carss and as an older lady by Dame Sian Phillips.

Margaret has used archival research in many of her plays before, including working with post graduate students to tell the story of the 1649 Newcastle witch trials in The Newcastle Witches, performed at the Newcastle Guildhall in 2014. Margaret’s play Queen Bee has been performed at the Northern Stage and 8 other venues, and Blue Boy has been performed at a number of venues including the Durham Literary festival. She won the Northern Writer’s awards Time to Write award in 2000. Margaret hopes to write more plays based on other Northumberland Archives collections in the future.

The Head of Collections at Northumberland Archives Sue Wood said, “We are thrilled that Margaret has chosen to write a play on the Stannington Sanatorium collection for Writing the Century. It is such an important collection in our archive, and we are very grateful we have had funding from the Wellcome Trust to preserve it for the future.

“Though the documents are used by former patients, their families, and researchers into the history of Tuberculosis treatment and children’s hospitals, this will spread their stories to a much wider audience. We are looking forward to hearing Margaret’s dramatization, all of the team will be tuning in.”

The play will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 each day from Monday 3rd October to Friday 7th October at 10.45am, with a repeat at 7.45pm.

The Northumberland Archives’ Stannington Sanatorium project is now in its second phase, with staff conserving and digitising the 4095 patient files from 1946 – 1966 to ensure their preservation for the future. Digitised images with personal information removed, are being attached to the Northumberland Archives online catalogue, making them available to search through their website. Examples of files are available on Flickr and give an idea of the types of Tuberculosis the patients suffered from, and how the different forms of the disease were treated over time. In the Archives’ blog staff also look at some of the more unusual medical cases and the social side of life in the sanatorium too.

Anyone wishing to learn more about Stannington Sanatorium’s history and the work of the project can look at the online exhibition, the project’s blog, and their new Flickr set of the patient files.

Online exhibition
Project blog
Flickr collection

Printed from Woodhorn web site.
URL: http://www.experiencewoodhorn.com/sanatorium-play/
Printed: 16/07/2018
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