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Wheelbirks Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Wheelbirks - January 2017

History

Wheelbirks is a small rural part of Northumbria, located to the south of Hadrian’s Wall. According to several historical books, there have been farmsteads in the area since the 16th century. It was David Richardson, though, who would have the greatest influence in transforming the area. Richardson, who was a Quaker and the owner of some of the largest tanneries in the country, moved to the area in 1882. The family has a long history as tanners, tracing as far back as the mid-16th century to a site based at Great Ayton, Cleveland, so they had a considerable amount of wealth and influence. 

In 1902, Richardson started work on replacing the original farmhouse at Wheelbirks with a Restrained Gothic style farmhouse and several small cottages. By 1911, the area was completely transformed, having changed from a small farmstead into a fully-fledged estate. Further development was prompted a few months after completion following an outbreak of tuberculosis (TB) inside Richardson’s tanneries. During the early 1900s, for instance, the works located at Elswick were reported to have a high incidence of the disease. 

The sanatorium itself is a cruciform construction of steel-reinforced concrete, white engineering brick and glass. It was designed to appear as if it is standing on stilts in a hollow; three bridges attached to the main entrances of the building helped to create the illusion.  The design of the structure, which is reportedly American-based, and its chosen setting is said to have comprised a fresh-air method of treatment whereby patients would be surrounded by countryside and a clean, unpolluted environment. Unfortunately, Richardson never witnessed the completion of the sanatorium because it remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1913. In the end, the building was never used to treat TB sufferers because developments in antibiotics led to important changes in how TB was treated, to the extent that the use of isolated hospitals was rendered unnecessary. 

Today, the sanatorium is in a dilapidated condition. The interior is badly damaged and almost completely stripped, and the outside is clearly showing its age. In addition, one of the entrance bridges appears to be missing; there is some evidence that one existed on the western side of the building. Despite its condition, there is evidence that a local farmer has commandeered the space, using it as a storage site for various pieces of farm equipment and a random collection of boats. 

Our Version of Events

Prior to visiting the Wheelbirks TB Sanatorium, we were warned that some stealthy moves would be required as there is an active farm overlooking the premises. With this is mind, we parked several miles away and decided to have a wander through the woods, to approach the building from the rear. Taking the necessary precautions, we camo’d up, slapping on a few streaks of black paint across our cheeks that we happened to have lying around for full effect. The walk that followed was itself quite pleasurable as we navigated our way along the side of a stream that runs close by the sanatorium. If anything, with tripods in our arms it felt a bit like we were stalking a predator (the extra-terrestrial kind, not a paedophile). Thankfully we weren’t, though, because if one really had been skulking around alongside us our attempt to fend it off would have been a very shit addition to the sequels. 

The building appeared all of a sudden, lurking behind a thin cluster of trees just ahead. It was just as everyone has described it: American. It was certainly different, but I can’t say it struck us as the most aesthetically pleasing building in England. However, before we could stand in awe for any longer, as we were peering out from the treeline, we suddenly noticed that the pre-warnings about the farm next door and there being lots of activity were quite accurate. The farm was a veritable hive of activity, with cars coming and going and a hardened sentry equipped with a set of heavy-duty binoculars sitting on the roof. What is more, just ahead in the next field there appeared to be a shooting party. It wasn’t very clear what they were shooting at, but they all looked the business with their flat caps, tweed jackets and 4x4s. 

Taking care not to get shot, we crept up to the old sanatorium waving a fresh Kleenex tissue for good measure. From there, choosing a point of entry wasn’t particularly difficult as all the doors were either missing or wide open. Once inside, it was immediately apparent that local farmers and the nearby ice cream parlour are using the site as a makeshift storage facility. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be storing any ice creams in the big freezer though. That’s right, we checked. The main floor, which I would assume is the ground floor (the design of the building is a bit odd having been constructed in a hollow), is filled with bicycles, boats and farm equipment. Downstairs is being used in a similar way, although a lot of the gear down there appears to be quite dated. As for the upper floors of the building, they are absolutely fucked. With the sheer number of holes in the walls, it would appear as though the guys over in the field are in much need of some target practice. There is only really one room that might be of interest to anyone passing through, and that is the one filled with old-ish whisky bottles and newspapers. 

We decided to call it a day after taking a quick look around the upstairs rooms. There wasn’t much left to see, and the group of would-be mercenaries in the field opposite seemed to be packing up to leave. The first few land rovers were already leaving the field and forming a Mad Max style convoy. The last farmer who was closing the gate even seemed to have a large speaker system mounted on the back of his Toyota Hilux. We ducked beneath a window ledge for a moment as the convoy roared past us, then when everything went quiet again headed back towards the woods to face our trek back to the car. 

Explored with LightSaber. 
 

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That definitely is an extremely American looking building. I never would have guessed that was to be a sanitarium at one point had I driven by it. It looks like what it seems to be used for now though, an old rural farmhouse with a few odd design choices and more windows than normal. 

 

I really like the shots with the bright wallpaper and fine drink though, thanks for sharing. :comp:

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Really like 6 & 16 :) 

nice to see something new, I love the old sanatorium's. This looks relatively small in comparison with some I've seen but designed similarly with a fascia of glass. 

Write up is sound as always :thumb 

 

:comp: 

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