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Seaham Hall Hotel

28th Durham Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital

Type: Hospital

Seaham Hall is located within its own private grounds on Lord Byrons Walk, Seaham. Constructed in circa 1790, the building underwent four main phases of occupation – aristocratic residence, war hospital, sanatorium, private commercial accommodation, between which are brief periods of abandonment lasting no longer than ten years.

As a private residence, Seaham Hall changed hands in terms of ownership for two times, before Frances Anne Vane-Tempest and Charles Stewart purchased the Hall from Sir John and Lady Milbanke in 1821. Charles Stewart later became the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry and pioneered a key urban expansion scheme that saw Seaham’s rapid commercialisation by constructing Seaham Harbour and setting up various collieries. Frances Anne Vane-Tempest, the Marchioness of Londonderry, oversaw the establishment of schools and churches within Seaham. The Marchioness was known to have lived in Seaham Hall for a decade as a widow, until her death.

Seaham Hall was donated to the government by the 7th Marquis (Charles Vane-Stewart-Tempest) and Lady Londonderry during the Marquis’ absence from Seaham – stationed on the Western Front with the Royal Horse Guard. The Seaham Hall Auxiliary Convalescent Hospital opened on 1 July 1915, to house wounded soldiers who were from Seaham District and under Lord Londonderry’s employment prior to the War. This included over 2500 workers within the Londonderry family’s mines, as well as service staff and gardeners – many of whom were assigned to the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry, which was deployed overseas.

The Hospital’s early operations consisted of only a skeleton staff structure:
– Nurse Noble as Matron
– Nurse Violet Atkins
– Dr./Major Dillon, civilian doctor in the Territorial Force
– Dr. Nealdon;
– And further staffed by the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.)

It also only operated on the ground floor of Seaham Hall, in which rooms were modified slightly to suit its new medical purpose:
– Large Drawing Room: recreation room with books and chairs
– Dining Room: ward containing 14 beds
– Billiard Room: ward containing six beds
– Brown Drawing Room: six beds
– Small Drawing Room: for the Matron and the V.A.D. Ladies

In the broader context of wartime north east, the grounds across Seaham Hall were entrenched by Company A of the 4th Battalion Durham Light Infantry from 1915, who were stationed at Seaham Harbour and district during the First World War. A zeppelin was allegedly sighted over Seaham Hall on the night of 5 April 1916, when Hull was bombed. The sighting was never confirmed.

The Hospital was later absorbed into the wider network of convalescent hospitals across the country, taking in soldiers from Northumberland, who would spend their final stages of recovery at Seaham Hall Hospital. By March 1918, there were over 100 beds in the Hospital itself, which had taken care of over 2700 wounded soldiers, and had been under the management of three matrons: Nurse Noble, Mrs. Smith and Miss Mosley. While the government bore the expense of maintenance and food, Lord Londonderry paid for all other expenses.

While showing rapid expansion to match up with wartime developments, Seaham Hall Hospital maintained some rules from its opening in 1915. Visiting hours were consistently 2-4pm every day, and no soldier was permitted to stay in Seaham Hall Hospital for over three months. The only exception was possibly a Mr. Williams, a soldier suffering from neuritis [nerve inflammation]. The Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry herself pled for his extended stay Seaham Hall after his recovery, as his wife was “delicate” and they had no children. Mr. Williams, if the plea was indeed successful, possibly remained at Seaham Hall as a guest of the Matron.

The Hospital was closed and Seaham Hall returned to the Londonderry family after the First Word War. By May 1922, many possessions within Seaham Hall were sold in auction, and the structure entered a period of abandonment.

The third phase of Seaham Hall was the government-managed, Seaham Hall Sanatorium. Opened 4 April 1928, the Sanatorium admitted 22 patients who were suffering from tuberculosis. It was staffed by a Day, and Night sister, staff nurses, probationers and other service staff. Seaham Hall underwent major alterations with the introduction of medical facilities – X-Ray Rooms, Dark Rooms and various laboratories were set up within the structure. With food supplied from wider Seaham, and milk provided by the nearby Seaham Hall Farm, the Sanatorium was mainly self-sufficient until its closure in the 1950s. The structure once again entered a brief phase of abandonment before it was purchased by a private owner, who converted Seaham Hall into Seaham Hall Hotel.

Seaham Hall remains to be known and used as Seaham Hall Hotel today. The building is a Grade II listed building, protected by law.

Sources cited:
D/Bo/F 355 4th Battalion DLI War Diary
D/Lo/F/1129 (1) Article about Seaham Hall Auxiliary Convalescent Hospital, June 1915
D/Lo/F/1129 (4) Annotated Speech for Lady Theresa Chetwynd-Talbot, Lady Londonderry, wife of 6th Marquess of Londonderry
President of the SSFA
D/Lo/F/1129(5) Letter from the Director of the Seaham Convalescent Hospital, possibly for the press
D/Lo/C 648 (3) Letter from Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry to Lady Londonderry, 8 September 1915
CC/A70/1/1 Seaham Hall Sanatorium Sub-Committee Minutes 24 April 1928–18 April 1940

Relevant Sources:
D/Lo/F/1129 (2) List of Gifts sent to Seaham Hospital 29th June 1915
D/Lo/F/1129 (3) Draft of Letter to Parish of Grindon about Seaham Hospital 28 July 1915
D/Lo/F/1129 (6) Christmas Cards 1915-1916 bearing portraits of Dowager, Marquis and Lady
D/Ed/ 18/11/21 Sale catalogue 17-19 May 1922 of objects in Seaham Hall belonging to the Marquis of Londonderry
D/Lo/B 382 Costs of installing telephone facilities, 1890
D/Lo/E/764 (5) Insurance policies for Seaham Hall, c. 1850s
CC/Health 83 Sanatorium Sub-Committee Minutes 1932-1936

Plans and Images:
D/CL 5/1898, D/CL 5/1904, D/CL 5/1945 Photos of Seaham Hall Hospital
CC/Arch 2 Photo of Seaham Hall Sanatorium 1931
D/Lo Acc 1251 (D) Plans 291, 344, 345 Plans of Seaham Hall in various phases

The following information comes from records held at the archives at the Museum of the Order of St John, and is used with their kind permission. Reference OSJ/1/1/12/19:

Seaham Hall Hospital, Seaham
September 14th 1917

Commandant: The Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry

Hospital: This is a house which has been kindly lent by Lady Londonderry for the purpose of a hospital.

Beds: 100 beds in
18 wards, also a surgery

Trained staff: 1 Matron
2 Staff Nurses

Massage: 1 visiting masseuse (paid)

VADs: There are no VADs at this hospital
1 voluntary cook

Paid help: 3 housemaids
4 kitchenmaids

Remarks: This hospital is situated near the sea, in a fine old house. It is in excellent order, and has every convenience for the patients and staff. A good mess room and recreation room, the kitchens are in good order.

Signed: SA Swift

For further information:
Museum of the Order of St John
VAD Hospitals in Northumberland and Durham 1914-1918
Scarlet Finders

Civil Parish: Seaham

Contributed by Tullia Fraser | Durham County Council Archaeology Section | Durham County Record Office