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Seaham Infirmary Buildings

Hospital established in Seaham by Marchioness of Londonderry

Type: Hospital

Seaham Harbour Infirmary underwent three phases of development since its construction by Frances Anne Vane-Tempest (Marchioness of Londonderry) in 1844. It cost £800 to build, which was mainly sourced from the sale of her book, A Three Months’ Tour in Portugal, Spain and Africa, published in 1843.

Phase I
The infirmary was described to be a Gothic-style stone building on the junction of North Terrace and Tempest Place. It acted as a port of call for most patients from Seaham Harbour and district. A compulsory levy made on every ship visiting Seaham Harbour from 1855 onwards meant that all seamen visiting Seaham were also granted free admission to the Infirmary. With the Marchioness herself as the patroness, the Infirmary was managed by a committee of 12, who were elected annually by subscribers who funded the running of the facility. It was further staffed by a resident surgeon and several physicians. Reverend Angus, incumbent of Seaham Harbour, seemed to have oversaw the running of the Infirmary around 1851, making regular reports to the patroness, the Marchioness of Londonderry.

Being the central medical facility in pre-war Seaham, the Infirmary was often the epicentre of local tragic events. A local newspaper clipping from 19 October 1861 detailed the unfortunate death of Francis Hunt, a shoemaker at Bishopwearmouth who was in Seaham visiting his sister. He was crossing Seaham Railway on foot when he was run over by a train. He was taken to Seaham Infirmary but died shortly after. Around the same time, two boys were admitted with serious burns: they struck a match on board the brig “Times” when the brig exploded. This was concluded to be due to the hatch being put down overnight on freshly loaded coal, which caused an accumulation of flammable gas. It was not reported if the boys made a full recovery at the Infirmary.

It was said that murderess Mary Ann Cotton possibly worked at the Infirmary in summer 1865.

Phase II
The second phase of the Infirmary saw it become a military hospital during the First World War. It was also known as the Seaham Infirmary Military Hospital. The Infirmary was reported to have taken in mainly the sick from 4th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, who were stationed and training in Seaham at the time. By 1916 it was apparently “full of wounded soldiers” who needed to focus on recovering. It was due to this reason that Seaham Infirmary strongly opposed the plans of building a new club right next door.

Beyond treating the wounded and sick, the Infirmary also held regular fundraising football matches and was registered as a charity under the 1916 War Charities Act. Towards the end of the war, the Infirmary was managed by Miss HW Glass as matron. Other core staff include Major LG Dillon as medical officer, Mr. W Smith as secretary as well as Private Reeves.

Phase III
Phase III saw the Infirmary transform into administrative buildings. The Infirmary became council buildings between 1920-1964, after its closure as a medical facility in 1918. Meanwhile, the Seaham Harbour Infirmary Fund remained an active charity into 1938. The building also served as a Town Library before the structure was demolished in 1969.

Sources Cited:
D/Lo Acc 451(D) File 36/6
Report on Seaham Infirmary by Bethune, Reverend Angus, incumbent of Seaham Harbour
1 November 1851

Seaham Harbour Infirmary Fund accounts for 1925, 1935-1936, 1938

D/X 1147/1
Infirmary account book
11 October 1843-October 1849

UD/Sea 64
Urban District Council Records of Seaham Harbour (1916-1920)
Newspaper Article:
Fatal Accident 19 October 1861

Letter from the Director of the Seaham Convalescent Hospital, possibly for the Press

Letter from the Director of the Seaham Convalescent Hospital, possibly for the Press
History of the Seaham Infirmary
By Fred Cooper

Relevant Sources:
D/Lo Acc 451(D) File 27/26
Permission for installing gas lighting in infirmary 26th September 1844

D/Lo Acc 451(D) File 42/8
Price, J Blackwood
Advises spending chapel collections on Seaham Infirmary and Church Education Society

DC/ALM 6/30
Spirit of Seaham – a community’s guide to its town
Seaham Town Council c. 1990

DC/ALM 4/17
Memories of Seaham 1995

DC/ARCH 1/615
Seaham Urban District Council Offices 1962-1963

D/DLI 7/45/1 (91)
Photo of medical staff in front of infirmary

D/DL1 7/35/1 (92)
Photograph of Miss HW Glass matron of Seaham Infirmary with a dog 1918

D/DL1 7/35/1 (93)
Photo of medical staff in 1918
HW Glass Matron, Major LG Dillon (medical officer), Private Reeves, W Smith (secretary)

D/Ph 441
Photograph of military hospital [Seaham or Eppleton Hall?], c.1914 – 1918

Civil Parish: Dawdon

Contributed by Tullia Fraser