Consett’s Christmas Countdown Day 22

Christmas is undoubtedly a magical time for children, with the prospect of a visit from Santa Claus and plenty of fun to be had with family and friends.

In keeping with the spirit of the season, many births were reported in the December and January Consett Iron Company Magazines between the late 50s and late 60s. Although no star may have hung over Consett to proclaim their birth, the coming of these children was marked with congratulations and joy. The names selected for the children show changing tastes and nominal fashions over time: I suspect there will not be many Antheas, Gillians, Grahams or Barbaras born this festive season. In January 1960 Ian seemed to be very popular, with two babies reported of that name.

Most children, if not born at home or in a stable, would have emerged into the world at the Richard Murray Hospital in Blackhill.

This imposing building was founded in 1912 by the eponymous local businessman and JP, who set up a substantial endowment for its construction.

It served as a maternity hospital before the maternity wing at Shotley Bridge Hospital opened in the early 1970s (my older sisters were born at the Richard Murray but I was born at Shotley Bridge). It was demolished in 1992-3 to make way for housing.

It wasn’t long before these children grew up: maybe it’s a sign of getting old, but this image of the apprentice intake in 1962 shows a group of some very young looking lads starting their working lives. Though as the photographer says, they look a happy lot.

Shotley Bridge Village Trust page on Richard Murray Hospital

The construction of the hospital was funded from a £50,000 endowment following the death of Richard Murray in 1913, as a memorial to to the late King Edward VII. During the First World War it was used as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital, when more than 600 men passed through.

It became an NHS maternity hospital in 1948, until 1972 when the new tower block at Shotley Bridge general Hospital opened.

Then used as a Leonard Cheshire home for the disabled for 21 years, before being demolished in 1993. Thirty one detached houses are now on the site.

Richard Murray [1839-1913] was a successful businessman and JP. He started his career by selling parcels of land for housing on his estate.

He built the Park Royal Hotel on Park Road, Blackhill and started his Richard Murray brewery alongside.

His business grew and eventually amalgamated with Vaux Brewery of Sunderland. He became Managing Director and the main shareholder of the new North Eastern Brewery. In the 1891 census his occupation was also listed as an innkeeper, builder, farmer and shipowner. He also founded the Consett & District Permanent Building Society.

He lived at Benfieldside House on Benfieldside Road which overlooked the top of Church Bank, where the entrance to Benfield Close is today.

Only the outbuildings remain, which were converted into two dwellings.

The images of the Richard Murray Hospital and the St Aidan’s playgroup Christmas party were taken from the two excellent Derwentdale Local History Society publications, Consett and Consett: The Second Selection.

Were you born at the Richard Murray? Were you a XMAS baby?

A Facebook group re memories of County Durham Hospitals is on this link