Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Durham County Lunatic Asylum (NZ355305)

About one mile due north of central Sedgefield lies the site of the former lunatic asylum for County Durham, latterly known as Winterton Hospital. Virtually none of it remains today, which is probably just as well given the murky history of these questionable institutions.

The name ‘Winterton’ came from the former mill which occupied the site prior to the construction of the purpose built asylum in the late 1850s. Designed by John Howison, it was originally a 300-bed affair spread over three floors, with male wards to the west and female wards to the east. It was Elizabethan in style, mainly red-brick in construction, and came with so many extras that it was self-sufficient for much of its lifespan (including its own water supply, farm, fire service and cricket team).

It was more than doubled in size during 1875-80 – including the building of a new chapel (St.Luke’s) to hold all 700 inmates. More improvements and additions were made in the early 1930s, with the number of patients peaking at around 2,000 in 1954 – by which time it had effectively merged with the growing Sedgefield General Hospital under the auspices of the NHS. Additions continued to be made through the 1960s and ‘70s, with the institution carrying on in one shape or another until its eventual closure in 1996.

Almost all of the asylum buildings have been demolished (a new housing estate and other new buildings occupy much of the site), though a few lodges, etc – and the chapel – remain. Intriguingly, during demolition previously forgotten basement tunnels and rooms were discovered containing preserved specimens taken from patients decades previously.

More detailed information (and some great pictures) here.


  1. How can I locate the grave of my relative who died at Winterton in the 1960s

    1. I suppose the best place to begin would be Durham County Record Office. I see that the record office has an online catalogue which gives a few results for the search term 'Winterton'. Give it a try. Good luck.