Back in the autumn, Peeps put out a call for information about the former Crooksbury Sanatorium that stood at The Sands near Farnham. The request brought a response from two readers, rekindling their childhood memories of playing in and around the abandoned building years after it had ceased to be used as a hospital.
Opened in 1900, Crooksbury Sanatorium was founded primarily for the treatment of tuberculosis (TB) patients and had 24 beds. It was one of thousands of similar sanitoria that sprung up across Europe based on the belief that good rest, nutrition and fresh air would allow patients to fight off a TB infection.
With the advent of antibiotics, such as streptomycin, in 1943, these institutions were largely redundant by the end of the 1950s, but records suggest Crooksbury Sanitorium closed its doors even earlier – in 1928.
Robin Welland-Jones recalled playing at the site almost four decades later. He wrote: “I was born in a house at the Sands end of Long Hill in The Sands in 1958 and I recall from childhood a building further up Long Hill that we all used to refer to as ‘the old sanitorium’.
“It was a long single-storey building with one first-floor room in the middle. It was deserted back then in the mid-60s but we used to play around in the building. I do recall it was a bit spooky but that may have been us winding each other up!
“I seem to remember it was bought by a builder some time later and converted into a house.”
Crooksbury Sanatorium was opened by Dr Frederick Rufenacht Walters (1857-1946) who was a specialist in TB and the well-known author of several medical books including The Open-Air or Sanatorium Treatment of Pulmonary Tuberculosis (1909) and The Home Doctor: a medical guide for the family, the school & general use (1902).
Records discovered in the loft of the coach house on the sanatorium site in about 1985, and now held by Surrey History Centre, show the sanatorium was situated on the north side of Crooksbury Common, while Dr Walters lived at Pinecroft a little further to the north. The sanatorium was financed by issuing shares and the lists of dividends payable to shareholders show that in 1921 Dr Walters held 2,783 shares out of the total of 8,265.
The first patient was admitted on May 3, 1900, and among those later treated at the sanatorium were soldiers who had been gassed during the First World War.
It is not clear why the sanatorium closed when it did, but its founder would have been in his early 70s by the time it appears to have shut its doors after 28 years in operation.
Thanks to Gill Picken, who contacted Peeps via Facebook, we know the sanatorium had a close shave when a ferocious blaze tore across the heathland surrounding the building in August 1911.
Gill came across an article in the now-defunct St Paul’s Tongham Parish News, of September 1999, which printed an eyewitness account of the fire. According to the piece, reprinted below, the inferno broke out near The Sands following a prolonged drought and spread across the heath.
Patients and animals were evacuated, and furniture was removed from the sanatorium before a change in wind direction saved the day along with the efforts of firefighters, helpers and troops.
An eye-witness account of the fire in the Crooksbury Sanatorium – St Paul’s Tongham Parish News, September 1999
“The month of August 1911 will live long in our memory. The drought has been more prolonged than any can remember (the heat on August 9th was the highest ever recorded in London), and only on August 21st has the thunderstorms broken and the welcome rain descended.
“On August 13th and 14th, a tremendous common fire raged. It began on Sunday, near The Sands, when enormous volumes of smoke could be seen from the village. The fire spread towards Hampton Lodge and Cutt Mill, and on Monday crept round to Littleworth.
“Miss Mangles’ house was only saved by the exertions of the brigade and the large number of helpers who really beat the flames back from the house. The flames then spread across the road and in an incredibly short space of time the whole common from Littleworth to Crooksbury was on fire.
“The flames crept close up to the Sanatorium; the patients, furniture and animals were removed, when happily the wind shifted, or the houses must have been destroyed. By this time the flames were quite close to Mr Chapman’s house and to Mr Woodward’s and The Sands village was also in danger.
“Huge volumes of smoke spread over the country and immense flames were visible several miles away.
“A very large force of military arrived and by their well-directed efforts at three different places the fire was got under control.
“The excitement caused by the fire and the arrival of the troops was great. In the evening the whole of Farnham and Aldershot seemed to be rushing towards The Sands. We should doubt if so many people had ever before passed through Badshot Lea on an evening.
“Happily, no houses were burnt; but the beautiful commons and woods have been destroyed for the time, and nearly all the splendid rhododendrons which had been cultivated by Miss Mangles for many years. Much sympathy was felt for the patients at the Sanatorium for whom the shock must have been very great.”
The sanatorium and its patients clearly had a lucky escape from the blaze but, as Gill confesses, the building was not so fortunate in avoiding damage once left empty in later years.
“My memory of the building was as a pre-teenager playing in the Crooksbury woods and throwing stones to smash the windows. What a little vandal I was!” she said.