AFTER being missing for the last two years, the Weardale Festival returns next week and, appropriately given the pandemic which caused its cancellation, its title is “Doctors in the Dale”.

The festival opens on Wednesday, August 31, at 11am and runs through to Sunday at 4pm, with an exhibition in St Thomas’s Church, Stanhope, of all things medical – and many things painful – in the dale, going right back to Tristram Collins who was recorded as a surgeon working in Wolsingham in 1739.

The exhibition will include medical instruments, a false leg, an optician’s case of lenses and a bleeding bowl.

Even 150 years ago, no self respecting doctor would visit a sick patient without a lancet and a bleeding bowl (below). He’d slice the patient’s forearm with the lancet and allow several fluid ounces of blood to spurt out into the bowl. It was all part of the centuries-old belief that fever was caused by an imbalance of humours in the body, and letting out a little blood would help correct the balance.

The Northern Echo: A bleeding bowl that is in the Weardale Festival exhibition

However, we now understand that losing any blood makes a patient weaker and so this time-honoured practice did not improve the health of anyone who endured it.

The exhibition, which runs from 11am to 4pm each day of the festival, as includes information on other old medical practices and medicines, epidemics, vaccinations, nurses and the dale’s sanitoria.

There are activities for children, including a quiz, a bandaging your teddy bear session and a play table. Every day at 2pm from Thursday to Sunday, there will be a hands-on session making an ointment with staff from the Dilston Physic Garden, near Corbridge.

The Physic Garden also features in one of the evening talks when, on Wednesday Nicolette Perry explains how plants can be used to make medicines.

Thursday evening’s talk is by David Heatherington, of the Weardale Museum, who will give a presentation on Dr John Gray (below) of Stanhope.

The Northern Echo: Lt Col John Gray, of Stanhope, whose First World War glass slides from Thessaloniki feature in the Weardale Festival

The museum has recently acquired a great collection of items relating to Dr Gray who took over the practice of his father-in-law, Dr William Robinson, in 1894. Dr Robinson had come to specialise in leadminers’ diseases and started the TB sanatoria at Horn Hall, in Stanhope, and Leazes Hall, in Wolsingham. Dr Gray took on these interests, and was in the Territorial Army when the First World War broke out. He rose to become a lieutenant-colonel serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Thessaloniki in Greece, for which he was awarded an OBE.

The collection features scores of his glass slides that were made in Thessaloniki, and these will feature in David’s talk.

On Friday, Gordon Henderson of Binchester, near Bishop Auckland, will give a talk on the Roman NHS.

The talks in the church all start at 7pm and entry is by donation. On Saturday, September 3, there will be a concert at 6.30pm by the Community Choir, admission £5.

Entry to the festival is free but donations are welcomed. It is a collaboration between the Weardale Museum, the Weardale Society, St Thomas’s Church and its Friends, and the organisers are grateful to Beamish Museum for loaning items for the exhibition.

Further details on the Weardale Museum’s website,, or by emailing the curator,, or by calling 07990-786220.

The Northern Echo: The first ambulance in Weardale

The first motorised ambulance in Weardale in the 1930s