Designed by the architect George Thomas Hine, who also designed several other famous asylums, Cherry Knowle (originally called the Sunderland Borough Asylum) was built over the first five years of the 1890s. The old asylum is a prime example of the compact arrow echelon plan where wards were stepped out from the central services, similar to the Kirkbride plan used in America. Most asylums of this period were constructed in secluded locations away from urban conurbations and Cherry Knowle is no exception.
In 1891, the Borough of Sunderland decided to construct a psychiatric facility in Ryhope due to good rail service and a scenic view of the North Sea, and from 1893 to 1895 the Sunderland Borough Asylum was constructed (also known as Sunderland Lunatic Asylum).
The building was designed on a compact arrow plan and constructed from red brick with stone dressings and slate roofs with distinctive caps over the bay windows, characteristic of Hine’s early commissions.
Before demolition began there were six wards on either side of a combined chapel and recreation hall amongst the usual services. An isolation hospital and infirmary block were added in 1902. In the 1930s an admissions hospital and wartime Emergency Medical Service Huts were constructed nearby. These later became the Ryhope General Hospital, which still operates to this day. The rest of the site became known as Cherry Knowle Hospital when it was acquired by the National Health Service in 1948.
At some point, it was used for training exercises by the Police and Fire Brigade. The sprawling red brick building and gothic towers of Cherry Knowle have stood silent since closure in 1998. After the closure, other satellite buildings were retained for use by mental health organizations. Photos: old system/Flickr
By the late 20th Century, most of the original facilities had been replaced with newer buildings nearby and the iconic Victorian architecture stood empty for a number of years.
Billed the “most haunted hospital in the UK”, the eerie looking Cherry Knowle asylum has become a magnet for paranormal enthusiasts despite warnings issued by police that people were putting their lives at risk by breaking into the crumbling buildings and possibly being exposed to asbestos.