From the D&S Times, February 3, 1917

THE annual meeting of the Rutson Hospital in Northallerton heard that in 1916, 84 patients had been admitted compared to 187 in 1915. “The great diminution in the number is due to the removal of troops from Northallerton,” said the D&S.

There had been 30 operations in the hospital and eight deaths. The hospital was funded by voluntary subscriptions and donations. It is receipts in 1916 were £1,267 1s 3d and its expenditure – coal for heating £65, matron £50 15s were the biggest items – was £1,270 6s 7d, so it owed the bank £3 5s 4d.

THIS report from 100 years ago provides the opportunity to look at one of the biggest stories of the moment: the fate of a collection of twigs that creeps hopefully up the outside of the former Rutson Hospital.

The twigs are believed to be the remains of a vine planted more than 500 years ago which was once the finest vine in the kingdom.

The vine is said to have been planted before 1600. It could even date back to the Carmelite friary which owned this portion of the town until its dissolution. The friars were keen market gardeners who partly supported themselves through the sale of their produce.

In the 18th Century, the vine was regarded as “the most striking thing in the town”. Indeed, in 1723, when Lord Edward Harley was passing through – he was an an MP from Herefordshire who held a lucrative sinecure in the Treasury as Auditor of the Imprests – he estimated that it extended “from the outermost branch on one side to that of the other an hundred and six feet and reaches up one storey”.

It was growing on the outside of a property known as Vine House. From 1720 to 1770, Vine House was Northallerton’s court house, and then it became the home to a father and son called Robert Raikes Fulthorpe – the son was Northallerton MP and the father was a barrister who was said to be “more conversant with ladies than law books”.

A lovely letter in last week’s D&S told how in 1775, Sir Hugh Smithson, who had been born in the town but had married into the Percy family and become the Duke of Northumberland, was passing through and spotted that the vine was in disarray. He apparently ordered the Alnwick Castle head gardener to attend to it and it flourished, because in 1789, it was recorded as covering 137 square yards and its trunk had a circumference of 4ft. This led to it being proclaimed the largest vine in England.

Sometime in the 19th Century, the distinctive oriel window was hung from Vine House’s main bedroom. It is an unmissable addition, with a chequerboard lower pane, and an upper pane featuring a unicorn and a long quote from John Wesley. There seems to be no definitive history of this window – does anyone have any theories?

In 1877, with John Hutton, the Northallerton MP who lived at Solberge Hall, leading the way, Vine House became a cottage hospital, with no more than eight beds and run by a matron, Miss Emma Butler, assisted by volunteers.

One of the patients in those early days was Henry Rutson, a prosperous landowner from Newby Wiske, who suffered an eye complaint. After his treatment, he donated so generously that Vine House became known as the Rutson Hospital.

In the first half of the 20th Century, still covered by its vine, the Rutson was extended, but in 1939 a new hospital was built behind it, on the site of the friarage, to receive casualties should the populous areas of Teesside be bombed.

With the coming of the NHS in 1948, the new hospital acquired the name the Friarage, and it was developed, gradually consuming the Rutson’s services until it closed in 2008, and at some point brutally cutting the vine from its walls. Can anyone tell us when the plant was cut down to size?

It is a great suggestion that this famous rootstock should be granted the protection of a Tree Preservation Order before Vine House is converted into its next incarnation – it is, indeed, a vine idea.