2018 sees the 70th anniversary of the NHS which started life at Park Hospital on 5 July 1948.
Originally built by Barton upon Irwell Union in a corner of Davyhulme Park, Park Hospital is now Trafford General.
In 1926, at the same moment as negotiations for the sale of Rickmansworth Park were underway, the Union started building their hospital. It was opened by the Princess Royal (HRH Princess Mary) on 1 June 1929, the same person who presented the prizes at the School in 1927 when it was still at Clapham.
At the outbreak of war in 1939 Park Hospital was taken over by the War Department for use by the Armed Forces. The well-equipped School San came under close scrutiny by Rickmansworth Council at much the same time. They had it in mind to create a casualty clearing station but the School authorities resisted. You could say they repelled all boarders – except those who were female, of school age and were registered as pupils at RMIG!
Park Hospital was de-requisitioned in September 1945 by which time plans for the NHS were well underway. The world’s first universal health care system provided by government was steered to fruition by Aneurin (Nye) Bevan. He died in 1960 just ‘up the road’ from the School in Ashridge House, near Berkhamsted.
So the School Sanatorium, the ‘hospital’ in the park, has some interesting parallels with Park Hospital and the birth of the NHS.
At the time the plans for RMIG were drawn up, the NHS was unheard of and provision was therefore made for the healthcare of all the pupils. This had always been considered as part of the overall package from the moment pupils were accepted by the charity. Medical practitioners offered their services gratis for pupils and there was an awareness from the outset that a group of people living in close proximity were subject to the possibility of contagion. From 1795, all prospective pupils were required to have a certificate, signed by a medical practitioner, to say that they were safe from smallpox and had no defect in sight or limbs. If having a certificate of health pre-admission seems strange, it should be noted that by 1818 some 272 girls had been educated at the School and, of these, only five had died whilst at School. Given the rate of childhood mortality beyond the School, this is quite a remarkable success story.
The first school site being an already existing building adapted for the purpose, it is unlikely to have had a designated area for sick children. When the School moved to Southwark, the floor plans do not specify any area dedicated to treatment and care of sick pupils but there clearly was some. The matron’s duties extended to healthcare although primarily she was responsible for ensuring that the girls remained healthy rather than actually nursing them. It was her job to ensure that any contagion was dealt with swiftly so, for example, in 1821, two girls who contracted scarlet fever were removed to the Fever Hospital in Gray’s Inn Rd.
“The London Fever Hospital (LFH) was founded in 1802 at 2 Constitution Row, Gray’s Inn Lane, just north of Guilford Street … it had 15 beds, and was staffed by three nurses, a medical officer, an apothecary and a porter.” https://aim25.com
An article in The Spectator declared:
The ward fees are seven shillings a day for adults and five shillings for children.
This indication of charges, albeit later than when used by the School, underlines that healthcare could be costly but throughout the School’s pre-NHS history, there was never any question of pupils not receiving the appropriate healthcare on grounds of cost. For example, a pupil in 1921 was treated at the Yarrow Convalescent Home in Broadstairs at a cost of 25/- per week from July for a month, followed by 3 months convalescence. The costs would have been met entirely by the School.
By the time RMIG reached Clapham, there was dedicated provision with resident staff. Often referred to as ‘The San’, it was officially the Infirmary and was referred to formally as such by the Head Governess. However, the two names were clearly interchangeable. For example, a former pupil, Gertrude Craik, in 1920 ‘became the assistant to the nurse in the Sanatorium’ before moving on in 1922 to Great Ormond St Hospital. In another example, Betty Starling ‘Contracted scarlet fever in 1924 and was retained in sanatorium over school holidays, later transferring to the Joyce Green Hospital, Dartford so that the San. could be disinfected.’
The infirmary at Clapham was updated from time to time, as need arose and the school roll increased. It had its own dispensary as the picture from about 1912 below shows.
By the time the School had left the metropolis and moved to the fresh fields of Herts, it was also ready for a larger medical section. At Clapham, it had been recognised that a separate entrance to the infirmary would be a good idea as a method of keeping contagion controlled. At Ricky, it went one step further – well several steps actually – by having the Sanatorium in a separate building. Furthermore, although all the other buildings of the time were connected by underground service tunnels, the San was not (and still isn’t).
Making up the fourth side of a quadrangle, the San had a south façade with larger windows and balconies and a north façade with smaller windows.
The solaria were placed to take advantage of stronger sunlight to aid recovery. The two balconies were designed to enable patients to sit outside (whether they wanted to or not!) on the basis that ‘fresh air is Good For You’.
The architect’s plans show the several entrances, the main one of which was (and still is) flanked by a design probably based on the medical symbol the Rod of Asclepius and crafted by Joseph Cribb.
But probably the thing that most astonishes the modern pupil, for whom the NHS has always existed, is that the Sanatorium had its own operating theatre.
As a former pupil who experienced the facilities both as a patient and, later, as a probationer, said:
There was an operating theatre, consultant room, dental clinic, pharmacy, solarium, wards and single rooms, and, in 1955, even x-ray facilities.
… we were lucky to have such an efficient, highly commendable health care system, especially as [this] was before the birth of the National Health System in 1948.
There were resident nursing sisters who were assisted by school leavers known as probationers. These were girls who wanted to go into nursing but were not old enough to start their formal nursing training. Probationers, under the supervision of the Sisters, were responsible for the care of the girls and day to day cleaning.
“We learnt basic nursing skills which stood us in good stead for our later careers.”
The picture below shows two of these probationers engaged in cleaning the operating theatre.
A doctor visited daily but was not resident and there was also a dentist who treated the girls requiring fillings etc in the dental clinic in the San. (“Having teeth filled in those days was no picnic with no pain killers available,” recalled another pupil, presumably from experience) but anyone requiring orthodontic work was sent to Harley St or the Royal Masonic Hospital.
The two sisters held surgeries morning and evening for basic treatment. Those requiring treatment in the sanatorium were given a bed whilst those needing a little less intensive care were in the sanatorium as day cases. Some eligible for day care were those who needed TLC, especially new girls, which shows an understanding that for some girls being a long way from their families was an ordeal in itself.
All girls were subjected to regular eye, dental and medical examinations.
“For the less fortunate adolescent teenagers with acne, every Wednesday and Saturday, they received ultra violet treatment in the solarium, all sitting in a circle wearing darkened goggles.”
Pupils were regularly weighed and measured at the beginning of each term.
“The skinny ones were fortified by cod liver oil tablets and malt. Those deemed to be overweight were scrutinised at meal times by the House Matron.”
Judging by the numerous recollections of feeling permanently hungry (Children’s Hollow Legs Syndrome), obesity was far less of a problem than it is today.
The San was the equivalent of a 50 bed cottage hospital, quite possibly better equipped than many. For the most part, there would be 6-10 girls staying in overnight or longer but, just occasionally, if an epidemic broke out, extra space would be allocated. For example, in September 1954 a flu epidemic hit the school. The sanatorium was soon full to capacity with the nursing staff run off their feet. Girls at the recuperative stage were transported by ambulance (St John’s) to Ruspini House which served as a convalescent house whilst new cases took their beds in the sanatorium.
“This lasted nearly a month,” recalled a former pupil, “but, true to fashion, it all ran like clockwork under the eye of Sister Taylor.”
The beds in the ward were typical hospital beds.
Each girl admitted had a day basket in which to put personal clothing and in-patients wore pyjamas and pretty smocked embroidered pink and blue bed jackets. As all the uniform, including nightwear, was provided, no doubt these too were standard issue.
One who was a probationer recalled that they were paid £2.00 a month, just as the pupil teachers also received an allowance. They had one day off a week. Their uniform – of course – was provided and, in addition, when they were ready to move onto nurse training beyond the School, they were equipped with any compulsory requirements listed by the teaching hospital, such as black shoes and a watch with a second hand. Like all school leavers, they also received leaving outfits and were taken to Arding & Hobbs in Clapham where additional clothing was bought.
The healthcare the pupils received, both before and after the NHS was born, was exemplary.
“… when we left the Masonic School, we were as medically fit as possible”
Not sure if the following counts as an item to ensure medical fitness but the Head Governess in the 1890s wrote in her report:
“Miss Davis will feel obliged if the Committee will again allow one dozen pint bottles of claret for the children during that week, as she has found that the best thing for their refreshment in the midst of their work.”
Yes, I’ll have that prescribed please!