The Hospital in the Park

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.”

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!

Little Scamps

At the age of 8 or 9, I ran away from home. I vividly remember packing my suitcase and thinking ‘I only need one dress: I’m coming back tomorrow’!! This is to make light of the situation but serves as an introduction to the following found amongst the School archives.

In 1906 the following comment was entered in the Matron’s book: two pupils ran away from the school on 30th October. Katie and Kate both decided, presumably together, that running away was their best solution. The matron’s book does not record any more detail of the incident but the Chaplain’s book states that he visited the (school) infirmary on 3rd and 12th Nov 1906 to speak to them, presumably for guidance. Clearly, if they were in the infirmary (one assumes in detention!) by 3rd November and they ran away on 30th October, they didn’t get far.

Katie was 12 at the time and we hear nothing more of her time at the School. She would have left in about 1910. Public records suggest that she lived to be 88 years old but did not marry so had no children or grandchildren with whom to regale the tale. Kate was also 12 years old but who egged on who is impossible to say. However, whereas Katie does not appear to have kept in contact with the School after leaving, Kate is recorded as visiting in 1912 on what was called Ex-Pupils’ Day. She had been born in Hackney and continued to live in the London, or Greater London, area throughout her life. Perhaps the two had the vague idea of running off to Kate’s family on the other side of London. Who knows?

Nor were they the only two ‘runners’ recorded in the Matron’s book. Three years later is recorded

“… ran away from school in October 1909. A notice was sent to Police who found them early next morning in Wimbledon.”

Doris and Dallas were fetched back to school and then kept in the infirmary. Clearly, this was the place to keep people away from everyone else! Doris was 11 years old and Dallas was 12. One is tempted to think that something affected pupils at about this sort of age – perhaps it was the moment of transition from the Junior House to the Senior School? That event would certainly be a big change and might result in unsettled pupils feeling that running away was A Good Idea. Presumably, having got it out of her system, Doris settled down. She later became the Gold medallist (1915), not an award dished out lightly.

Gold Medal image (not Doris’)

In that year she left, and went to Bedford College to read for a degree, passing the London inter arts exam the following year. It is unclear whether she finished her degree as in 1918 she took up music professionally and became an accompanist (she had won the Music 1st prize in 1913 so clearly had some talent). Perhaps this was not as lucrative as she hoped because the last School reference for her is dated 1926 when we learn that she qualified as a clerk and became a bank clerk. In 1939, she is recorded in national records as being a retired bank clerk although she would only have been 41 years old.

Dallas was elected to the School in 1904 in what was described in a provincial newspaper as a very keenly contested election. As she ran away just two years later, she was clearly not quite as keen on being a pupil as those electing her wished! We should perhaps make some allowances, however. Her mother died when Dallas was 3 years old and her father when she five. She can’t have had the happiest start in life. She left school in 1913 and does not seem to have kept in touch with it. Despite her unusual name (and her sisters also had the names Elinda and Elvine), there is little trace of Dallas after 1913. However, it seems most likely that she went to Australia and married a Mr Pepper there.

Another scallywag incident happened about half way between the two recorded runaway incidents. In April 1907 we read “Miss Flintoft is sorry to have to report that one of the girls … has damaged the portrait of Miss Jarwood in the Children’s Dining Hall”. We are given no further information but we can perhaps presume it was a deliberate act. The portrait survives to this day and does not appear damaged but could, of course, have been repaired.

portrait of matron
Eliza Waterman Jarwood

Florence, then aged 12 – oh, that age again! – appears on the school roll in 1905 and left in July 1910 at her mother’s request, slightly earlier than she should have done. She went to study at the Heatherley School of Art but there is a sad footnote to this. It was reported in May 1919 that Florence had lost her sight and was then resident in a nursing home. She lived in the London area after her time at the School although she had been born in North Wales. She herself believed that she was the first pupil of the School to come from Wales but in fact there were two other pupils who pipped her to that post. We know that Florence lived in the London area as she became a member of OMGA and kept in touch with the School through this. In addition, in a little exercise book in Archives, there are some very early photographs taken by another pupil and a series of addresses recorded. As none of the photographs identify the pupils, we will never know if Florence appears in one.

Clapham girls
Rather faded early photographs
early photo
A group of pupils photographed c. 1910

She died on 12th August 1945 and the school magazine records that this was after “after a long illness, nursed by her mother”.

Of course misbehaviour was not exclusive to the twentieth century pupils. In 1796, Alice had the somewhat dubious honour of being the first girl to be expelled from the School, ‘for bad behaviour’. It would appear, however, that her mother was as culpable as she and the School authorities decided that the web of lies spun by Alice (and her mother) were entirely with the intent of allowing the girl to stay at home without having to pay for the schooling she had received. It was decided that Alice’s tendency to be a liar would corrupt others so she was dismissed. Telling untruths was decidedly frowned upon. In 1790, a rule decreed ‘that every girl who shall tell a wilful lye shall be fed with Bread and Water for the space of One Day’. There was no ruling laid down for parents who tell fibs! In 1810, Eliza followed the example of expulsion although it was termed ‘improper conduct’ on that occasion. Having waited for two years to get into the School, she was finally admitted in October 1809 so her somewhat abrupt departure in July of the following year suggests that whilst her Friends [the term used for the pupils’ guardians] had been striving to secure her place, Eliza herself might have been less enamoured. The Matron reported that the girl had ‘conducted herself in such an improper manner that the morals of the other children may have been injured’. The mind boggles!

These two events bracket what may have been the most concerted example of mass bad behaviour. In 1802 was the General Rebellion. However, rather like a naughty puppy’s bad behaviour is almost invariably the fault of its owner, this incident seems to have arisen because the Matron and the fairly new Assistant Matron didn’t see eye to eye. Presumably this created a fiction which the girls picked up and which adversely affected their behaviour. When we read about it now, it seems relatively mild but it clearly worried the School governance at the time. On 2nd April 1802 there was ‘disorderly and tumultuous behaviour’ and no amount of shushing them did any good. In fact, they laughed. The matron said that the girls had been like this for a while: they laughed at prayer, they sang the hymns instead of joining in the prayer, they laughed when they had been ordered to read in silence, and they constantly repeated Glory be in “a profane and improper manner” (!!) Oh dear. There were deemed to be five ringleaders of this behaviour and, as soon as these were separated out, the other girls settled down. The ring leaders were punished, although at least two of them were clearly incorrigible as a few weeks later they were up to mischief again. One of the girls deemed a ringleader had not received her punishment with the others as she had been ill and had gone home for a few days. When she returned, however, she was called in to receive her punishment. Clearly, it was all too much for her and on 18th May she ‘eloped’ from the school (as running away was then called), taking another girl with her. The Matron marched straight round to the girl’s home, found both of them there and frogmarched them back to School again, probably with a firm grip on the scruff of their necks!

What are little girls made? Sugar and spice and all things nice? Not all them. Obviously.

They died too young

From its inception, the School took great care over the health and wellbeing of its pupils. There are numerous examples of extensive medical treatment being undergone with no question of any cost to the patients concerned – and this long before the NHS was even dreamed of. Inevitably, though, there were fatalities and this series attempts to give them a brief glory that their short lives failed to give.

Louisa Margaretta Willis (1838-1850) died aged 11. The family home at the time of her petition was 115 St Martins Lane, Holborn and the application gives her father’s name as James Willis, Public House keeper (business failed); she had one brother and one sister. It seems possible that her mother was Jane and that her siblings were Annette & James. She was accepted at the school on 14 October 1847 and the Chelmsford Chronicle of 22 October 1847 confirms her election along with five other pupils. Louisa probably did not have any connection with Chelmsford and the fact that a provincial newspaper reported the election is an indication of the nationwide interest that was taken in the school in London. As her death record is for the Holborn district, we know she did not die on school premises. She was buried at St Luke’s, Chelsea on March 25 1850 with her address recorded as Bedford Row, Bedford St. Why, then, she was buried in Chelsea we may never know.

St Luke, Chelsea
St Luke, Chelsea

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