Harriet Raven: the first hospital matron in Poole

Aged just 29, a widow and a single mother, Harriet Raven probably doesn’t fit the stereotype of a Florence Nightingale-style Victorian hospital matron. However in 1889 this was the young nurse recruited to be the first matron at the Cornelia Cottage Hospital in Poole.

The hospital had opened during 1889 without any fanfare, meaning no date is recorded.  However on 4th July that year a newspaper report described the hospital, recording the staff as 2 nurses and a Mrs Raven –  the kind and obliging matron of the Hospital.

Harriet Raven was not local to Poole – she was born in 1860 in Fillongley, near Coventry in Warwickshire, the daughter of farmer Charles Gilbert and his wife Elizabeth. Her future had looked as if it was to be on a farm when she married Henry Raven, a farm labourer, in July 1880. The 1881 census shows them living in the cottage next door to Harriet’s parents at Holly Fast Farm, with a baby son, Charles. But by November that year, Harriet was a widow. Henry had been killed in an accident while driving a heavily-laden wagon, reportedly drunk at the time.

Following her bereavement, it is not clear how Harriet made the move from farm girl to hospital nurse. Whilst it may have been natural to move away from the scene of the tragedy, she did have a son to raise. However by 1883 she was listed as on the staff of Tamworth Cottage Hospital, and in April 1884 Nurse Raven was reported giving evidence at an inquest. She presumably started as a probationer and was then accepted on the nursing staff. She then went on to make such a good impression and forge the reputation that persuaded Lady Wimborne that Harriet was the right nurse to be the Matron at the new hospital she was setting up in Poole. The Tamworth Herald reported:

The hospital staff suffered a great loss by the appointment of Nurse Raven to be matron of the Poole Cottage Hospital. Much as we regretted the loss of her faithful services, we could only congratulate her on gaining so well deserved a step in her profession.

Harriet was now a hospital matron, still only 29 years of age, and with just 6 years’ experience. But young Charles was only 9 years old – did she bring him with her to Poole? She may well have left him in the care of her parents back in Warwickshire – certainly the 1891 census shows Charles with them at Holly Fast Farm. In which case how daunting for her to be in charge of Poole’s hospital at so young an age and separated from her young son.

Despite her limited experience at Tamworth, Harriet now faced the practicalities of establishing the new hospital. Lady Wimborne funded it, but would hardly be involved in its running. There was no resident doctor – the medical superintendent, Dr Robinson, was basically a GP with responsibilities to the local Friendly Medical Society. So probably Harriet had to organise equipping the hospital and setting out the routines on the wards. She must have been in charge of obtaining and managing supplies of medicines and dressings, and in the voluntary hospital system she probably had to make decisions about who was eligible to be admitted. Then there was the 24-hour patient care, assisted by just 2 nurses, one of whom was basically a district nurse. It was not in a purpose-built hospital either, with 14 beds in 3 small wards split over several floors. Further, her role was by no means confined to working on the wards of the hospital in West Street. Her name crops up in the local newspapers in attending the homes of some of the poorer families to see the sick, and dealing with casualties of accidents.

But the challenges continued to confront her. After just a year or so in post, the West Street building was recognised as unsuitable for a cottage hospital. By May 1890 Lord Wimborne had bought the nearby mansion known as Sir Peter Thompson House in Market Street. This was an eighteenth century house in a grand style, now a listed building. It was up and running as a hospital within months – again no ceremonial opening is reported. This was a very different home for the hospital.

SirPT House 7096578137_74a9500cb7_z
The hospital in Sir Peter Thompson house a few years later.

Having organised things as best she could in West Street, Harriet  now had to work out how to run a hospital in what was a grand house, how to turn its large rooms into hospital wards. There were now 18 beds to manage. The 1891 census shows Harriet as matron, plus 2 nurses, a housemaid, a cook and a porter living in.

The respect for Harriet as Matron is shown by the tributes on her birthday that year. Strangely it was the Tamworth Herald again that reported it:

 A Dorset contemporary says that Mrs H Raven, the respected Matron of the Cornelia Hospital, Poole Dorset, and who for many years was associated with the nursing staff of the Tamworth Cottage Hospital, has been the recipient of a handsome marble timepiece, a 5 o’clock tea service and a pair of valuable antique vases, presented to her by Dr McNicoll, on behalf of the medical and nursing staff, and past and present patients of the Poole Hospital, as a mark of respect and esteem. The presentation was made to Mrs Raven on her birthday, amidst many manifestations of goodwill and well wishes for a long and useful life in connection with the Institution, now so very admirably managed under her able superintendence.

But by the end of 1893 Harriet had resigned and left Poole.

The Nursing Record journal recorded in January 1894 that she had been appointed matron of the new cottage hospital in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire. Harriet had returned to the Midlands, and presumably had Charles with her again. After her work in setting up 2 hospital buildings in Poole, she was well-suited to doing the same in Ashby. H Raven AshbyThe hospital there was opened in March 1894, and this time there was a grand opening. Harriet is recorded as being at the ceremony as its matron. But again, as in Poole, this initial building was soon superseded by another, presumably better one, which opened in March 1898. However Harriet is no longer mentioned as matron, so perhaps she had left by then.

Her life certainly changed in Ashby, as she met and married a local butcher in the town, William Walker. They did not stay in Ashby, as by 1900 they were living in Croydon, with Harriet working as a Sick Nurse. Perhaps this move was linked to another tragedy, as her son Charles died in 1900, aged only 19. Harriet started a new family in Croydon with William, though again not without great heartache. Two children died in infancy, before the birth of William and Edith, who are seen in the 1911 census aged 7 and 5 respectively. Harriet was now working as a hospital nurse again. Unfortunately nothing further has been found on Harriet, although the death of a Harriet Walker in 1937 in Coventry is quite likely to be her.

Her personal life was anything but smooth, marked by frequent grief. But she certainly achieved much as a hospital matron. Her role in setting up Poole’s first hospital is well worth recording – perhaps the plaque in Ashby should be matched by one in Poole?

Sources; newspaper records, census reports, nursing directories and journals. Regrettably no image of Harriet has yet been traced.


Thomas Salter: Poole’s first doctor in print?

George Langdown, sailor, 35 years of age, of a sanguinous temperament, in March 1813, waded up to his waist in the water, to unmoor a boat made fast to a post at a considerable distance from the shore. It was in the early part of the day; and, notwithstanding he felt cold and uncomfortable, he did not change his clothes.  In a day or two he complained of pain in the head…..

Thus starts not a gothic novel, but quite possibly the first contribution to a medical journal to emanate from Poole:

Salter, T. Case of disease in the brain, with pathological observations. Edinb Med & Surg J 1815 Oct (xlv) 469-77.

The author, Thomas Salter, was a surgeon with a practice in the High Street. He was born in Somerset, though from a family with Dorset connections. He had arrived in Poole to be apprenticed to Thomas Bell, and after the requisite training at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, attending lectures in anatomy and surgery, he returned to Poole and became a partner to Bell. To cement the partnership further, he married Bell’s daughter Eliza. Salter continued to practice in Poole until the very day of his death in 1856, when he died visiting a patient on a cold February night.. His Lancet obituary colourfully described it as Death found him where life had long held him – at the laborious discharge of his duty.

Salter had become a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1810 and was then elected as an Honorary Fellow (FRCS) in 1844. He was a well-known citizen and magistrate in Poole and developed a reputation beyond the town, not only as a doctor, but also as a geologist and botanist – he was also a Fellow of the Linnaean Society (FLS).  His 3 sons followed him into medical practice, one dying tragically at sea but two acquiring prominence in the profession. He also trained, by taking into his practice, several other future doctors. His life and career have featured on the Poole High Street blog as well as the Royal College’s Lives of the Fellows.

Today articles written, or at least co-authored, by medical and clinical professionals based in Poole appear almost every month. Publishing has become part of the normal career path, with far more journals to write for, more research to write up, and the need for an impressive CV.  But there had to be a very first article from Poole: was Thomas Salter’s article that first one?

At the time of publication in 1815 the Lancet and the British Medical Journal were not yet in existence. The Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal had been founded in 1805. Whilst there were some medical journals in existence by then, in the main doctors tended to correspond directly with colleagues about interesting cases or new procedures, presenting at local meetings – possibly paying for publication of a leaflet to allow a wider audience for their talk. It is quite likely that doctors and apothecaries from Poole had published well before 1815, but in the form of a treatise or pamphlet.

Salter’s journal article is clearly very different from modern literature. It is, as most such contemporary articles were, a case report, describing in some detail the clinical condition of Mr Langdown while under Salter’s care. He admits that the patient decided to leave his care and eventually, needing “parochial assistance” came under the care of a fellow practitioner. After Langdown’s death, Salter was allowed to dissect the brain, and much of the article describes in detail his pathological findings. There is also report of another similar case known to Dr Salter, and he makes reference to two other items of medical literature. Salter makes no attempt to put a definite diagnosis to the condition. He explains the decision to publish as due to the need to accurately record all instances of organic derangement affecting the brain, and the dearth of any other similar cases recorded in the literature. It should be said that Salter had a reputation of having read all important medical works.  Patient confidentiality seems completely missing when the patient is named at the very start of the article, but in fact the second patient is only referred to as Mrs -.

Thomas Salter went on to publish at least another 10 journal articles. Topics covered included carditis, puerperal mania, breast cancer, use of arsenic in cure of chorea, and delirium. He was, however, not the most prolific medical author from Poole in the first half of the nineteenth century. John Wickens West seemed to be in competition with him, achieving 14 publications in that period. He practised, appropriately, in West Street, and then later in New Street. As with Salter, nearly all the articles are case reports. The two of them actually argued in print over the diagnosis of cholera. The only other Poole doctor in print 1800-1850 seems to be Alfred Crabbe. There were in total no more than 25 physicians, surgeons and apothecaries practising in Poole during the whole of the first half of the nineteen century, with no hospitals in the town.

Thomas Salter’s reputation is secure as a major figure in Poole during the first half of the nineteenth century, and as a scientist of some import. His stature is shown in the obituaries which appeared not only in local newspapers, but also in the Lancet. His funeral was widely reported, recording that hundreds of townspeople lined the streets, with shops closed as the procession passed.

Perhaps he has this further credit to his name of producing Poole’s first contribution to world medical journal literature.

Obituary: Lancet 1856 i 257.

The 1815 article can be found online via search engines.


Alderney Manor Sanatorium: Poole’s castellated bungalow for tuberculosis patients

During the first half of the twentieth century, when tuberculosis was still a disease feared by all, facilities in Poole for sufferers included the exotically named Rizwan nursing home in Broadstone and Nirvana in Parkstone. The King Street Dispensary on the other hand had a much more mundane name.  Dr Johns’ Sanatorium was very literally named – a sanatorium run by a Dr Johns. But this institution had another and much grander name – Alderney Manor Sanatorium. This grander name matched the sort of patients that the sanatorium was aimed at, which the always-informative Historic Hospitals website has featured previously as huntin-shootin-and-fishin-at-an-upper-crust-prefab-sanatorium.

Dr Johns was Walter Denton Johns, born in Norfolk and educated professionally in Durham. He was one of several doctors drawn to the Bournemouth area in the later years of Victoria’s reign to open sanatoria for tuberculosis sufferers. Whilst tuberculosis was more prevalent in the poor, they were little provided for in terms of hospital treatment. Poole’s Medical Officer of Health had unsuccessfully proposed that a small sanatorium should be provided at Baiter Hospital for local residents, but generally the poorer residents received little more than advice. But all classes were vulnerable to the condition; those who could afford to sought relief in seaside areas like Bournemouth or Torquay, or in Germany or Switzerland  where the air was dryer. Bournemouth was quick to highlight its climate for treatment of advanced cases of pulmonary tuberculosis, particularly with the open-air treatment methods. Advertisements in the British Medical Journal on June 30 1906 include several sanatoria in Bournemouth, plus just one in Poole – Dr Johns’ Sanatorium.  Less well-off sufferers from across the country were still advised to visit the south coast if possible, to obtain the advantages of the climate, and some certainly reached Poole,  as the Medical Officer of Health report in 1902 made the point that  lodgings for them were cheaper in the Parkstone and Branksome districts than staying in Bournemouth. By 1896 Dr Johns was running a sanatorium in Southbourne, Bournemouth, described as being for the upper middle classes. Perhaps he wasn’t successful enough in that location, or perhaps Dr Johns saw the potential in opening a sanatorium for the wealthy in open country rather than the seaside. He identified a location in north Poole, more inland and on higher ground, but subject still to the prevailing south westerlies. This offered him the chance to sell it to potential patients as a country estate-style of treatment centre.

The site was Alderney Manor, off Ringwood Road, in what was then variously named as part of Newtown, Branksome or Parkstone. Now it is the Poole district of Alderney, very much made up of suburban streets, but at that time a mix of woodland and heathland, part of the Canford Estate.

‘Alderney Cottage as shown on Ordnance Survey map published 1899. Alderney Manor not named on this or other maps. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

It was late in 1900 when Dr Johns began negotiations with Lord Wimborne to take a lease on the land, which was almost directly across the road from Alderney Isolation Hospital – an infectious diseases hospital that did not treat tuberculosis cases. A previous tenant of Alderney Manor had been an eccentric MP -Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, who described it as a shooting lodge. The tenant who came after Dr Johns was the coincidentally-named Augustus John, the painter. He set up home at Alderney Manor in 1911, and his bohemian lifestyle is fortunately interesting enough for several biographies, which include descriptions of Alderney Manor. These reveal that it consisted of 2 buildings, the larger of which was actually known as Alderney Cottage. Some distance apart, hidden by rhododendron bushes, was the Alderney Manor building itself. This was clearly very distinctive, described as… a curious low pink building, an elongated bungalow with Gothick windows and a fantastic castellated parapet… It looked at first sight, like a cardboard castle from some Hans Andersen story – a fragile fortress… alderney Manor (2)The smooth stucco surface, once a proud red, had faded leaving patches here and there of a cardboard colour…With its single row of windows pointing loftily nowhere, the house seemed embarrassed by its own absurdity.¹

Dr John
Advertisement for the sanatorium – with thanks to Dai and Katie at Poole Museum History Centre

The lease signed by Dr Johns in December 1900 was for 21 years at a yearly rent of £75; the purpose listed to carry on an open-air sanatorium for the treatment of consumptive patients.  The major feature of Dr Johns’ Sanatorium was open air treatment –  based on the principles of treatment begun by Dr Otto Walter of Nordrach in Germany, whereby patients were exposed to fresh air at all times, in all weathers, were fed an extensive diet, and submitted to an exercise regime determined by the patient’s temperature.  Dr Johns’ claim was that he offered the “hut system”. He placed 11 double sleeping huts around the site for the male patients to live in, all year round. They measured 24 foot by 12 foot, and were wooden but with corrugated iron cladding,  heated with anthracite stoves.

Ald Manor
The huts at Alderney Manor. From Walters: Sanatoria for Consumptives 3ed.

There were 3 double day huts for female patients, but they slept in bedrooms in the Cottage – presumably with permanently open windows to achieve the same effect. The huts were aligned in rows with clear space between them. There was also a sun garden, with what were called ‘sun baths’. A lake is also shown on maps of the Manor. Meals were taken in the Manor building. The Manor also consisted of consulting rooms, administration area, kitchens, and staff accommodation.

The lease specifically granted Dr Johns “the shooting and sporting rights” over the land. The country around within the Canford Estate was an area used by Lord Wimborne for country pursuits, with shooting parties and hunting expeditions. The facilities on offer at Dr Johns’ Sanatorium were described in a contemporary work: For amusements, croquet, sea-bathing (under medical supervision), fishing on Lord Wimborne’s preserves, and rabbit shooting on the estate itself, are provided. A bandstand has been erected for occasional concerts. A local land agent gives lessons by arrangement in the management of landed property”.²  The Manor also featured a wine cellar, probably not common in infectious disease hospitals.  The advertisement in the British Medical Journal had described it as in an ideal spot, specifically built for the cure on the Hut system, with sun bathing all the year round. Do the current residents of Alderney realise they can sun bathe all year round?

The sanatorium opened at the beginning of 1901 and closed during 1911. As no other patient lists seem to have survived, it is convenient that the censuses taken in 1901 and 1911 make it possible to obtain some idea about Dr Johns’ success in admitting wealthy patients. The census taken on 31st March 1901 was literally a few weeks after the opening, and it reveals just 11 patients against its 25 patient capacity. Of these, 7 are said to be living by their own means ie had no work as such, and therefore quite likely to be well off. The others were listed as a doctor, railway manager, timber merchant and inspector of schools – certainly middle class patients, though not necessarily wealthy. The census on 2nd April 1911 was just before the closure, and there were now only 4 patients. The 2 men listed were a mining engineer and schoolmaster; one of the women has no work listed, but the other is a housekeeper, which may be a mistake, or a special case. It seems rather unlikely that such people needed advice on the management of landed property! Perhaps in the intervening years the patient profile had been wealthier. None of the patients listed were local. Their ages show the oldest patient was 50, but most were in their 20s and 30s.

A list of the staffing of the Sanatorium shows 1 doctor, 6 nurses, 1 secretary, 1 cook, 5 maids, 3 general staff, 1 gardener and 4 hut cleaners. ³  Just the one doctor was not perhaps the original plan, as at an early stage there had also been an Assistant Medical Officer.  Dr Egbert Coleby Morland listed that role at Alderney Manor in his qualifications for writing a prize essay in 1902 on the design of sanatoria. Dr Moreland later achieved the more prestigious position of Editor of the Lancet medical journal. The 1901 census shows a Matron, Sarah Payne, and one nurse living in, and Matron Laura Purdon but no other nurses in the 1911 census. An extra staff member was the dairyman sought in 1907, to look after 8 cows.

The lease was given up in 1911, when Augustus John was able to take it on (at a lower rent) the pink castellated bungalow and turn the former sanatorium into a bohemian home for his entourage, lady friends and guests. Did they know its previous use? Dr Johns had to make good the premises and take away all the huts and sun baths. By December of that year he was advertising for sale a billiard table, a piano, and several anthracite stoves probably from Alderney Manor. Presumably the sanatorium had not been a long-lasting success.

Dr Johns’ future career is somewhat unclear. He certainly stayed in the area and is listed as living in nearby Longham at Lawn Farm by 1920. After 1911 he may have opened a sanatorium at Deep Dene in West Howe, just a short distance from Alderney Manor. The Red Triangle Farm Colony for tuberculous soldiers from World War One was opened in 1917 there, named as the site of a sanatorium. and one source names Dr Johns as being involved in that venture, although other sources fail to include him in lists of staff. Whether Lawn Farm was a sanatorium of any kind is not known. He died on 11th August 1938, living in Hermitage Road, Parkstone. His wife Ellen had died in 1905 living at Alderney Manor, and they are both buried at St John the Baptist Church, Moordown. Unfortunately no image has yet been found of Dr Johns.


¹Michael Holroyd: Augusts John. Chatto & Windus 1996.

²Frederick Rufenacht Walters: Sanatoria for consumptives 3ed. 1905.  Available at the Wellcome Library.

³ Particulars of Dr Johns’ sanatorium at Alderney Manor. May 1902. D-WIM/JO-877E at Dorset History Centre.

Other sources: local newspapers, online censuses, information at Poole History Centre  and Dorset History Centre.


Medical Officer of Health for Poole: the post and the postholders

                                                               1873-77 Heber Dowling Ellis

                                                               1877-80 Herbert Alfred Lawton

                                                               1880-86 Frederick Edwin Vernede

                                                               1886-1903 Herbert Alfred Lawton

                                                               1903-13 George Hedwig Carrington

                                                               1914-15 Austin Threlfall Nankivell

                                                               1915-18 William Gosse (Acting)

                                                               1918-21 Austin Threlfall Nankivell

                                                               1921-42 Robert Maule Horne

                                                               1942-52 George Chesney

                                                               1952-74 James Hutton



For 101 years the Medical Officer of Health for Poole was responsible for improving the public health of the town. These were the people who brought Poole forward from the Victorian days of filthy and smelly streets and alleys, slum housing, frequent epidemics, overflowing cesspits, high infant mortality, no maternity services, no health promotion, no public immunisation campaigns, no isolation hospitals.

Just 8 men held the post in 101 years, plus one as Acting Medical Officer of Health during the war service of Dr Nankivell. No women – although there was a period of some weeks when the postholder was off sick and his doctor wife stood in for him.

The first ones were part-time, working mainly as GPs. Their time as Medical Officer of Health (MoH) would not have been a prestigious appointment – working for the Council afforded much less social prestige than meeting the medical needs of the town’s better-off citizens. Eventually it became a career post, a head of department in local government with a large staff of qualified people in specialised positions.

The post was created by the 1872 Public Health Act, which decreed that municipal boroughs had to appoint both an MoH and an inspector of nuisances. In rural districts the responsibility was placed on the Board of Guardians to appoint an MoH. The profession of public health doctor was thus created. The MoH did not have to be a full-time appointment and In common with most councils, Poole’s first MoHs continued working as GPs. The Local Government Board, forerunner to a Ministry of Health, had offered to subsidise half the salary but with the proviso it had a say in what the MoH actually did. Poole refused this offer, thereby keeping control of the work and, importantly, the expenditure. The council’s expectations about the post were certainly low – in 1873 it laid down that the first MoH need only confer with the Council “from time to time.” No specific qualifications were required beyond being medically qualified, although later the Diploma in Public Health was necessary. Poole initially offered a salary of £60 pa on a 3 year contract.  Most appointments at the time had similar time-limited contracts, but £60 was probably above the average paid.IMG_20170425_104438

In the earlier years the management of public health was in the hands of Urban and Rural Sanitary Authorities. But for Poole this meant merely that the Council was the Sanitary Authority, operating with a separate Sanitary Committee. This committee thus dealt with all the environmental issues that were previously discussed in the full council meetings. Strangely the Fire Brigade was included in the coverage.

The MoH’s patient was not the person but the whole community. The precise duties laid down in detail by the Local Government Board in 1872 numbered 18 separate tasks. These together required the postholder to inspect and report on the local public health, look into the occurrence of epidemic diseases such as cholera and typhoid, and to advise the council on how to deal with them. An annual report was to be produced for the council and the Board, and made public.Ann Rep MoH IMG_20170425_103026 The Public Health Act of 1875 then set the agenda for the sanitary code to be followed. Sanitary is not a word much used in that context today, but then it meant the supply and quality of water, dealing with drains and sewerage and nuisances, food inspection, street cleaning, housing inspections, and regulation of markets and slaughterhouses. These were all matters of great relevance to Poole’s public health, but in many ways were also contentious issues in that they led the MoH into disputes with many local residents and businessmen – landlords, shopkeepers, publicans, factory owners and others. These were influential people, often councillors. The MoH across the country was at risk of removal from office if he upset too many of the wrong people – security of tenure in his post was always a matter of concern. This situation led to one of Poole’s early MoHs not having his contract renewed, being accused by some of having done the job “too well”. Scrutiny by the Local Government Board also had its perils – on several occasions inspectors were sent from London to review how well they performed.

But in dealing with infectious diseases the MoH was at least seen as an expert voice. Poole was no stranger to epidemics and as a port was always at risk of disease being imported into the town. The creation of hospitals to cope with infectious disease was quickly seen as the most important step an MoH could take. In 1872 Poole had no hospital of any kind. The first postholder, Dr Ellis, was able to deal with that, after some false starts, and the isolation hospital at Baiter resulted. Later Alderney Isolation Hospital was added to his responsibilities, having been set up by the Rural Sanitary Authority for Kinson. It was only in relation to the isolation hospitals that the MoH kept direct clinical contact with individual patients.

The extra responsibility that port towns faced was recognised in the creation of Port Sanitary Authorities, with their own MoH. Poole was offered by the Local Government Board the opportunity to be the Sanitary Authority for Poole harbour, which it accepted. Poole’s MoH was then given the extra responsibility for all port health matters, with a small salary of its own to add to his total earnings. But these were still separate posts, with separate contracts.  In fact, as well as being MoH and port MoH, the postholder was also employed as School Medical Officer for the borough – 3 jobs in one, each with a separate salary.

Over time, the duties changed and the MoH post developed, requiring more staff and evolving into a big department of the council. Those staff eventually included such as laboratory staff, veterinary inspectors, community dentists, health visitors and midwives. School health became a major responsibility, and occupied a large part of the annual report. The list of MoHs above are those doctors appointed by the Borough of Poole, but there were other MoHs with responsibilities in what is now Poole. Branksome Urban District Council had its own MoH during its short existence at the turn of the twentieth century, having itself absorbed part of Kinson Urban Sanitary Authority.  Poole Rural Sanitary Authority was responsible for those areas covered by the Poole Board of Guardians outside the town itself, including Canford Magna and the Lytchetts. The medical officer for the workhouse was the first MoH, but as time went on, there were medical officers for different parts of the area, with an MoH in overall charge for the rural districts. One of these, William Gardner Robinson, held the post for nearly 30 years.

In 1974 there was a reorganisation of both local government and the NHS, with a split between personal health and environmental health. The MoH was replaced by the community physician, who was employed in the NHS and not local government. Meanwhile Poole Council now had an Environmental Health Department, which included a responsibility for port health matters. More recently further changes have seen public health return to local government, with Directors of Public Health as  successors to MoHs.

The individual doctors who served as MoH, whether the early GP part-timers or the later career public health specialists, played a huge part in improving the health of Poole for its residents. Their annual reports in themselves serve as detailed histories of Poole’s health record since 1873, with valuable epidemiological statistics. The personal biographies of each MoH, and the events of their  time in office, are worthy of recording – from the light-hearted warning of the health perils of spring cleaning to the sad story of the one struck off; from the member of the Dutch aristocratic family to the proud Scot who was Chieftain of the Dorset Caledonian Society; from the expert on diphtheria immunisation to the one on oyster fisheries. It is planned to tell all their stories in future posts.


Recalling the medical officer of health / Sidney Chave. King’s Fund, 2000.
Poole Borough Corportation. Minutes of council (Public Health Act) 1872-85. DCL-PL/B/1/3/1. Accessed at Dorset History Centre.
Contemporary newspaper reports and directories. Accessed at Poole History Centre.
Annual Reports of the Medical Officer of Health, Poole. Accessed at Poole History Centre.

Cornelia Hospital and how it became the first local hospital to receive World War One casualties

September 1914 – Britain had been at war for a month. The military authorities were still assuring the Red Cross that there was enough accommodation to deal with the wounded of the British Expeditionary Force, and that the “temporary hospitals” which the Red Cross were offering were not likely to be needed short of the country being invaded. The Red Cross and its VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments) were getting frustrated. The British Red Cross Society was formed in 1870, but the Dorset Red Cross had only been operating since 1911. It was the War Office that had launched the idea of using VADs, in 1909,  inspired by events in the far-off Russo-Japanese war of 1904/5.

During September 1914 the Poole detachment of the Red Cross was busy setting up the Bournemouth and Branksome Voluntary Relief Hospital as one of the temporary hospitals, even though it was sited in neighbouring Bournemouth. This was renamed Crag Head Military Hospital, receiving its first patients in October. The nearest official military hospital was also in Bournemouth, but no patients were admitted there until November.

Cornelia Hospital was Poole’s general hospital, a voluntary hospital only established in 1889 and set up on its Longfleet site only 7 years before the war started. This was a small hospital of only 17 beds, but it was to play a big part in Poole’s  war.  In September 1914 there were no plans in place for any military patients to be admitted to the Cornelia Hospital – the major worry was probably whether their local doctors would leave to join up. All this changed in a few days, whether plans were ready for war casualties or not. The exigencies of war did not wait for plans. Cornelia suddenly became the first local hospital with wounded soldiers from the Front.BEAMISH COLLECTION The Cornelia Hospital, Poole. 1907. File A42.

The story of how the Cornelia Hospital dealt with a sudden and unexpected influx of war casualties is told, albeit succinctly, in the hospital’s Annual Report for 1914:

In the month of September your Committee received a most urgent appeal on behalf of sick and wounded Belgian soldiers, and at short notice, the out-patients waiting room was furnished as a ward, and accommodation offered to ten patients. Beds were provided by friends, and certain structural additions of a temporary nature were made to that part of the Hospital. Subscriptions were received for the special purpose of meeting the expenditure on this account, but the total cost has not been provided for, yet the Committee believe that they would have failed to anticipate the wishes of the subscribers if they had refused what treatment and comfort the Hospital could afford to these brave soldiers, whose patient courage under their sufferings have won for them so much affection and respect.

1912 Plan of the Hospital with Outpatients on the right

The Belgian soldiers had been brought into Poole by sea, and the Cornelia was the only possible place available for them to be taken. Suddenly a hospital of only 17 beds managed to set up another 10 beds in its outpatients department, sending out to benefactors to supply the beds and presumably bedding. There were rarely beds to spare in its two wards – average daily occupancy of its 17 beds was 16.46 in 1912 and strangely 18.01 in 1913. The largest space in the small building for extra beds was the busy outpatients room. How it dealt with outpatients for the next few weeks is not known. This was a hospital with no resident medical staff and normally only 5 nurses under a Matron. There were 23 Belgian soldiers admitted in all. No arrangements could be made beforehand as to how what was a very financially shaky voluntary hospital would pay for their care and maintenance.

One person affected by the sudden arrival of the Belgian soldiers was the much-decorated nurse Charlotte Paterson. She was due to leave for France from her post at the Cornelia Hospital, but the arrival of the wounded men at 11pm the night beforehand meant she changed her plans. She carried on at the Cornelia and it wasn’t until October 1915 she finally reached France.

The hospital had plenty of space in its grounds. It had been built on a site with a specific purpose of having enough space for future expansion. The result was that the Red Cross were able to create 2 new wards from scratch and opened them in the November of that year. Later extra tented wards were used in Summer months. The original plan had been to use local schools as hospitals, but the Council would not allow that. The way Cornelia rose to the occasion for the Belgian soldiers may have influenced the decision to build military wards on the Cornelia site. The hospital was jointly run for the rest of the war, albeit remaining under the Cornelia Matron, Helen Milne. Cornelia Hospital went on to have 140 beds and admit a total of 2583 military patients in the war, whilst still caring for  its local patients.

By 1918  11 auxiliary military hospitals had been opened in Poole, with the Poole Red Cross detachment still staffing Crag Head Hospital in Bournemouth. Some had been originally established as private convalescent units, but by 1918 they were all run by detachments of the British Red Cross. They employed some trained nurses and cooks, but were mostly staffed by VADs in both nursing and support roles. The majority were convalescent units, but others, like Cornelia, offered full medical and surgical treatments. The story of all these hospitals, and the people who worked in them, will be told on a new website being created by Poole Museum with the help of a Heritage Lottery Grant:  Poole, the First World War and its Legacy .

A hospital or a library? Poole’s decision in 1887.

The people of Poole were given a choice early in 1887 – would they rather support a hospital or a public library? By an overwhelming vote they chose a library. Self-improvement over health care.

The decision was debated at a meeting held in the Guildhall on the 18th February 1887, called by the town’s Sheriff to decide on how Poole should mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, what lasting memorial the town could raise to show its appreciation of the monarch’s 50 years on the throne. This was happening across the whole country, of course, and Jubilee fund raising was a significant factor in the surge in the number of both public libraries and hospitals at the end of the nineteenth century.

But in 1887 Poole did have a library, near the Quay at the end of the High Street, where the frontage for Poole Museum is today. The only hospital was the small fever hospital at the water’s edge at Baiter; there was no general hospital in Poole at all. Other smaller towns in Dorset had hospitals by 1887 – Weymouth, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Bridport – as well as the county hospital in Dorchester. So why was a new library preferred?

The major reason was probably the simple fact that the idea of a library had been put forward long before, to the extent that many people thought it was already a decision made. The initial suggestion for a library to mark the Jubilee had been made by the Rev. Clavell, vicar of St Paul’s Church, and the local Parliamentary Debating Society had backed the idea. Poole should have a Free Library, one that under the Public Library Acts would be adopted by the Council and receive ongoing support from the rates. The local timber merchant Mr JJ Norton enthusiastically joined in and offered £1000 towards a building for a new library, suggesting it also have a School of Art. The existing library was a subscription library set up in 1830, run by the Literary Institute. The council had also by 1887 tentatively considered a Free Library and had opened a reading room and tiny library. But the notion of a well-stocked, purpose-built library open to all residents and maintained by the public purse was eagerly seized on by the town’s leading citizens.mr-j-norton-preview

But not everyone agreed, of course, and one who came out with a different Jubilee proposal – for a cottage hospital – was the then Mayor, William Dugdale. He and Mr Norton were on far from good terms, following various disputes as councillors and businessmen. Politically they were on opposite sides – Dugdale a Conservative and Norton a Liberal. Mr Dugdale was against a Free Library at all, as were most Conservatives. Well-known teetotaller Mr Norton also wanted the library to mark another Jubilee – that of the Temperance Association, which did not go down well with some! However, because the library scheme had had time to be accepted as the only proposal, the Mayor’s hospital idea was tainted from the start as simply a spoiling tactic and a political attempt to stop Mr Norton getting his way. But he was the Mayor and he was able to delay the decision. This was highly significant, because Mr Norton’s offer to pay for the library building included a deadline – if not built before October 1887, his funds were to be withdrawn. By delaying any decision, the Mayor could stop the library scheme altogether.

The unrest caused by the delay came to a head early in 1887, when a petition of 35 leading citizens appeared in the local newspaper, the Poole and Bournemouth Herald, calling on the town’s Sheriff to resolve the issue by calling a public meeting to decide the best way of celebrating the Jubilee. The result was the meeting held on the evening of 18th February.

Poole Guildhall


The importance given the matter was shown by the crowds who attended on a dark winter’s night. The newspaper claimed all classes of ratepayers were represented – from the peer to the peasant. Special seating for ladies was arranged on the magistrates’ benches in the ancient courtroom. A long account of what was obviously a lively and raucous event appeared in the newspaper. The newspaper had long backed the library scheme. In a leading article it stated the hospital scheme was laudable but impractical, and endangered the Free Library scheme.

Poole’s Sheriff at the time was Henry Mackintosh, a doctor practising in the High Street.  Sheriff’s meetings were an open form of democracy, unlike parliamentary elections where there was a very restricted electorate. It is not entirely clear whether the provision for women included their ability to vote – they did not have the vote in elections of course, and neither did the “peasants” said to be there. Decisions were taken by a simple show of hands.

It must have been obvious that the case for a cottage hospital faced a very difficult task if it was to win. Lord Wimborne, the Lord of the Manor, made the first speech, proposing the cottage hospital. He made much of the fact Poole already had a library, and that although one in private ownership, a deal had been struck to hand it over to the council, complete with building, stock and fittings, to form the town’s Free Library.

Lord Wimborne

He said that if the vote backed a cottage hospital instead, he personally undertook to find and provide a suitable building, backed by a fund of £1000 put forward by his wife, Lady Cornelia. He claimed to have researched the running costs of cottage hospitals elsewhere and so had a good idea of how much would be needed to be raised by the Jubilee appeal to establish an investment fund to ensure the hospital’s future. He believed there were enough wealthy residents of Poole to raise the £5000 he thought required. He also, of course, made much of the need to provide for the health of the town’s poor: speaking of the fearful manner in which suffering and sickness weighed upon those who were dependent on their daily toil for their bread. This was backed up by the second speaker, Rev. HT Cavell. He was immediately at a disadvantage, however, in being the initial proposer of the library! He claimed he had thought at the time a hospital was not a practical idea, but Lord Wimborne’s support enabled him to change his mind and back what he had always thought Poole needed most – a hospital. He talked of the distress and suffering he saw around him every day. Why should people have to try to get a ticket for admission to a hospital in Bournemouth or Dorchester, and then have to find their way there? He stressed that the needs of the intellect should give way to those of the suffering. He felt it would be a boon to their descendants if they erected a hospital. If Yeovil with 10,000 people could open and support a hospital, why could not the 13,000 people in Poole?

There was a glaring omission, however, in the case for the hospital. The town’s medical men did not come out to support it – did not even attend the meeting. This was even more glaring considering 2 doctors were among the petitioners who called for the meeting to be held. Dr Mackintosh was there of course, chairing the meeting, not able to speak for either side. Otherwise it seemed clear that Poole’s doctors did not support the hospital. No other speakers backed the hospital. So the case for a hospital was put forward solely by the Lord of the Manor – an outsider to most – and a vicar who had first backed the alternative.

However, the case for the library was made by a number of speakers, giving the obvious impression that there was much more to be said in its favour. The first speaker was a schoolteacher, Mr WK Gill. He was followed by Mr WM Morris, Mr SL Baker, and the Rev E Evans, before Mr Norton – clearly the star speaker. Still after him came several more speakers for the library. Their combined case rested on dismissing the finances of any hospital, and stressing the need to support the young and the working class of the town to have the means to better themselves by providing an alternative to drink, billiards, and other unnamed behaviours. The existing library was roundly criticised as in a bad place, and with a very inferior stock, whereas thanks to Mr Norton there was the chance for a fine new building designed for the purpose. It was even stated that there was actually no need for a hospital in Poole, that the friendly societies and the hospitals in Bournemouth and Dorchester were enough. Disease was said to be largely due to ignorance and drink. That ignorance needed to be overcome and the library would encourage it. The new Free Library would be supported by the council, would be for all the people of Poole, and would stand for generations. But the challenge to the likelihood of Poole being able to raise the funds to support a hospital at all was probably a telling blow – nobody else spoke up to support Lord Wimborne’s figures, but plenty spoke out that a hospital could not be afforded.

When put to the vote, the decision was overwhelmingly for the library scheme. Lord and Lady Wimborne had to accept clear defeat. This was publicly humiliating for the Lord of the Manor and his aristocratic wife, although they were probably expecting the outcome, although perhaps not the abuse which they apparently received as well.

Despite much initial pessimism that the Council and Mr Norton would never agree and work together, the library was built, although still with great controversy and bad feeling. He insisted on his deadline to complete the building by October, and for much of the year this seemed unlikely – until he took over the construction work himself and i

Poole’s Free Library – now the Lord Wimborne

nstituted 24-hour working, using electrical lighting, a rare thing indeed. Lord Wimborne had provided the site to the council for £100, in what was then Mount Street (now Lagland Street).  Because the site and the building were provided, the fundraising appeal for the Jubilee was for fittings and stock alone.

The library, with School of Art, and later Museum, did open, although Mr Norton was difficult to the end, and did not attend the grand opening.free-library-plaque

It remained Poole’s public library for generations of users. Today the impressive, landmark building is a Wetherspoon’s pub, named ironically the Lord Wimborne.

The forceful Lady Wimborne did not allow the defeat to stop her setting up a cottage hospital, and one was established in West Street the following year. She had to put up with continued hostility from the majority of Poole’s doctors, however, and her hospital’s financial model was never successful. She had to support the hospital with her own money for years to come. Lord Wimborne had learnt one lesson, however, and by the time of the Diamond Jubilee 10 years later, he was actually Poole’s Mayor and able to successfully put forward another scheme to help the hospital!

With the benefit of 130 years of hindsight, was the right decision made that night? Should Poole have had a Jubilee Hospital – or were its residents actually shrewd enough to ensure it got both anyway?


The account of the meeting is in the Poole and Bournemouth Herald 24 February 1887


Edward Lacy, 1799-1870: Poole surgeon, mayor and magistrate

Edward Lacy was a prominent resident of Poole during the mid-part of the nineteenth century, as surgeon, councillor, mayor and magistrate. Yet he does not figure prominently in the published histories of the town. He was born in Salisbury in 1799, but his parents, James and Mary (nee Bernister), were from nearby Wimborne, and his brother Henry was born in Poole. The highlight of Edward Lacy’s career was probably his year as the town’s Mayor; the low point may have been his part in a highly publicised case of grave robbing.

Edward began his medical career by undertaking work as a pupil at the County Infirmary in Salisbury, before heading to London to the Marylebone Infirmary; he then studied at St George’s Hospital as pupil and dresser to Sir Edward Home and Sir Benjamin Brodie, receiving his diploma in 1823. He was awarded Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA) and Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) in 1822, as well as becoming a Fellow (FRCS) in 1852, shortly after the qualification was instituted.  He practised originally in Stockport, perhaps chosen because brother Henry was at that time living in Manchester. He was appointed House Surgeon at the Stockport Infirmary in March 1823, was also at the Dispensary and House of Recovery, moving on later to the Queen’s Lying-in Institution, Manchester, where he lectured on midwifery and diseases of women and children. Edward applied several times, unsuccessfully, to be elected to surgeon at the Manchester Royal Infirmary during the 1830s. It was while in Manchester that he became embroiled in 1832 in a law suit concerning grave-robbing. The Rev. Gilpin of Stockport  successfully brought a libel case, against an activist and publisher, Mr Doherty, who had claimed that a body was removed from the graveyard with Rev. Gilpin’s knowledge to the dissecting room of surgeon Mr Lacy, who happened to be the Rev. Gilpin’s brother-in-law. The case featured strongly in the local and London newspapers, and must have been very embarrassing for Edward.

He married Frances Gilpin  on 2nd September 1828; she was born in Broughton in Furness, Lancashire, the daughter of a local magistrate. They had 4 children while living in Manchester – Ruth, Bernard and Frances , but another daughter, Caroline Mary, died in infancy in 1840.

They had moved to Poole by 1844, Edward taking over the medical practice of the late Dr Thomas Barter in the High Street. The probable address ( thanks to High Street historian Jenny Oliver) was at or near number 90 High Street, adjacent to the old thatched cottage at the corner of Carter’s Lane.

Probable location in Poole High Street

Edward had gained considerable experience in hospital work before moving to Poole, but there was no hospital in Poole at that time, or indeed during his lifetime. His living was therefore from general practice, plus the various contracts available to doctors.  Edward was Honorary Surgeon to the 4th Dorset Rifle Volunteers, surgeon to several different friendly societies and the Amity Lodge. Another role was medical officer to the Kinson, Canford and Parkstone district of the Poole Union. However, Edward was later involved in Bournemouth’s first hospital development. He was listed as a member of the founding committee of the Bournemouth Public Dispensary for the Sick Poor in

Bournemouth Dispensary , Yelverton Road

1859, as well as working there as an honorary surgeon. The dispensary was established to provide for the poor in the fast-developing town of Bournemouth , but also covering adjoining areas including Poole. As a dispensary it did not have inpatients, although just before his death it became a cottage hospital, forerunner to the Royal Victoria Hospital.  Later, as his health began to deteriorate, he took as his partner Dr William Turner.

His medical interests are shown by publications in the Medical Times and Gazette on ingrowing toenails, treatment of naevi, and anal fistula. He prepared a report for presentation to the inaugural meeting of the Dorset County Association of General Practitioners in June 1848 on the use of chloroform in surgery, which represented an early clinical review of experience.

1848 was a year when his name was to certainly the fore as a medical man, as he was invited in November to present a lecture at the Guildhall to Poole’s Mechanics Institute on The Health of Towns. This was a lecture on a topic more suited to a Medical Officer of Health, if such a post yet existed, rather than a general surgeon. Presumably he was by then known for his knowledge of the subject, and his experiences in the Manchester area may have been significant in this. The context was the passing of the Public Health Act in that year, but the worry of cholera outbreaks was a constant factor locally and nationally. Edward began by comparing life expectancy in Poole with that in Manchester, Liverpool and Stockport, to demonstrate that what he termed its “salubrity” compared well with the northern cities. He praised the introduction of new drainage in Thames Street and North Street, where effluvia traps were in place, but in reality he certainly knew how dirty the streets of Poole were, so perhaps tried hard not to offend his listeners’ pride in their town. The bulk of his lecture was educational, using diagrams and other aids, to demonstrate how the lungs and circulation were affected by poor living conditions. Evidence was presented to show how cholera arose where drains and sewers emptied, in damp situations, and amongst “the dirty of the inhabitants.” He highlighted the twin causes of ill health as being due to environmental factors and what he called “personal economy.” The former was down to the “vitiated state of the atmosphere” due to noxious gases from the filth, offal, decomposing matter, lack of drainage and sewerage, and the state of housing and workplaces. The latter was due to the poor personal habits of the population. He stressed the need for better ventilation in homes, workplaces and public rooms. The newspaper reports the bouts of applause that greeted his remarks, so perhaps the message was well accepted by his audience. He ended by stating that however well the Poor Law Guardians provided aid and nutrition for the poor, they could do nothing to affect ventilation and cleanliness for the general population. He offered, should cholera hit Poole, that “his surgery would be open at all hours to the suffering poor.”

There is evidence Edward Lacy returned to this message during his time as a councillor, but the poor state of the public health in the town continued for decades, so clearly without much effect. Poole in fact did not adopt the 1848 Public Health Act. A few years later the General Board of Health, forerunner of the Ministry of Health, condemned the “defective sanitary condition of the town.” However his lecture is worthy of a place in the history of the drive to improve Poole’s public health.

Edward was first elected to the Poole Town Council in 1848, representing the North West Ward as a Conservative, remaining a councillor until his death. It was during the year before that he had been appointed medical officer to the Poole Union; clearly he was a recognised figure in the town by then. In November 1860, as a long-serving member, he was elected by the Town Council as the Mayor, and by this time he was also chief magistrate for the town. When he died the newspaper headline recorded it as the death of a magistrate, rather than surgeon; perhaps in his later years his presence on the Bench was more marked than his medical work.

Outside his medical career, he had at least one business interest, almost certainly influenced by his brother Charles. Charles had been involved with coaching, but saw the railways as the future and became involved in many schemes as investor, promotor and director. This was the time of “railway mania”, and Manchester was at the forefront. Edward was attracted to it also and his name appears in relation to the efforts to develop a railway link from Poole to Salisbury. This link was for a time known locally as the Lacy line. There is no evidence this business venture brought him financial success. His brother was certainly successful, and for a while a national figure, serving as MP for Bodmin.

Edward Lacy died on 7th October 1870, aged 70, and was buried in Poole Cemetery on 13th October. The funeral was a large affair, with a procession of civic dignitaries and an honour guard of 30 men from the Rifle Volunteers; flags were at half-mast on the Guildhall and church. His obituary in the local newspaper was accompanied by a eulogy, highly complimentary about his medical career, including his charitable approach to those unable to pay for his care. As a surgeon and citizen he had made his mark in Poole – during his lifetime at least.


Supporting materials are lodged at the History Centre, Poole Museum, including transcripts from the local newspaper of his lecture on The Health of Towns and the obituary, plus an account of the grave-robbing case.