TheRise and Work of the Cornelia Hospital is the title of an illustrated book apparently published in 1918, but which seems to be completely lost and unknown.
The book was published in March 1918 and must be the first written history of Poole’s hospital, then known as the Cornelia Hospital, named after its founder Lady Cornelia Wimborne. And yet the only evidence for its existence is in newspaper articles from the time. It isn’t held in the stock of Poole Museum History Centre, Dorset Archives, local public libraries, national collections at the British Library and Wellcome Library, or listed in the joint catalogue of academic libraries in the UK (JISC).
Is it anywhere?
Or is there a chance a member of a Poole family has a copy, whether on proud display or perhaps hidden away in the attic?
What little is known
In 1918 the Cornelia Hospital was not only the town’s acute hospital, but also an admitting hospital for wounded soldiers returning from the battlefields of the First World War. The hospital then had only a short history. It had been founded in 1889 in West Street, moving to Market Street in 1890. In 1907 it moved to its present location in Longfleet Road, but with only 17 beds. Until the advent of the war it had been a tiny hospital, but its designation as a Red Cross hospital in 1914, receiving wounded from the war, was a big step in its development. By 1918 there were 140 beds, the vast majority in the military wards, and that year, Cornelia Hospital received 700 patients a year – a huge increase on the pre-war levels.
The hospital committee had plans to develop further in order to better meet the needs of a town the size of Poole. As a voluntary hospital, fundraising was the only way to pay for the necessary building extensions – no central NHS to fund services at that time.
As a part of this fundraising, an event was held at the Amity Hall on 23rd March 1918 attended by the great and good of the town, including the hospital’s founder and benefactor Lady Cornelia Wimborne. This event featured entertainment in the form of a concert and a film.
There was also a slideshow, entitled The Rise and Work of the Cornelia Hospital. It was presented by Morton Pask, using slides by local photographer William Warn, with text written by Herbert Kendall, the Hospital Secretary. This was the main element of the evening, describing the background to the short history of the hospital and how it needed to develop to meet the health needs of Poole.
All that is known comes from the newspaper reports of the event:
From the Bournemouth Guardian is a description of the occasion:the occasion was made all the more memorable by the story being told of the rise and work of the hospital…. The beginnings of the hospital and the munificence of Lord and Lady Wimborne were threads woven into the pattern of large-hearted generosity, and there came later details of the removal from the old Elizabethan building in Market Street, to the new site in Longfleet Road. ¹
The Poole Herald reported in more detail, and mentions the book :An interesting and instructive lecture on The rise and work of the Cornelia Hospital by Mr Morton Pask, illustrated with many beautiful slides from photos taken by Mr Warn… funds were added to by the sale of the splendid and beautifully illustrated book, bearing the title of Mr Pask’s lecture, edited by Mr Pask and illustrated by Mr Warn and sold by nurses from the Cornelia Hospital and the Forest Holme Annexe who were present in numbers and added a splash of colour to the scene. ²
And that is all we know!
No account of the history of the hospital mentions the book at all.
Do any copies of the book still exist?
Any help in tracing the book would be gratefully received. Comment to this blog or contact the staff of the History Centre at Poole Museum.
The new hospital at Parkstone was formally opened on Tuesday with a very impressive service (Hants Independent 29 Nov 1890).
We tell with satisfaction the establishment of a small Hospital at the Castle.(Parkstone Reminder 1 Nov 1890).
These quotes seem to refer to a hospital opened in Parkstone in 1890. Nearby the Cornelia Hospital, forerunner of Poole Hospital, had been opened just the previous year, while the Royal Victoria Hospital in Westbourne had opened a few years earlier in 1887. But was there a hospital actually in Parkstone in 1890?
The institution to which the quotes refer was in fact more a nursing home than a hospital. This was the Home of the Holy Name.
In the Beginning for the Home of the Holy Name
As its name suggests, the Home of the Holy Name was a religious institution, established by an Anglican sisterhood known as the Servants of the Holy Name. This had had a short history, having been established in Vauxhall, London in about 1865 by the Rev George W Herbert as the St Peter’s Mission Sisters. By 1890 it had established beyond London, with headquarters at Malvern Link in Worcestershire, being now the Community of the Holy Name. The Community’s aims were to see the sinful reclaimed, the ignorant taught, the orphan fed and clothed, and the ills of the body cared for. It was this last aim that led to its venture in Parkstone.
Why in Parkstone? The link with Parkstone seems to have been straightforward – the Rev Ernest Edward Dugmore, incumbent at St Peter’s Church in Parkstone, had previously been a curate at St Peter’s Church in Vauxhall with the Rev Herbert. They remained in close contact after Rev Dugmore’s move to Parkstone in 1872. Presumably this personal link between the two played a part in the Community finding their home in Parkstone. The location was at The Castle. This was not actually a castle, but a large castellated building on Castle Hill.
The Home of the Holy Name (the Home) was run by religious sisters from the Community, led by a Sister Vera. It was established to care for women and children with incurable conditions. Its purpose was stated as being for ladies and children whose malady is chronicor is actually incurable.For such alleviation of suffering is the hope rather than any actual conquest over their illness. Medical coverage was provided by local doctor John Richard Philpots, while Rev Canon Usherwood kindly consented to be the Hon. Chaplain of this “Home of the Holy Name” which is situated in a delightfully sheltered valley for the comfort of chest and throat affections.
It seems not to have specifically sought patients from the local population, and promoted its services nationally, particularly via the society journal The Queen. The issue for 2nd April 1892 named the Home as being for ladies suffering from incurable or chronic illness. Kelly’s Directory listed it as a hospital for incurables. It was clear that this was a place for religious as much as clinical care for those with little hope of outright cure. However the Home also apparently had a role supporting the whole Community of the Holy Name, in providing a place of rest for any of its Sisters temporarily invalided.
The Home was formally opened on 25th November 1890. The Rev Herbert travelled from Vauxhall to perform the opening and to lead a service, which was attended by several local clergy. The Mother Superior of the Community travelled from Malvern Link to attend, accompanied by other senior Sisters known as choir sisters.
At this time the Home had just the one patient, a young girl from London, although more patients were admitted within the next few months.
The Community was not wealthy enough to run the Home on its own; it was very much a charitable institution. It was presumably believed that Parkstone could support the Home, although all involved must have been aware that raising funds was going to be a constant and difficult task. The fact that the Home had a short life is testament to the fact that it never did pay its way.
Patients were certainly expected to contribute to their keep, and the Sisters were presumably not paid a salary as such. But running costs must have been high for such an establishment. Money raising events such as jumble sales can be found listed in the newspapers, and were apparently well-supported.
The charges for patients can be found in reports in The Queen – the weekly payments are from 10s 6d to 30s for ladies and 5s 6d for children. It was stressed that these payments did not cover the full costs although no paid servants are employed. The sisters themselves of course provided the main source of labour, but appeals were necessary for monetary donations and also for actual goods. ….This charitable lady pleads for gifts of disused invalid appliances, furniture, old linen, boots, books, cast-off clothing, also for fruit, flowers, vegetables. They also advertised that needlework could be undertaken by the Sisters.
The Bishop of Salisbury visited in November 1891 to inspect the work of the Home. He was shown round by Sister Vera and was said to have been very pleased with all he saw and heard about the work of the Sisters there.
How the Home found its patients is not clear. Presumably its religious friends acted as informal agents, and use of media such as The Queen played a part. It stated in its issue of 6 July 1895 that invalid children are admitted for a small weekly payment and receive every care and attention. It is not obvious whether there were strict criteria for admissions ie whether patients or their families could guarantee the fees. How business-like was the Home or the Community?
We do know that during its 3rd year of operation the Home recorded the admission of 15 patients, discharging 9, with one death recorded.
Another feature in The Queen stressed how the strictest economy was practised and that patient payments barely covered costs of their food and medicine. Its economic state of health is perhaps illustrated by an appeal in June 1894 from Sister Vera in which she stated that old crockery and odd cups and saucers etc are very useful in the Home.
What is known is that The Home struggled on for only 5 years. Closure must have been a constant fear, both for the Sisters and their patients. The Home was in desperate need of a benefactor.
.And then it found one!
The Home saved but also lost
An item in the Parkstone Reminder stated that changes in the Community and other circumstances have made it impossible to keep on the work on its hitherto basis. However, a local lady, Miss Hamilton, had offered the use of her own property for the Home. This was an offer gratefully accepted by the Community.
Gertrude Sarah Hamilton (1844 – 1909) was a doctor’s daughter who had inherited her family home, Highmoor, on the death of her mother in 1894 She must have felt the need to make good use of the property, which was situated to the south of Parkstone Station. She was also prepared to make expensive alterations to Highmoor which has now been greatlyenlarged by the building of several good rooms for patients and of a good-sized chapel. These funds did, however, include monies from the efforts of the Sisters, who donated the amount they had raised towards a children’s ward. Patients were moved to the new premises and an opening occurred on Wednesday 21st August 1895. The Home was now at last on a firmer footing.
However it was no longer the Home of the Holy Name. It was now to be named St Mary’sHome. Miss Hamilton was clearly very much in charge, with the Sisters undertaking the nursing duties under Sister Vera. Whether Sister Vera was grateful enough for the generosity of Miss Hamilton to overcome any feelings of being usurped we will never know. However it looked like a perfect answer – a financial saviour and new purpose-built premises.
But these new arrangements did not last. The Parkstone Reminder is again the source of the news that, just months later, the Mother Superior of the Community, after carefulconsultation with Miss Hamilton, had decided to withdraw the Sisters from St Mary’s Home. The short-lived arrangement was now said to have been an experimental period, which was not seen to be working.
This withdrawal could have been due to religious differences, or more down-to-earth matters. Did the Community decide to withdraw because it no longer made the decisions? Was there to be more professional nursing input than the Community had provided? Locally it seems to have been a disappointing decision: The Parkstone well-wishers to the Home will share Miss Hamilton’s regret at the near departure of the Sisters, whose presence and help in the Parish has been a source of much satisfaction to the Vicar and the Church-workers for the last five years.
St Mary’s Home was to continue, with Miss Hamilton now in full charge of all activities. She adopted Sister Vera’s title of Lady Superintendent. Sister Vera and the other Sisters returned to roles allotted them by the Community, with the Home of the Holy Name now a venture consigned to the history of both the Community and of Parkstone.
The people at the Home of the Holy Name
It is fortunate that the 1891 census was conducted within a few months of the opening of the Home. Thus we have a list of the staff and patients in residence on April 5th 1891. The members of the Home of the Holy Name consisted of the Mother in Charge as Superintendent, an Assistant Superintendent, 3 other sisters, plus 5 probationary sisters, who are all listed as nurses. In fact Sister Vera was probably the only trained nurse.
The probationary sisters were referred to elsewhere as 3rd Order Novices of the Community, working under the direction of a choir sister – presumably Sister Vera.
The census form was however completed with family names rather than Community names. This is of course much more use in tracing who these women were, but means we don’t know the names by which they were known at the Home, apart from Sister Vera as Superintendent.
Sister Vera was born Ellen Cable Lake in Norwell, Warwickshire in 1857. She was just 34 when she took responsibility for the Home. Her parents Ellen and George seem not to have been in the church, her father being an actuary. We find Ellen/Vera as a nurse in Westminster Hospital in 1881, confirming her professional background and expertise. Nothing else is known about her until she appeared in Parkstone as Sister Vera. She was heard from after the Home’s transition to St Mary’s when she wrote to Miss Dugmore, the Parkstone vicar’s sister, with thanks for a parcel of clothing for the poor sent to her at St Peter’s Church in Vauxhall. She wrote that Parkstone was endeared to me by so many pleasant memories. The censuses in both 1901and 1911 record Sister Vera/Ellen in charge of the Mission House of the Holy Name in Lambeth. She died in 1928 aged 71 at the Convent of the Holy Name at Malvern Link. So her life had been devoted to the Community. Interestingly a notice of her death in a local newspaper listed her under the surname Lake, but gave her title as Sister Vera as well.
The Assistant Superintendent in 1891 was Joanna Wright, although we don’t have her adopted title. She was aged 38, having been the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Leicestershire. In 1881 she was a governess to a vicar’s family in Staffordshire. She was not long at the Home, however, as she died on 26th December 1891.
Harriet Pratten and Annie M Martin are listed in the census as Sisters at the Home, with another 5 as Probationary Sisters. In fact Harriett and Annie had been together in 1881 at the Home of the Good Shepherd at Malvern Link, where they were described as being in training for laundryand service. It seems that this was a home for wayward girls, situated next door to the Convent of the Holy Name. At some point their training changed to be for work as Sisters.
Harriet was aged 27 from Badgworth in North Somerset. In 1911 she was at the Malvern Link Convent, but listed as servant, which may be a misnomer. She died in 1921 at Malvern Link.
Annie was also 27, born in about 1864 in Sible Hedingham Essex, the daughter of a farm worker.
Those listed as Probationary Sisters were:
Elizabeth William, was 26, born in 1855 in Buckley, Northamptonshire;
Ellen Rice, was 29, born in 1862 in West Oakley Sussex;
Frances Barnard, was 23, born in 1868 in Mitcheldean Gloucestershire. In 1901 she is listed as a Laundry Matron in a religious community in Southwark, possibly part of the Holy Name community in Lambeth.
Alice M Parry, was just 21, born in1871 at Duffield Derbyshire;
Clara Mathilda Singdahlsen, was born in1866 at Bow London. She was the daughter of a Norwegian merchant.
Sisters mentioned in other accounts include a Sister Rosa and a Sister Paula. The Parkstone Reminder of 29 Oct 1904 noted the death of a Sister Eva at the Community at Malvern Link, mentioning that, with her twin sister, Sister Ethel, she was remembered still in Parkstone. However we cannot trace these Sisters without their full non-Community names.
We know also that the Home did have some domestic staff, as 13- year old Mary Smith is recorded as going there to work in domestic service in 1893. However she was subject to an order by magistrates to undergo work placements and may not have been a paid employee.
The census also gives the names of the 6 patients in the Home on that specific day. This is the only account we have of the actual patients nursed there. Interestingly only one was an adult. They were:
Augusta Anne Elliott Barker nee Dickinson, was 67, born in1825 in Kilburn. She is listed as an imbecile; however she was a widow who had married George Barker, an artist in 1848. In 1881 she had been living with her brother. She died in 1892 at the Home.
Lily Eva Habgood was a local 10-year old girl, born in1880 at Bourne Valley and baptised in 1883 at St Adhelms Branksome. Lily died in 1915 in Wimborne.
Louisa E Jenkins, aged 9, was born in1882 in Birmingham.
Henry Abbott, aged 6, was born in 1885 in London.
Lionel John Todman, was 5, born in 1886 in Westminster. In 1901 he was a boarder at an orphanage at Malvern, so had possibly been moved from the Home to another Holy Name Community institution. He later returned to live with his mother and worked in the printing trade as an adult.
Lillian Mildred Somersby, wasjust 3 years old, born in 1888 in Vauxhall, so perhaps linked locally to the Holy Name. Possibly she was the first patient, the sole one when the Home was officially opened. In 1901 and 1911 she was a patient in St Elizabeth’s Home for Incurables in Mortimer St London, run by another religious institution.
The Home of the Holy Name existed in Parkstone for such a short time that it is not surprising that it has been forgotten. Yet for a short while in the 1890s it must have been a familiar name to Parkstone parishioners. Perhaps it is still remembered in some corner of the church or in a family history?
The major source of information on the Home has come from the pages of the Parkstone Reminder, which called itself a parish paper, published weekly by St Peter’s Church. Copies can normally be viewed at Poole Museum, but may be temporarily unavailable during developments there.
Particular issues cited are: 1st Nov 1890; 27 Dec 1890; 24 Sep 1892; 9 June 1894; 27 Oct 1894; 10 Aug 1895; 28 Dec 1895; 5 Feb 1898.
The Home of the Holy Name also featured in issues of the society magazine entitled (in full) The Queen: The Ladies Newspaper and Court Chronicle.
Particular issues cited are: 2 Apr 1892; 20 Oct 1894; 6 July 1895.
The Community of the Holy Name at Malvern Link featured in issues of a local paper, the Worcester Journal. The issue of 13 June 1891 included an article on the history of the order, and included information on the Parkstone hospital for incurable women and children.
.Mary Smith’s time at the Home is mentioned in a Children’s Society catalogue of case files.
Heber Ellis was appointed to the newly-created post of Medical Officer of Health for Poole in 1873, holding the post for nearly five years. He had been working as a doctor in Poole since 1864, but left the area again by late 1878. Whilst he practised medicine in several places, it was in Poole that he left a real mark – as a leading citizen, and significantly, as a medical pioneer. He was the first public health practitioner in Poole, and he oversaw the opening of Poole’s first permanent hospital.
This account of his life and work in Poole is followed by some details of his life beyond Poole – in Eastbourne, Gloucester, London, at sea to India, and Australia.
Heber was 24 when he arrived in Poole sometime in 1863. He was newly qualified as a doctor but seemingly endowed with wealth, and with a determination to make his mark in the town. His interests certainly went beyond his professional status as doctor. He was elected a Liberal councillor for the North West ward and in November 1867 was elected as Sheriff of Poole. Despite being still new to the town, he was clearly already a notable member of Poole society. In 1873 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace, and from that point his name appeared in print as regularly as a magistrate as a doctor.
He married Mary Dyett in Romsey in May 1864, bringing her to Poole. They went on to have 6 children, before Mary died at the age of 34, just months after the birth of their last child in 1875. She was buried at St Pauls in Poole. At some stage they occupied Beech Hurst, the imposing mansion house on the High Street. This would have furthered the presence that Heber was undoubtedly forging for himself in Poole society. Beech Hurst as a property was then very different from today, in being surrounded by its own grounds, not hemmed in by Sainsbury, a coffee shop, and a public house.
They almost certainly used Beech Hurst for entertaining Poole’s leading citizens. Its lawns were used to entertain a big party of Sunday school children on one occasion, and on another a military demonstration.
Heber’s medical career in Poole began with him setting up his practice in the High Street. When living in Beech Hurst he received patients in a mahagony consulting room -it must have made a definite impression. He worked basically as a GP, but the added ability to undertake surgery. At the time it was necessary to develop a thriving medical practice by combining a fairly bewildering range of positions, supplementary to work in the practice. In his time in Poole, Heber was variously surgeon to local factories, medical officer to the railway company, surgeon to Boscombe Cottage Hospital, surgeon to the Alliance Lodge and assistant surgeon to the Dorset Rifle Corps. As early as May 1864 he had been elected as house surgeon for Poole’s workhouse, and to that post he then added the position of medical officer to the poor law districts of Longfleet and Parkstone for the Poole Guardians; each position earned him £30 pa. He must have been well thought of by fellow doctors, as he was elected vice-president of the Dorset BMA group in 1875.
But his prominence in local healthcare history is based on his appointment as Poole’s very first Medical Officer of Health. The Local Government Board in London had been pressing councils to adopt the Public Health Acts which provided for such posts. Poole Council was fairly grudgingly going along with it. However it was determined not to be instructed from London on the matter, and so refused to accept funds from the Board. It funded the post itself. This must have undergone a lot of discussion at council meetings, to which Heber no doubt contributed as a member of the Sanitary Committee. He would therefore be well informed of this proposed new role – but as an elected councillor he was barred from applying for a salaried council post.
So he paid the requisite fine and duly resigned as a councillor in December 1872. At its first meeting of the new year, the council made the final decisions in creating the post of Medical Officer of Health, and Heber duly applied. The Southern Times newspaper stated that on 7th January, Heber was unanimously elected medical officer for the borough. Reports of that meeting are dominated by issues over the town gaol –the new medical post was clearly not seen by the newspaper as of huge significance.
How much Heber knew in advance about the post is an interesting thought. Did he merely see the Medical Officer of Health post as yet another part-time role to add to his portfolio, supplementing his practice as a GP and surgeon? The position was initially for a term of 3 years, at a salary of £60pa. Or had he seen enough of the state of the town to have a burning desire to improve the health of Poole’s residents? If only there was a diary surviving! He had no formal public health qualifications, but as a member of the Sanitary Committee would be well aware of local health issues. Perhaps he recognised the chance was there to be a pioneer.
For the salary and the time available, from what was still very much a part-time role, the council now now had its own doctor, someone to take the lead (and brickbats) whenever one of the regular outbreaks of infectious disease occurred. But there were no other staff to support him, bar an Inspector of Nuisances – very different from the large departments later Medical Officers led. From Heber’s point of view, he had the opportunity to develop the post and the role over the 3 years, reporting at 6-month reviews. Of course, he did not give up his other roles, apart from that of councillor; in fact it was in the same year he became a magistrate. He must have been good at time management!
One of the first recorded tasks he undertook was to raise to the council the matter of a foul ditch in Pitwines. This was an example of the environmental health aspects of his role. Another arose in August of that year, when he reported to the council the offensive nature of Parkstone Bay since the railway embankment had been built. Sewage went into the bay but the tide was insufficient to flush it away. The railway company was deemed to have responsibility.
By August the same year, the post was expanded further when he took on the additional role of Port Medical Officer of Health. The Local Government Board had been pressing Poole Council to take responsibility for health matters relating to the whole harbour, not just the port of Poole; in July it was confirmed that this was to happen. Heber seems to have been more than willing to accept this further role, even offering to take it with no extra pay. Without any delay the council agreed to this! The council’s Harbour Committee was designated as Port Sanitary Authority to oversee the work. As well as his responsibility for the health of the town, he now had a duty to examine the health status of the crews of all ships entering Poole Harbour.
The responsibilities involved were to report both to the council and the Local Government Board on the sanitary state of the town and the port. Put at its simplest, this entailed dealing with dirt and disease in the town. Dirt in so far as he inspected cleanliness of streets, condition of dwelling houses, cesspools, and animal hygiene. Disease in that he reported on mortality rates, child health, and infectious diseases. The town itself was subject to continual outbreaks of infectious disease, some epidemics, some very localized. But all were now his responsibility. This entailed visiting affected households, deciding whether to isolate cases at home or whether to transport the sick to a place of quarantine, and searching out their contacts. But with no department behind him in such work, did he do it all or pay for help? Further, as Port Medical Officer he had to board visiting ships to assess the sanitary condition of their crews in order to prevent diseases being imported to the town. The role obviously developed and changed markedly over time, but for Heber this was all new.
A big development in local public health was his requirement to produce an annual report on the state of the health of Poole. This meant collection and some basic analysis of statistics. He had to be an epidemiologist – was this what he had expected when he resigned as a councillor to seek the post? On appointment he had been only 33, so clearly had no long medical experience and probably minimal environmental health experience.
Further to this, and to his considerable credit, he led the way to the creation of Poole’s first permanent hospital. The isolation hospital at Baiter was the eventual result, but that was not his original plan. The first proposal was a simple hospital tent. In July 1873, when Heber reported problems finding somewhere to isolate a smallpox patient, a special tent was purchased for £18 and placed at Constitution Hill. By the September this had already been found impractical. The next idea was a hospital ship, a floating hospital, favoured by the Port Sanitary Authority. Such hospitals were in use elsewhere, but the council Sanitary Committee thought a land-based hospital much the better option. So all within the first year of his appointment, Heber had been involved in planning 3 different types of isolation hospital.
By April 1874 adverts were placed for tenders for building the isolation hospital on land Lord Wimborne had sold to the council for £1. Situated close to the Powder Store at Baiter, literally feet from the harbour shoreline, this was a very isolated spot, and one certainly subject to weather and high tide. A new road across the causeway was added, but a boat was also purchased to transport patients. The first patients were actually admitted by Heber in April 1874, even before the completion of the hospital was announced. Three young children were admitted with scarlet fever.
Whilst Heber had achieved his aim and overseen the opening of the isolation hospital, he now had an extra role – that of hospital doctor. It was down to him who to admit, how to treat patients and when to discharge. Heber Ellis counts as Poole’s first hospital doctor. The only other staff were a husband and wife couple to act as nurses and caretakers of the primitive hospital building. However, never again were pest houses required to deal with epidemics in Poole.
Heber Ellis could certainly claim to be making a big contribution to improving the health of Poole’s residents. He was quoted as saying in September 1874 that “even at this trying time of the year, Poole is emphatically a healthy place. The wonder is, that it is so!”
But the mystery is why this work, in which he must have been so invested, came to a sudden end. He was reappointed for a further 3 years in January 1877, presented his annual report in the April, and in September was reappointed as Port Medical Officer. But by November the council was forced to deal with his resignation. The Poole Guardians had to seek a replacement as medical officer to the workhouse that same month. Although reported on in the newspapers, they listed no reason for this sudden departure. In fact it was announced in the Poole & Dorset Herald on 15th November by a Dr Vernede, that he had purchased Heber’s medical practice as early as the 17th August. His successor as Medical Officer of Health, Dr Lawton, was in post by the November. A rather poignant advertisement appeared in the Dorset County Express on 23rd October announcing an auction of Beech Hurst and its contents.
Heber left his post and his practice, and he left Poole in late 1877 or early 1878. At present there is no known account for his withdrawal from his high status, successful life in Poole. He was then a widower with 6 children, with what seems to have been a good practice and a good life. Nevertheless he and his children were gone.
Life beyond Poole
Heber had been born on April 5th 1840 in Newent, Gloucestershire, son of surgeon William Ellis and Charlotte (nee Dowling). His father died in December that same year, aged just 25. Heber never knew him, or had the opportunity to be directly influenced by him, but nevertheless followed him into medicine. Charlotte was pregnant again at the time of William’s death, son Austin being born in April 1841. As well as his father, Heber lost all his family early – mother Charlotte in 1858 when he was 18, and brother Austin in 1862 when he was 22. Austin had joined the army, and died from dysentery in India. Heber didn’t have much luck with his wives either!
William Ellis must have left his family comfortably well off -Heber and Austin were both away at boarding school in Kent by 1851. But Heber was to enter medicine, training at St Bartholomew’s in London, and in April 1861 he was registered with the Royal College of Surgeons, living in Eastbourne. His first post seems to have been as a ship’s doctor, as in May 1861 he set sail on the ship Thames for India and Burma, where in 1862 he was listed as surgeon to the Bengal Marine Service. He returned the following year, so perhaps found the life was not for him. However a record exists about his time at sea and in India: The doctor’s diary reveals an adventurous young man, one with deep religious convictions, a sense of drama, possessing talents as a singer and painter, and a penchant for scandal. Several pages of his diary are devoted to the sexual exploits on board ship of two unrelated passengers.¹ This is the only account found so far that records any insights into the personal character of the man. Heber certainly is made to sound an interesting personalityin that short quote!
His move to Poole came in 1864, immediately after his return to England. By 1879, after Heber turned his back on Poole, he was back in Eastbourne. That year he is reported as being Medical Officer at a military hospital there. The 1881 census shows him living at 31Gildredge Road, Eastbourne with children Austin, Reginald, Florence, Ernest, Evelyn and Mabel, plus a boarder, a housekeeper and 3 other servants. He was an active member of the community, as he had been in Poole, rising to be President of the Eastbourne Natural History Society. He wrote on Eastbourne as a winter resort in a journal in 1881 – at that time Poole was far from being a seaside resort. No wife at time of the census,, but he married again within months. On 3rd January 1882 at Christ Church, Mayfair, London, he married Frances Audrey Webb, daughter of a deceased rector of Richmond Surrey. A wedding report makes no mention of the large family that Frances was taking on! (Ancestry). However the local paper’s report described him as “ a popular and highly-respected local physician.” Money was no problem for them, as the honeymoon was on the Continent.
However this was to be a tragically short marriage. Frances died on 20th April 1883, aged just 38. There was a son, Heber Townshend Holden Ellis, who had been born in January 1883. There were now 7 children for a two-times widower to raise. That year Heber also stood unsuccessfully for election to the council in Eastbourne.
Heber married a third time on 4th June 1889, again in London, but by now he was living there not Eastbourne. His third wife was Laura Mary Heyworth, from a family in the Manchester area. The 1881 census had described her as an artist. They are recorded as living in Putney in 1890, at a house with the familiar name of Beech Hurst! (Probate on FMP) Laura was to outlive Heber, dying in 1925 in Bournemouth.
At some stage he found the time to complete a round the world journey by ship and train. He was back in Dorset in 1891 presenting a lecture at the Mowlem institute in Swanage on this journey, which he claimed “could not only be done easily, but at no great expense.”
Heber and Laura seemed to settle in Kensington, although Heber is listed as in Taunton by 1894. He apparently retired in 1895, living in Staplegrove, Gloucestershire. He is reported to have been in conflict with the local council about drains (perhaps drawing on his public health experience in Poole). However he may not have given up his career yet. In 1899 he seems to have been in the Navy as a doctor. A Dr Heber Dowling Ellis, a British navy doctor, is listed in Port Arthur, Tasmania in 1901. If this was indeed him, he was now 61, far from wife and family. It would be interesting to know what had persuaded him to take this course in his later life.
He died on 3rd November 1906, aged 66, whilst at Balmoral, West Hill Road, Bournemouth. He is listed as still living in London in 1906, so was either staying in Bournemouth or was in a nursing home. He had clearly been a fairly wealthy man all his life, and his will shows he left £28.813, which would be the equivalent of over £2 million today. However he left the money not to his wife, but to his son Ernest Mostyn Ellis and relative Thomas Smith Ellis.
There are clearly many gaps in this account of his life and work. Perhaps more will emerge to complete the picture, both in Poole and beyond. Literally, a picture of him would be good! There is just the one short reference to his personality and character, so as a person he remains unknown. Heber Ellis has been forgotten in Poole, but his role as the first Medical Officer of Health and work in establishing the isolation hospital mean he certainly left his mark on the town’s healthcare history.
1 Quote from: Beaton, Joyce. When Lightning Strikes: The Life of Evelyn M. Kennedy 1890 to 1985. 1st ed. Mississauga, ON: Joyce Beaton Enterprises, 1989.
During the period between the two world wars, Broadstone hosted a sanatorium for patients with pulmonary tuberculosis. Grace Challis, the Matron, established the Rizwan nursing home in a large property on Blandford Road. However, for some local people, Rizwan was also a base for the Baha’i faith, Grace Challis being a leading member of the Baha’i community in England at this time.
Although Rizwan was open for less than 20 years, and having left no known records, it is possible to get a glimpse of the work of this pre-NHS facility due to online accounts of Grace’s Baha’i faith¹ and information included in the book The Retreat of Tuberculosis by FB Smith².
The sanatorium movement had developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a therapy for tuberculosis and was well represented locally in Bournemouth and at the Alderney Manor Sanatorium in Poole. Public health services to deal with respiratory tuberculosis only developed after the 1st World War, with Dorset County Council being responsibility locally. In Poole it had established the Nirvana home for tuberculosis in 1920 at Castle Hill; this later became the Dorset County Home, then Parkstone Sanatorium.
At this time there was still no drug treatment for tuberculosis. Sanatoria relied on open-air facilities, rest and good nutrition as the mainstay of care, with no pretence of cure. Many sanatoria established themselves near the coast, based on the benefits of cleaner sea air. Most services for those with tuberculosis were privately-run, for those who could pay, and advertisements for their services were commonly found in newspapers of the time. Local councils however did also arrange for residents affected to attend at the hundreds of small private nursing homes scattered through the southern and home counties (Smith).
Rizwan was registered with Dorset County Council as a nursing home for those with advanced tuberculosis needing nursing care in 1928. The property consisted of a large three-storey house facing south, with large grounds, at 210 Blandford Road, Broadstone. At the beginning there were only 5 beds, but within a few years over 20 patients were able to be accommodated. Some slept in huts in the grounds – such huts were a common feature of the open-air ethos of sanatoria. Staffing consisted of 2 assistant nurses, 2 probationer nurses, cleaner and a cook; the third floor had rooms for resident nurses. In 1939, the wartime Register recorded that Fannie Oaks, Gladys Brown and Kathleen Wyndham were nurses residing there, along with Grace Challis herself.
Patients were either middle-class, able to pay the fees of up to 5 guineas a week, or sent by and subsidised by local councils. Both London County Council and Bournemouth Council sent patients to Rizwan. Smith reports that Bournemouth had an agreement for Rizwan to take neurotic patients from its own sanatorium. Between the years 1933 and 1938 there were up to 38 Bournemouth Council patients in Rizwan in each year. The Civil Service Sanatorium Society also sent patients at special rates agreed with Matron Challis. She also placed notices in newspapers across the country to attract new patients eg in the Yorkshire Post on 5th February 1931. This was after all a business venture that had to pay its way. Smith reports that Grace estimated her costs at £2 15s per patient per week. The fees paid covered their keep and medical care. Those patients paying for themselves had single accommodation, but those from the public purse had to share.
Most patients were in advanced stages of tuberculosis, but not bedridden; patients needing the most complex care were not admitted. Rizwan was a nursing home and not expected to cure anyone. Smith records that most patients spent long periods of the day in bed, and were free to do so or get up when they desired. As only single rooms had central heating, most of the other patients probably made more use of the common rooms, which were heated. However Smith reports that there were no organised activities or occupational therapy. Boredom must have been a common state of mind. Patients were given four plentiful meals, plus 1½ pints of milk each day. They each had to use their own dedicated plates and cups. Patients were even responsible for their own laundry. They were expected to make up bundles of their personal laundry, including handkerchiefs, which were sent in weekly to the village for washing. Patients were also responsible for the all-important sputum flasks. They emptied and cleaned these for themselves, with staff responsible only for occasionally boiling them.
Medical cover was provided by Sir Kay Le Fleming, a GP in practice in Wimborne. He had a contract to visit for patient consultations and he arranged X-rays when needed, which were carried out at Wimborne Hospital. He was paid direct for his attendance by the private patients, with his charges covered by the Matron for those sent from public bodies.
Although no comprehensive listing of patients is known to exist, the wartime 1939 Register provides a snapshot of the patients who were resident there on that one day (29th September). This is the list of names:
Maud Nickells; Dore Turower; Grace Strassen ; Dora E Meck/Meek??; Alfred Henry Lowe; Richard Allen West ; Arthur J Garrett ; Cedric Herbert Merry ; Lillian M Wilkins; Ada E Wade; Mary Ward; Emily Clara White; Albert Christopher Thwaites; Henry James Meyer; Charles D Oakley.
There are 15 patients named: 8 female, 7 male. Smith says that patients were mostly women, but obviously on that occasion it was more even. The youngest was only 18, while 3 were in their 60s. The age range of sanatoria patients was generally 20-40, and Rizwan bears that out. Only one was a Poole resident, with another 3 from Bournemouth. Others were from the London area, with one from Manchester. Five of them were married – obviously living away from their spouses.
Smith reports that length of stay was limited to 3 months for public patients and up to a year for private patients. However there is evidence that some patients did stay for several years. The 1939 Register records the following patients at Rizwan, who can be traced as dying while still in residence there some years later: Dora Meek died there in 1945; Alfred Lowe, Cedric Merry and Emily White all died there in 1941. They were buried locally, though not originally from the area. The Matron and nurses obviously had to provide terminal care for such patients, but Smith does not record how this was carried out.
Smith notes that whether it was Bournemouth’s neurotic patients or private patients, complaints were a regular issue for the Matron to deal with. The more serious prompted visits by Ministry of Health inspectors, who generally dismissed the complaints. The atmosphere at Rizwan does not seem to have been a psychologically healthy one; Smith described it as being a slownightmare of encroaching debility, boredom and hissed rows over trivia. By its nature, tuberculosis would not have encouraged much cheer, but if true, this surely could not have been the atmosphere Grace Challis wanted for her patients.
Grace Challis had been born in 1882 in Hackney. The family were probably comfortably off, having a servant. Grace’s mother died in 1899 and she took over running of the family home and her younger siblings. She probably left home when her father remarried. At some stage she began training as a nurse, but never completed her training, perhaps because of ill-health. Any early nursing career has not been traced. She is listed in Quaker records as a member living in Bournemouth by 1915. She does not seem to have been a VAD nurse in the area, but could have been working or volunteering in one of the WW1 hospitals. It is not until 1921 that she is known to have been at a sanatorium.
By 1921 Grace had taken up a nursing post at the Home Sanatorium in the Southbourne area of Bournemouth. The Medical Superintendent there became a big influence on Grace. Dr John Ebenezer Esslemont was a leading scholar and practitioner of the Baha’i faith, and from that point on the religion took on a big role in Grace’s life and work. The Home Sanatorium had no future, however, being closed following the death of its owner in 1923. The building was later to become Douglas House Hospital.
But with the closure of the Home Sanatorium, Grace showed her entrepreneurial side, opening Ferndown Lodge, a nursing home in West Moors. She now called herself Sister Challis – possibly her lack of qualifications was kept quiet. At Ferndown Lodge she certainly received subsidies from Dr Esslemont and other Baha’i notables, which enabled her to keep the home going, with up to 8 patients there at a time. The Bournemouth area was a centre of this new religion in England, having its own Spiritual Assembly. Grace was to remain a leading part of the Bournemouth Assembly for the rest of her life. In fact she went on to be a leading member of the National Spiritual Assembly for about 15 years.
In 1928, Grace acquired the large property in Broadstone – the Rizwan Nursing Home – probably for the extra space and grounds available. Perhaps this was again with help from Baha’i backers. Rizwan was certainly used as the location of Baha’i meetings, including classes for children, and many leaders of the faith visited there. Some of the patients were also members of the faith. The name Rizwan was reported to have been proposed by the Baha’i leader Shogi Effendi. Rizwan is a Muslim boy’s name, being to do with the keeper of the Gates of Heaven.
At Rizwan Grace adopted the title of Matron, upgrading herself from Sister. She clearly had practical nursing and business skills to achieve all that she did, regardless of any nursing certificates. The official Ministry of Health reports on Rizwan are reported to have described her as efficient and kind. In bureaucratic language, that is probably glowing praise!
However Grace’s own health became a concern. She herself had at some stage developed tuberculosis – it could even have been the reason she never completed nurse training. Grace certainly must have been under increased strain running the home after the start of the Second World War, when staffing became more difficult. She was herself admitted to the Brompton Hospital, London in the summer of 1948 and she died there on the 23rd October. She was buried in Tower Hamlets at the Bromley-by-Bow cemetery after a Baha’i funeral. Probate shows she left the not inconsiderable sum of £5,580 to relatives – her business skills had kept her more than solvent.
In 1948 the new NHS took over responsibility for care of tuberculosis patients. The snappily titled Bournemouth and Poole Sanatoria Group Hospital Management Committee was now responsible for Rizwan. However there were no patients in residence at the time, possibly none after Grace Challis had left. It was described as run down and assessed as in too poor a condition for admitting patients. In March 1949 the Regional Hospital Board did recommend to the Committee that it could be refurbished and brought back into use, but it was soon accepted that closure was inevitable. It was reported in the Western Gazette of 19 May 1950 that NHS funds originally intended to reopen Rizwan would be transferred to the Linford Sanatorium near Ringwood. The property was sold off. In 1952 a holiday flat was being advertised at Rizwan. Its previous use was perhaps not made known to holidaymakers.
Whilst Grace Challis is remembered by the Baha’i community, it seems doubtful today’s Broadstone residents are aware of the sanatorium that existed there between the wars. Any further knowledge or memories of Rizwan would certainly be gratefully received at Poole Museum’s History Centre or in comments to this blog.
Who were the volunteers who came forward to do their bit in the war-time hospitals in Poole durIng the First World War. As many as 519 women and men joined as Red Cross VADs to work in Poole’s temporary military hospitals. A new file on the Poole History Online¹ website lists these members of the Voluntary Aid Detachments during WW1. The vast majority of them female, but 72 (14%) of them were men.
As the number of casualties mounted in the early days of World War One, it became clear to the War Office that hospital care of those brought home from the Front wounded or ill required the military hospitals to make use of volunteer staff. Those who stepped up to fill the gaps were the VADs.
The history of VADs had begun earlier in 1909, but at the start of the war the British Red Cross Society and St John Ambulance Association combined to offer support to official military hospital provision. The Dorset County section of the Red Cross was founded in 1910, with Poole comprising a Division of the County Branch. The Poole division was further divided into 5 detachments: number 66 for Poole town, 78 for Parkstone, 90 for Kinson (a wider area to the Kinson of today), and detachments 54 and 72 for Branksome Park. Dorset number 1 Poole detachment comprised the stretcher bearers, orderlies and messengers. As the war went on, on the members of the different detachments were to be found at any of the local military hospitals.
Members prewar received training in home nursing and first aid. However early in 1914 Cornelia Hospital’s Matron agreed to accept VADs for ward-based training. In this way an early essential link was made between Poole’s main hospital and the VADs. Training of course became more suited to care of military patients as the war went on.
The Poole Division had responsibility for VAD staffing at 2 receiving hospitals. The Red Cross was first involved at Cornelia Hospital (forerunner of Poole Hospital) from October 1914, when it paid for 2 wards to be built on land behind the hospital. This was Cornelia Auxiliary Military Hospital, although fully integrated into the civil hospital. Cornelia also had a convalescent unit – at Canford House to begin with, and then at Forest Holme, Seldown Road. The Naval Base hospital in Poole was also linked to Cornelia.
Grata Quies Auxiliary Military Hospital at Branksome Park was initially a private hospital set up for Belgian refugees and soldiers. It then changed to take British casualties. The volunteers at Grata Quies were not actually designated part of the Red Cross until late in the war, the hospital being run by a Bournemouth-based committee. However their names appear in the Red Cross’s official lists of VAD members.
The Poole Division also included 6 auxiliary convalescent hospitals for officers, which were funded by private benefactors. Branksome Gate, Springfield, The Lodge, and The Mount formed Lady Dudley’s hospitals; Woodlyn was funded by Lady Carter, and Sandacres by Sir Ernest Cassel. As with Grata Quies, the staff of these hospitals were eventually absorbed into the organisation as VADs, and are included in the listings. These hospitals were opened in large houses, suitable for conversion.
To these hospitals should be added Crag Head Auxiliary Military Hospital. This was sited in Bournemouth, but it was staffed by members of the Poole detachments 54 and 72. Many of these members also worked at Grata Quies.
The list gives the roles undertaken by these VADs (VAD is accepted as the abbreviation for members, although it stands for Voluntary Aid Detachments in reality). They are almost always pictured in nursing situations, and many of them did of course provide direct care to military patients on the wards. However many filled other essential roles in the hospitals – cooks, cleaners, laundry staff, orderlies. Male VADs were generally stretcher bearers, drivers, and orderlies, rather than having any direct nursing roles. One role revealed by the membership lists but probably not widely known, was gardeners, both on hospital sites and elsewhere. Both men and women are revealed to have bent their backs providing a ready supply of garden produce for the kitchens.
Each detachment had a Commandant: Mrs Frances Pratt was Commandant of detachment 66; Dr Small of detachment 78; Miss Jessie Sharp of detachment 90. Miss Evelyn Pontifex and Miss Edith Budge acted as Quartermasters. These were all prominent members of local society, involved in many philanthropic organisations in the area.
As training for VADs developed once the war was under way, Mrs Pratt organised courses of lectures for prospective VADs for Cornelia and Grata Quies. However at Crag Head Hospital an actual training centre was established for probationer VADs. Over a 3-month period they worked as wardmaids in cleaning and helping with patients’ meals, before going on to patient care, under supervision. This gave the trained nursing staff the chance to judge whether the VADs could be safely given the responsibilities involved. Once trained they could go on to work at other hospitals as needed.
The men of Dorset 1 detachment received instruction from Colour Sergeant Knight and Sergeant Hitching in stretcher duties. They were first called into action in October 1914 when a convoy of wounded Belgian soldiers were received at Poole Station. They met every ambulance train after that until after the end of the war. Patients were offloaded from the trains, offered tea and cigarettes, and then taken up to the hospital in ambulances and cars, or even on stretchers all the way.
Patients and VADs in Albert Military Ward Cornelia Hospital
The social standing of VADs ran the complete range of society. There were members of aristocracy, such as Cornelia, Lady Wimborne, who was Vice President of the Poole Division, and leading citizens, such as 4-times Mayor Herbert Spencer Carter. At the other end of the social scale were servants from wealthy households, such as housemaid Mary Bollom at Cornelia; Margaret Litster was a governess. There were public employees, such as Customs Officer Frederick Hawes and teacher Gertrude Habgood; tradespeople such as coal merchant Albert Goff. In particular, there were the daughters and wives of middle class society – women who never undertook paid employment, instead likely to take up good works, and willingly volunteered to play a part in wartime service. These included vicar’s daughter Averil Fawkes at Grata Quies , solicitor’s wife Gertrude Manser at Cornelia, doctor’s sister Violet Gibbins at Grata Quies, plus Auriol Davidson at Cornelia, sister of Lady Baden Powell.
In the convalescent officers’ hospitals, the roles of some non-nursing VADs were described as if they were servants. Hence some VADs are listed as scullerymaids, housemaids and pantrymaids. Bessie Nicklin was a parlourmaid at Branksome Gate; Thomas Mitchell at Grata Quies was listed as a butler; Edward English at Springfield was listed as valet. The Red Cross record for Edwin Butler at Woodlyn says he was an “excellent servant with officers.” However, at the permanent hospital, Cornelia, role descriptions followed more normal hospital tradition.
Most of the women VADs were unmarried – at Cornelia only a quarter of the female VADs were married. Of those who were married, some had husbands away in the war, others were widowed. Getting married during the war years was not uncommon among VADs, of course, as opportunities to meet partners were increased. But for married women, perhaps, volunteering as a VAD was socially or personally more difficult.
Most of the women were in their 30s and 40s, although a significant number were younger. The oldest of the women listed were those in senior roles – Lady Wimborne was aged 66 in 1914. The male stretcher bearers in Detachment 1 were generally older, many in their 50s, and Thomas Burton was 64 in 1914. The youngest VADs were actually local Boy Scouts, who were members of detachment 1 being used as messengers, such as 15-year old Leonard Sherwood.
As the war went on, VADs began to be drafted by the Red Cross or War Office to whichever hospitals needed them, to ensure staffing and expertise levels were maintained or developed. This meant that VADs from outside the area began to arrive at Poole’s hospitals. So whilst as many as 19 VADs lived in Longfleet Road, right by Cornelia Hospital, other VADs arrived from all over the country. Significant numbers were born overseas (‘the Empire’ in most cases) – India, Canada, New Zealand, Barbados, plus Shanghai and Uruguay and a few from mainland Europe.
The list also includes trained health professionals enrolled in the Detachments: medical staff, qualified nurses, and physiotherapists. Some were on the permanent staff at Cornelia; others were drafted in to the temporary hospitals. Some were trained as midwives, such as Dorothy Burt at Woodlyn; whilst her midwifery skills may not have been required, she provided care as a masseuse.
Several VAD members followed their hospital experience by taking up nursing as a profession. Norah Tinney went to train in 1920 at Hemel Hempstead; Edith Buckley trained as a nurse at St Barts and returned to work at Cornelia in 1928. Minna Frost was at Cornelia and the Naval Base hospital, then went for nurse training in 1918, only to tragically die before qualifying.
There were several cases of members of the same family becoming VADs. At Cornelia there were sisters Annie, Stella and Gladys Oakley. At Grata Quies Henry Forde and daughter Janet, plus twins Joan and Violet Reeks. At Woodlyn were sisters Valda, Vivienne and Violet Case Morris. The Brinton family members– mother Fannie and sisters Dorothy and Frances – had come over from Canada to volunteer, working at Cornelia, Springfield and The Lodge. Their father was in India in the Canadian Army; they all returned to Canada in 1919, but then returned to England to live and marry. Dorothy was to later become a member of the Special Operations Executive in World War Two.
Some of the VADs were recognised for their efforts with official awards. Among these were Cornelia Matron, Helen Milne, awarded the Royal Red Cross medal 1st class, Edith Langley and Frances Barnes the Royal Red Cross 2nd class. Helen Pontifex and Helen McCheanne were awarded the British War Medal. Frances Pratt became an MBE, Olivia Greer an OBE. Some of Poole’s VADs also received awards for work undertaken in France, such as Charlotte Paterson and Helen Pontifex. Long-service during the war was rewarded with Service Stripes, and many examples appear in the list of VADs.
Some of the WW1 VADs went on to serve during the Second World War, such as Dorothy Brinton. Elwyn Scott became a Commandant of a VAD detachment; Aline Van Goethem and Hester Vandeleur volunteered as first aiders at ARP posts.
The records of the VAD members come from 2 main sources: the Red Cross’s online record of VADs and a book² published just after the war on the work of the Red Cross detachments in Dorset. The online records are based on information sent in postwar by local Divisions to British Red Cross Society headquarters, and recently digitised. However other sources have revealed some further names. Enid Kentish’s name is omitted from both main sources, but local newspapers and the Cornelia Hospital annual reports record her VAD service and untimely death. Enid was daughter of the town’s Mayor; other, less prominent, names may have been missed but were not mentioned in local newspapers. Names of some trained nurses have been added from information published in the British Journal of Nursing, which listed names of those deputed to work in home hospitals during the war, such as Sister Walton at Sandacres.
² RED CROSS IN DORSET DURING THE WAR : A REPORT OF VOLUNTARY AID WORK CARRIED OUT IN DORSET AND A STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTS, AUGUST 1914-JUNE 1919. British Red Cross Society. 1919. NB This book is available both at Poole History Centre and the library at Dorset Archives.
An auxiliary military hospital was opened on land to the rear of the buildings of Cornelia Hospital on the 27th November 1914 and closed on the 24th January 1919. Whilst under the auspices of the Red Cross, the military wards were nevertheless managed as part of the civil hospital by Cornelia’s matron, Helen Milne, with Red Cross representatives joining the existing hospital committee.
There were 2,631 military patients admitted to Cornelia Hospital in Poole whilst it was an auxiliary military hospital (The Red Cross in Dorset¹). The book also records that there were just 18 deaths in the hospital. This seems remarkably low. However the wounded from the Front had already survived evacuation via first aid posts, casualty clearing stations, base hospitals, plus travel by stretcher, ambulance, ship and ambulance train to reach Poole.
Analysis shows that just 10 died as a result of wounds suffered in action. These were all from the Western Front, as those injured in other war theatres were admitted to military hospitals much closer. The other deaths were due to illness or accidents whilst men were in camp in the local area. Huge numbers of men were based in the area across the war years, and inevitably some needed hospitalisation.
As part of Poole Museum’s project Poole, the First World War and its Legacy, an attempt is being made to record as many staff and patients as possible who worked at or were admitted to the various military hospitals in Poole. Whilst it is difficult to track down the identities of the 2,631 patients at Cornelia with no case book, records of those who died are possible to trace. This is a listing of those men who sadly were unable to go home from the Cornelia Hospital to their families.
The figures 2,631 and 18 relate to the period of the auxiliary military hospital; to these are added details of a further 4 Cornelia Hospital deaths in 1919, which were of men who were involved in serving during the war and should also be remembered.
Length of stay prior to death varied greatly. One patient was said to have died within an hour of admission; one was a patient for 553 days. Amazingly, twice there were instances of 2 patients dying the same day – 13 October 1915 and 24th January 1918.
While most patients were from places across the country, 3 were further from home – from across the Atlantic. Six were local men. Their ages ranged from 18 to 46.
These are the men. RIP.
Private Edward Sweeney of the Royal Munster Fusiliers was the first member of the British military forces to die at the Cornelia Hospital. He died on the 12th February 1915 from the effects of gunshot wounds to the head. He had been admitted to Cornelia on November 27th after receiving his injury from a sniper’s bullet at La Bassée in the retreat from Mons, while attached to the Connaught Rangers. He had survived service in the Boer War, including being in the siege at Ladysmith. Edward worked as a miner in South Wales, although born in Kilbrogan, Ireland in 1877. Aged 37, he was married with four children. He was buried in Poole Cemetery on 16th February 1915.
Private Vernon Maurice Field of 6 Company the Royal Army Medical Corps died in the hospital on 22nd February 1915 from meningitis. Aged 18, he was born in Reading and had been working as a cycle mechanic. He was in training camp near Wareham when taken ill. Vernon was buried in St George’s Cemetery, Tilehurst on 26th February 1915.
Private William Bothwell of the 2nd Battalion the Black Watch died on the 9th April 1915. He had received gunshot wounds to the head during the battle of Neuve Chapelle. He was born in Motherwell in 1895, but was living in Shotts, Lanarkshire and had been a baker. He was buried in Poole Cemetery on 14th April 1915.
Private Edward Vincent Jones of 1st Battalion the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry died on the 13th October 1915 of nephritis, while a patient in Albert Ward at the hospital. He had been gassed while in action on Hill 60 at Ypres in the August. Born in Chester in 1886, he was living in London working as a coach painter before enlisting. He was buried in Poole Cemetery on the morning of 15th October.
Private William Edward Peaty of the 3rd Battalion the Dorset Regiment died in the hospital of pneumonia on the 13th October 1915. He had been in camp when taken ill with pleurisy and pneumonia. He was born in Bournemouth in 1879, and had previously served in the Royal Navy between 1895-99. He joined up in February aged 35, leaving his job as a coal porter. He lived at 5 Gwynne Road, Branksome with his wife and four children. He had featured in a newspaper article weeks previously as one of 7 sons from one family all serving in the war². Following a funeral procession that included the Mayor of Poole, he was buried in Branksome Cemetery on the afternoon of the 15th October.
Rifleman Reginald Percy Bennett of the 8th Battalion London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) died in the hospital on the 29th January 1916 of meningitis, aged 23. He had become ill while home on leave. Born in Chippenham, he was living at 12 Hill Street Poole with his wife when he enlisted. He had married Selina Chaffey just 9 months previously at St James Church. He worked as a postman. He was buried in Longfleet Cemetery on 2nd February 1916.
Lance Corporal Charles Douglas Willett of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps died on 21st November 1916 due to the effects of being gassed while in action, aged 21. He was admitted to the hospital in May after being withdrawn from duty by medical staff in the field due to his lung problems. He was reported to have been nursed in his bed in the open air when possible to ease his condition. During the 6 months in the hospital he was visited regularly by family from his home town of Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. He had worked as a bath attendant at the local colliery before enlisting. He was buried on 21st November 1916 at Hucknall Cemetery.
Private Robert Harrow of the Mechanical Transport Company, Army Service Corps died in the hospital on 27th May 1917 from gunshot wounds to the chest. Born in Anstruther, Fife, when he enlisted he was living in Edinburgh working as a laundry van driver. He left a wife Helen, and was 46 years old. He was buried in Anstruther Easter churchyard on 31st May.
Lance Corporal Frank Freshney of the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment died in the hospital on 8th July 1917 of poisoned wounds. Frank was born in Grimsby, and was working in the family chemists shop there when he enlisted. He was 27 when he died. He was buried in Poole Cemetery on 11th July.
Deckhand John Buchan of the Royal Naval Reserve died in the hospital on 14th November 1917 of tuberculosis. Whilst serving on the Poole-based depot ship HM Drifter White Oak, he was admitted on 23rd June with pulmonary tuberculosis. His naval record lists his medical condition as abscess of lung following tuberculosis, pneumothorax of llung. He was born in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire in 1890, enlisting in January 1915. He was buried in Peterhead Cemetery.
Private Walter John Gillett of the 1st Battalion the Dorset Regiment died in the hospital on 24th January 1918. He had been admitted 553 days previously, on 27th July 1916, suffering from paraplegia as a result of shell wounds suffered while on sentry duty. His parents publicly expressed deep gratitude for all that had been done for theirson in the hospital over the long period. Walter was born in Poole in 1894, and was living at 35 Towngate Street when he enlisted in the Reserve in 1913. He was buried in Longfleet Cemetery on 30th January.
Fireman Joseph Spencer of the Mercantile Marine died in the hospital on 24th January 1918. He died from burns suffered during the sinking of the SS Serrana off the Needles by a submarine 2 days earlier. The ship had set out from London with a general cargo bound for Barbados when torpedoed. Aged 39, Joseph had been born in 1879 in Barbados and was married. He was buried in Longfleet Cemetery on the 30th January 1918.
Sergeant Harold Brown of the Yorkshire Regiment died in the hospital on the 28th April 1918 following a skull fracture. He died within an hour of admission after suffering the head injury in a cycling accident in St Peters Road Parkstone. He was aged 21 and had been based at Worgret Camp. He had just passed some exams and was awaiting a commission. Born in Barnsley, Harold was working as a mining electrician in Sheffield when he enlisted in 1916. He was buried in Burngreave Cemetery in Sheffield.
Private Harry Ward of the Royal Tank Corps died in the hospital on the 26th May 1918 following fractures of the skull and shoulder blade. He had been involved in an accident while cycling down Constitution Hill Poole, colliding with a tram car. He was operated on and, after initial recovery, relapsed and died after 3 days. His mother complained at the inquest that she had not been informed of the severity of his condition, and had not seen him before he died. Harry was 22 and lived in Glasgow. He was buried in Poole Cemetery.
Private John Kirkland Ronaldson of the 6th Battalion the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders died in the hospital on the 11th July 1918 of the effects of gunshot wounds to the abdomen, aged 24. He had previously been injured with gunshot wounds and was only discharged from hospital on 12th February that year. After being wounded again, he was first operated on in France in May, and transported back to Poole and admitted to Cornelia on 13th June 1918. The damage to bowel and abdomen was too extensive to repair. John was born and lived in Glasgow, where he worked as a paper baler. He was buried in Poole Cemetery on 17th July.
Private Joseph Gaskell of the Army Service Corps died in the hospital on the 25th September 1918, just a few hours after being admitted. He had been based in the Supply Depot at Sterte. Aged 29, he was crushed and buried in an accident on Poole’s West Quay, whilst engaged in laying gravel. Joseph was born in Liverpool and worked as a mill labourer. He enlisted in December 1915, and had previously been wounded in action. He married Gertrude Stirrup in 1910, and they had 2 children. He was buried in Anfield Cemetery Liverpool on the 1st October.
William King died in the hospital on the 20th October 1918. He is listed as an Orderly for the British Red Cross Society, not part of the military, but qualified for an army pension and his grave is marked by a Commonwealth War Graves headstone. Any earlier military service has not been traced. William was born in 1893 and lived in Rupert Street Reading. He enlisted in 1915, and worked firstly at the Red Cross hospital at Netley, associated with the Army’s Royal Victoria Military Hospital, and then at The Lodge Auxiliary Hospital in Parkstone. Cause of death is not known. He was buried at Poole Cemetery on 23rd October 1918.
Private Frank Skuce of the 27th Canadian Infantry Battalion died in the hospital on the 4th November 1918, having been admitted on the 18th October. He was wounded in October in the Allied advance to the River Selle during the Battle of Cambrai, suffering gunshot wounds to the buttocks, then getting influenza and pneumonia. Frank was born in 1897, and was a farmer living in Nesbitt, Manitoba. He was buried in Poole Cemetery, where the centenary of his death was honoured. His story features in the earlier post on military patients at Cornelia.
Private George Frederick William Ellis of the Labour Corps Agricultural Company died in the hospital of pneumonia on the 16th February 1919. George had enlisted as early as June 1914 into the Dorsetshire Regiment, being transferred to the Labour Corps in 1917. Although not known for sure, he is likely to have been infected in the influenza pandemic. He was 23, and had lived in East Street, but his address in 1919 was given as that of his father at the Old Sloop, Harbour Road, Hamworthy. He was buried in Poole Cemetery on 22nd February.
Staff Sergeant William Watson of the 2nd Canadian Tank Corps died in the hospital on the 14th June 1919 from pneumonia. He was an American from New York, aged 37, serving in the Canadian forces. He was travelling by train from camp at Wool to a repatriation centre at Winchester, but was taken off the train at Poole because he was so ill. This was probably due to the influenza pandemic. He left a widow and child. He was buried in Longfleet Cemetery on 17th June with full honours, but without any of his immediate comrades who had already sailed home.
Leading Seaman Lawrence William Miller of the Royal Navy died in the hospital on the 19th October 1919. He had been serving on HMS Skate and HMS Grenville. His naval record states he died of pericarditis, and a death notice states it was after a long illness. He lived at 4 Southview Villas, Bournemouth Road, Parkstone, but was born in Wexford, Ireland in 1897, although both parents were from Dorset. He was buried in Parkstone Cemetery on 22nd October.
Private Leonard Charles Reginald Hyde of the Dorset Yeomanry (Queen’s Own Corps of Hussars) died in the hospital on the 3rd November 1919. He had been discharged on 26th April 1919, but was still officially in the Army and given military honours. He was aged 25, a plumber by trade, and had lived in Salterns Road, Parkstone before enlisting. He was buried in Parkstone Cemetery.
Cornelia Hospital did have military patients prior to becoming an auxiliary military hospital, but they were Belgian soldiers. The following died in the hospital during November 1914:
Isudeoor Mollen; JJ Dandois; Praper Van Duyse; Paul Colle.
Of all the servicemen listed above, 17 were buried in local cemeteries, the others being transported for burial to their home towns. Staff from the hospital attended all the funerals of those buried locally. Wreaths from the hospital were also sent for those buried elsewhere. Thankfully few of Cornelia’s military patients required such acts of remembrance from the hospital that had cared for them.
¹ The British Red Cross Society : Red Cross in Dorset during the war: a report of voluntary aid work carried out in Dorset and statement of accounts: August 1914-June 1919.
How hard it is to envisage that the grassy spot looking out over Poole Harbour to Sandbanks and Brownsea Island was once the site of a dreaded fever hospital. That isolation hospital on the water’s edge at Baiter had opened in 1875, and was Poole’s first permanent hospital. So its place in the history of heathcare in Poole is an important one.
The events leading up to the opening of the hospital are described in Baiter Hospital: the inception of Poole’s harbourside isolation hospital. A succession of Public Health Actshad presented Poole Council with no choice but to improve its provision for infectious diseases. The eventual choice to build a small hospital on the open land near to the old Powder House meant that it was far enough from the houses of the old town, but still within easy reach. On a quiet sunny day what became known as Hospital Island was a pleasant place; on a wild winter’s day with a high tide washing around the building it must have seemed the worst possible place for a frightened patient.
Despite what seems the obvious value for Poole in having an isolation hospital to quarantine and care for those with infectious diseases, there remained councillors who failed to see that the benefit outweighed the cost. These prejudices were not helped by repeated demands from the Local Government Board in London that improvements should be made to what was clearly not a very impressive hospital building.
The hospital was the responsibility of the town’s Medical Officer of Health, reporting to the council also as the Port Medical Officer. Dr Ellis however had more than the new hospital to think about in 1875. In April, the month the first patients were admitted, his wife Mary gave birth to their 6th child, daughter Mabel. Then on 22nd July Mary died, leaving Dr Ellis with their children to bring up. Perhaps it is no surprise he had resigned by 1877, and later moved away.
Having been built and immediately needing improvements, the pattern was set for continual doubts over the quality of the structure. In 1877 its exposed position led to the roof being badly damaged in a gale. The Borough Surveyor regularly raised concerns over its condition, stressing how damp it was. He described it as having a damp, fustyand altogether disagreeable smell – not ideal for a hospital. In 1878 it was reported to the council that water was found underneath the structure during higher tides.
The Local Government Board report for 1885/6 recorded that:
There is hospital accommodation for infectious cases of permanent kind for seven patients, well situated and adapted for isolating cases of one disease; a mortuary is needed for this hospital; a boat with a canvas covering is provided for removal of patients from ship to hospital.
This highlights that the hospital was intended to provide for instances of disease on visiting ships. The boat was also required when the road across to Hospital Island was washed away during storms. Also the point is made that the hospital was too small to satisfactorily cope with isolating patients with different infectious diseases. There were 2 wards, but intended to be for male and female patients separately. The limited scope of the hospital is clear, but the notion of it being well-situated suggests the only criterion was keeping patients well out of the town. In other words, for the general benefit more than for individual patients.
The hospital underwent improvements during 1885. During June the Council considered tenders to add further patient accommodation, and provide a new kitchen, laundry and bedroom. The tender of £148 from WHC Curtis was accepted for building work. It was also recommended that the old Powder House nearby be used as a mortuary and disinfecting chamber.
In May 1887 there were talks in London over further adaptations to the hospital. Whilst these talks dragged on into 1888, there were also negotiations with the Poole Rural Sanitary Authority over joint provision for Poole and the surrounding area, as far as Kinson. However this came to nothing when the Rural Authority decided to build its own hospital on Alderney Heath. However capacity had increased at Baiter – Dr Lawton, then Medical Officer of Health, reported to the Council that there had never been more than 14 patients at a time at Baiter, with possible space for 16 patients. However in February 1889 the Borough Surveyor claimed that the hospital had once had 28 patients – possibly during a smallpox outbreak in 1886.
The Local Government Board, however, was firm in its criticism of the space provided and suggested using the existing hospital building for staff accommodation and building a new hospital nearby, attached by a covered way. There was little local support from the Council and others for the Board’s ideas. A comment piece in the Bournemouth Guardian 9th February 1889 said we are being coerced into providing more modern hospital accommodation than that small building which is the sole grace of Powder Island. It actually referred to the hospital as a landmark for mariners rather than the local amenity it surely needed to be. There had certainly not been as much use of the hospital in several of the preceding years, and there continued to be a suspicion that London wanted Poole to spend money providing what it didn’t really need. The standard of debate was not always very informed – it was claimed by one councillor that the pleasure grounds then being developed in the town (Poole Park) would make the town so healthy no hospital would be required.
An inspection visit into the sanitary condition of Poole by a Dr Bulstrode for the Local Government Board between June 28th and July 1st 1893 was extremely critical of the council, claiming it had spent only 13 hours in a whole year discussing public health matters. The report included only a very short section on the hospital:- Permanent hospital, with 6 beds, provided in 1875. Temporary hospital for smallpox erected in 1886. No adequate fencing around hospital. In its response to the report the council Sanitary Committee at least agreed to the need for an extension to the hospital.
The next report from the Local Government Board was much more informative about the hospital. The account is included in the grandly titled Reports and Papers on the Port and Riparian Sanitary Survey of England and Wales, 1893-94. The section on Poole included:
The hospital, which serves for both urban and port districts, is situate in a well isolated position, on what is practically an island, about half a mile distant from the town of Poole. It consists of what must be regarded as a “permanent” and a “temporary” part; the latter being erected during the smallpox epidemic of 1887. The permanent building consists of two wards, providing altogether accommodation for about 7 patients. The temporary hospital consists of one large ward, together with a kitchen and nurses’ room. This ward would provide accommodation for about 8 patients, making a total of 15. One convalescent scarlet-fever patient was in the hospital at the time of the Inspector’s visit. The buildings were at the time of inspection in fairly good state of repair, and quite ready for the reception of patients, who could either be taken to it by means of an ambulance or be moved thither in a boat. There is however no landing stage on the island. The accommodation could be easily extended if necessary. Water is laid on from the town-supply, which is said to be of good quality. WCs with good flushing arrangements are situated at the end of each ward. The drains are carried into the sea below low-water mark. There is no laundry, but a movable boiler in the grounds is supposed to serve the purpose of one.
It was further noted there was still no mortuary or disinfecting apparatus. The ambulance mentioned is later called a van, obviously horse-drawn and certainly a very basic vehicle compared to any later ambulance. The Port Sanitary Committee accepted the need for a mortuary and boat, so presumably the boat mentioned in 1885 was no longer available. It was accepted as normal practice that sewage from an infectious disease hospital went straight into the waters of the harbour, regardless of the use of harbour water by residents and ships.
Burdetts Directory records that in 1899 there were now 12 beds at the hospital. The permanent and temporary parts previously mentioned were now consolidated, but with fewer beds in total now available. However there were now a further 6 isolation hospital beds available at Alderney for the rural area.
The first advertisement for hospital staff was as early as March 1874, seeking a Superintendent, who should be married but without children. He was required to live in with his wife and make themselves generally useful.
There were just the two members of staff – the Superintendent and his wife, who was expected to act as a nurse. The man was to care for patients in the male ward, the woman those in the female ward. How this worked exactly is not now clear – what if there were 10 male and 1 female patients? There seem to have been no qualifications laid down for either post, so no nursing experience or knowledge were required. The nature of the work could not have seemed attractive to most – caring for those with potentially fatal infectious diseases (obviously with no thought then of PPE). However one obvious compensation was that the work did come with house and garden – although of course located on the desolate spit of land, subject to weather and tides.
The town’s Medical Officer of Health was responsible to the council for the operation of the hospital. Dr Ellis held the post during the lead-up to the opening and for 2 years thereafter. For much of the period until 1899, Herbert Lawton was in post, except for 1880-6, when Dr Vernede held the role. The Medical Officer was the sole doctor, in charge of admitting and treating all patients, although treatment took a back seat to isolation. Once the Medical Officer diagnosed the condition, arrangements would have been made to get the poor individual to the hospital without delay.
Staffing was a problem from the very beginning. Christopher Wilkins and his wife were the first staff appointed when the hospital opened in 1875. By May 1878 a James Donovan had been appointed, the post described then as Hospital Keeper. His wife was reported as happy to accept her role on the same terms as Mrs Wilkins. But by 1881 the census records show William Bush was the Superintendent, accompanied by his wife Martha. Both were born in Poole, no surprise, but their ages are – William was 73 and Martha 67.
Wilkins had previously been a bricklayer; Donovan had been a labourer; Bush had (suitably) been a gardener. It is clear that the job attracted working men with a background of physical labour, but perhaps seeking less hard work as they got older
In May 1885 a John James was taking over as Superintendent, with his wife Harriet in the role of nurse. James, however, was at 48 definitely younger; he came from Taunton. It was reported that there were problems in them taking up possession because the previous occupants were still there. Presumably this was also a Superintendent and his wife, although currently nothing is known about them apart from this one issue on handover, This was because a Mrs Dominey was ill and could not be moved – in fact her husband threatened to shoot anyone who attempted to move her! A deputation from the council was agreed to visit to discuss the situation with Mr Dominey – no doubt approaching very warily!
The James’s were to remain in post at the hospital for longer than previous incumbents. They were named as there in the 1891 census, and a local directory named them as still in post in 1894. The census called it the Powder House Hospital, whereas the directory named it the more official sounding Borough of Poole Infectious Diseases Hospital. The James’s are both called caretakers in the census, although the directory listed them as Superintendent and Head Nurse. Titles of both the hospital and the staff were somewhat changeable! The pay was 7s 6d per week in 1885, going up to 10s a week when patients admitted, with the house and garden provided. It has to be said that there is some doubt over the exact identity of James and Harriet, as they are listed as innkeepers in both the 1881 and 1901 censuses – rather different work!
The hospital was built to cope with outbreaks of infectious disease both in the town and in ships visiting the port. Patients were not accepted from surrounding areas, although a child patient was admitted from Brownsea Island as “a favour”. The number of admissions obviously varied from year to year. Some years there were no admissions at all; very often admissions were below 10. So it is clear that the hospital stood empty for long periods.
The conditions for which patients were admitted during this 25-year period consisted of: diphtheria, smallpox, scarlet fever/scarlatina, typhoid/enteric fever, tubercular meningitis, cholera, and erysipelas. A high proportion of these patients were children. This isolated hospital, so subject to weather and high tides, must have been a frightening place for a child.
There is no surviving casebook. However we know that 3 children of the Tilley family from Parkstone were admitted in April 1875 with scarlet fever. This was even before the hospital was fully ready to open, but Dr Ellis decided the accommodation as it was would be better than leaving the children at home.
The next known patient is a surprise. In 1895 there were just 3 admissions to the hospital, but one was actually the daughter of the Medical Officer of Health, then Dr Lawton. Young Nessie Lawton, aged 10, was admitted to the hospital on 28th February with scarlatina, and remained an inpatient there for 23 days. Scarlet fever was then, in pre-antibiotic days, a serious childhood condition. Though mortality levels were not as high as earlier in the century, deaths were common and Dr Lawton would have been greatly concerned about his daughter. However it is surprising he admitted her to the hospital. Middle class patients would not normally have gone there, being nursed at home in clean, warm surroundings, attended by their own doctor, isolated in a bedroom not shared with other family members. Perhaps Dr Lawton found it a better place of isolation than his home in the High Street, with his other 3 children. Luckily there were no other patients there at the time, although of course there could have been other admissions any day she was there. No doubt Dr Lawton made sure he cared for her rather than the unqualified staff. Nessie lived until she was 70, having married and had children, so presumably suffered no long-term ill effects.
The handling of a smallpox case is described in Dr Lawton’s annual report to the Council for 1896:- A young man whose relatives reside in Hamworthy came from Gloucester to spend Easter with his friends. His relatives seeing that he had an eruption out on his face and wrists, insisted on his coming to consult me about it on Easter Monday April 6th. At once recognising the disease as modified Small Pox, I detained him and sent for the Sanitary Officers, who conveyed him to the Fever Hospital. I at once gave instructions to the Public Vaccinator to re-vaccinate the inmates of the houses where he had both stayed and visited during his sojourn. The re-vaccinations were effective, and no secondary cases occurred.
Diagnosis of the conditions involved more than admission of the sufferer to the hospital. In many of the cases the patient’s clothes and bedding were likely to be taken away and burnt.
In 1892 the town suffered epidemics of both measles (31 deaths) and influenza (26 deaths). However it is not known how many of these patients were in the hospital that year.
In 1895, the year Nessie Lawton was admitted with scarlatina, there was a death at the hospital, a 12-year old girl with scarlatina, plus admission of one case of diphtheria. However there were notifications of 25 cases of scarlet fever, 18 of diphtheria, 27 of erysipelas and 5 of typhoid fever in the town. These were recorded as 34 in Poole, 23 in Parkstone, 18 in Longfleet, but none in Hamworthy or from the port. It is clear that admissions to the hospital were just a fraction of cases of the different infectious conditions.
By 1898, with 12 beds available, there were just 8 admissions in the whole year. These consisted of 5 cases of diphtheria and 3 of scarlet fever, with no deaths.
In its first 25 years of operation, the hospital almost certainly had fewer than 150 patients in total. The council continued to complain about the costs that the far-off Local Government Board insisted it spend on it, but for the first time in its history, Poole had a permanent place to care for those with infectious diseases.
However with the twentieth century looming, nothing was settled about the future of the little occupant of Hospital Island.
The Cornelia Hospital in Poole admitted a total of 2631 military patients between September 1914 and January 1919 – an amazing figure for a small hospital which had previously had only 17 beds. The George and Albert military wards were set up by the Red Cross in November 1914, and then ran them in liaison with the Cornelia’s Hospital Committee. The bare statistics of patient numbers, however, can say nothing about the individual stories of each patient. Some were fairly mundane, such as cycling accidents affecting soldiers from camps around Poole; others contained the drama and tragedy anticipated in wartime.
No patient log book for the period has been located. Identification of individual patients therefore relies on a variety of sources, including newspaper reports and service records where available.
These are the stories of 3 soldiers from the Canadian Army who were evacuated back from the Western Front to be cared for in Cornelia Hospital. One went home largely unscathed, taking a wife and child from the Poole area home with him; one recovered from being dangerously ill to go home disabled but decorated as a hero; one never returned home and lies in Poole Cemetery.
Frank Ellerbeck was admitted to the Cornelia Hospital military wards on the 15th December 1916. He was suffering from shell shock, which had rendered him deaf and dumb.
Frank was born in Hull in 1893, and emigrated to Canada with his parents in the early years of the century. When he volunteered in the first weeks of the war for the newly-formed Canadian Expeditionary Force he was living in Hamilton, Ontario, working as a clerk. He became a private in number 4 Company of the 17th Canadian Infantry Battalion, and was soon transported across the Atlantic. These new soldiers were to be trained on Salisbury Plain, but Frank’s start involved the first of many hospital admissions. He had fallen on the stairs of the ship bringing him over and was described as lame – obviously not fit for training. He was admitted to the Middlesex Hospital, London in December for 5 days, when a ruptured ligament was diagnosed. He was to have continual ankle problems during his war service. This led to one report naming him as a “malingerer”, and, even worse, he was sentenced to loss of pay and detention for not returning to duty. However another medical report declared his ankle problem was evidently genuine, and he was given home service in England rather than being sent to France. Finally on 29th June 1916 he landed in France, now transferred to the 43rd Battalion. Following a short spell in No 7 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Le Havre for bronchitis, he did finally reach his unit and the front line by 4th August. His ankle problems were now to become insignificant.
On 26th October 1916 Frank was in the trenches when an exploding shell buried him alive. A later report recorded:Was buried by the caving in of a trench. Remembers being dug out. He was exceedinglynervouswhen dug out. Remembers nothing from the time of beingdug out till next day when he woke up in hospital. He could not speak or hear. How can bare words reflect such horror? He was passed up the line from First Aid post, to Casualty Clearing Station, to the No 3 Canadian General Hospital Boulogne – wounded and with shell shock. Eventually he was returned to England with shell shock, deafness and aphonia. He would have been put on an ambulance train which made its way through to Dorset, then brought from Poole Station by ambulance and stretcher bearers from Dorset No 1 Voluntary Aid Detachment, to be admitted to one of the military wards at Cornelia Hospital on December 15th.
There he came under the care of Dr George Small¹. His report in the Canadian files says that On admission has lost both hearing and speech. Speechsuddenlyreturned with a week of admission. Hearing gradually returned. ? small patchleft side made good recovery. He also suffered fits and hysterical attacks, making him surely a challenging patient for the nurses and VAD staff to care for. Whilst the attacks gradually subsided, he also suffered abdominal pain directly due to the pressures of burial under the trench. As he recovered he was moved to the Cornelia’s convalescent unit nearby at Forest Holme.
During January 1917, just a month after reaching Poole, he actually sent in 2 poems to the Bournemouth Graphic newspaper, two of which were published. One was written in a very positive tone eg our boys advance from their trenches to meet the much startledFritz, while the other seems to portray a soldier prone to dreaming of glory and medals: The sergeant major…said to me You’re a scout, you’ll win a medal this time, I’ve not the slightest doubt.
Following the convalescence, Frank was transferred away from Poole on 29th March 1917. His front line action was over, but Frank remained in England for the rest of the war, working as a clerk at the Canadian base at Shorncliffe in Kent and in London, his health being regularly assessed. But while still in Poole Frank had met Thirza Annie Ballam, and they married in the April in London. Thirza was then 19; she had been born in the Poole area, and lived in Beacon View, Upton. Her father Daniel had been a member of the Poole Board of Guardians and held the post of Relieving Officer. However Thirza had lost both her parents by 1917, and her brother was away in the war. How she met Frank is not known; she isn’t listed as a VAD member, the most likely way for local girls to meet wounded soldiers, but is quite likely to have participated in wartime voluntary activities. However it happened, her life certainly changed after meeting Frank.
Frank continued to work as a clerk for the army, not embarking for Canada until 9th September 1919. Thirza was on the same ship, and there was by then a Frank Junior to travel with her to their new home. Frank had not won the glory and medals he dreamed of, but he survived and even took a new family home with him.
Frank’s name cropped up in the Poole Herald on 20 December 1939, when he wrote to the paper. The headline was This Canadianmet his wife in Poole, but Frank was sending his good wishes in the early days of yet another war. Poole was obviously a significant memory for him. He wrote of his time in Cornelia: The wonderful treatment I received there I shall never forget. He wrote of meeting Thirza and said his sister-in-law regularly sent copies of the paper to her in Canada. Frank died in Winnipeg in 1945; Thirza died in 1983.
Walter Telfer was admitted to Cornelia Hospital on 7th June 1917, where he remained for over 6 months until 18th December. While he was there he received the news that he was being awarded the Military Medal for his actions in France.
Walter James Telfer was Scottish, born in Tighnabruaich, Argyllshire on 30th September 1885. He was listed as a seedsman in the 1901 census, living with his mother Agnes and stepfather Frederick Osgood in Rothesay. The family moved to the USA, and by 1914 Walter was living in Boston, Massachusetts.
The outbreak of the war led him to volunteer, but as the USA was not yet a participant he had to cross the border to Canada. He joined up in February 1915 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and sailed for the UK on the 20th May after initial training. His occupation had been as a hotel wine steward, but in the 25th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force he took on the role of Piper. The pipes must have been taken up in Scotland before emigrating. Just before sailing on the SS Saxonia, Walter took leave to get married to Mary. She was not see him again for 3 years.
Following further training, probably on Salisbury Plain, Walter arrived in France on the 10th September 1915. Pipers mostly served as stretcher bearers, but when an advance against the enemy was underway, pipers would be in the lead. He avoided any serious injuries, apart from slight gassing, until the battle of Vimy Ridge – described as Canada’s most significant military victory. Between 9-12th April 1917 the ridge was captured from the German forces during the 1917 Allied Spring Offensive. There were over 10,000 Canadian casualties in the battle, including Walter Telfer.
It was for his role in this battle that he was awarded the Military Medal. The citation read:
For most conspicuous gallantry at Vimy Ridge April 9th 1917. He marched ahead of the Battalion. During the attack regardless of shell and machine gun fire, playing his pipes until wounded a short distance from our objective. He had volunteered to go with his Battalion and by his heroic conduct added materially to the success of the operation.
A medical report written later records that he was struck by a shrapnel bullet in his right knee and also wounded in the left shoulder by a shrapnel ball. With many others, he would have been taken back to a Casualty Clearing Station, and then to the No 7 Canadian General Hospital Etaples, where he remained for 2 months. He developed an abscess in his shoulder wound, and his knee became septic and he was operated on several times, being listed as seriously, then dangerously ill. His right leg was then amputated, which allowed him to recover sufficiently to be evacuated from France. On arrival in England he would have been loaded onto an ambulance train, heading west through Hampshire, until reaching Poole, where the volunteers of the Dorset No 1 Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment would have conveyed Walter up to Cornelia Hospital.
There he was apparently not only nicknamed Jock, but also Pickles – because he kept asking to eat pickles when in a state of delirium. Two months after being admitted Walter was clearly up to going out and about as it was reported that he attended a Red Cross fete in the hospital grounds on 11th August, playing a selection on the pipes, for which a great reception was given by those attending. Unfortunately his medical situation was not improving as hoped and he was listed again as being on the seriously ill list in September. He required a reamputation of his thigh, as bone protruded from the stump. This healed enough for him to be presented with his Military Medal at a ceremony held at Poole’s Amity Lodge in October. He was then able to be discharged on 12th December, and he left Poole behind after 194 days as a patient in Cornelia Hospital.
He was now sent all the way to Buxton to be admitted to the Granville Canadian Special Hospital, before finally going to the 5th Canadian General Hospital near Liverpool. It was from there that Walter sailed back to Canada on the 28th March 1918. When he arrived he was given leave and hopefully the chance to be reunited with his wife Mary.
He was not yet free of military hospitals, and had to undergo another reamputation in May, to improve the stump. This delayed fitting of a prosthesis, and it wasn’t until January 1919 he had his new peg leg. He continued to suffer phantom pain in his right foot and limited arm movement.
Walter remained in the USA, and was living in Washington when he died in 1966.
Frank Skuce was admitted to Cornelia Hospital military wards 18th October 1918. Frank died there on 4th November, exactly one week before the Armistice.
Frank was a farmer from Nesbitt, Manitoba, born on 23rd May 1897. He was drafted into the Canadian forces in October 1917 at Winnipeg, aged 20. He was then Private Skuce of the Manitoba Regiment, no 2173584, and became part of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in the 27th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry.
He arrived in England in March 1918 for initial training, although complicated by a short time in Etchinghill Hospital in Kent with a recurrence of an infection. However he recovered after that, and after more training arrived in France late in August.
He was then part of the Last Hundred Days of the war, when Canadian forces were at the forefront of the pursuit of the retreating German Army. During the Battle of Cambrai his unit were advancing to the River Selle on October 12th when Frank received a gunshot wound. This was at first reported as being to his right hip, but was later altered to affecting his right buttock.
The following day Frank was admitted to the 13th Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne, where he was treated before being evacuated back to England. He would have been transported by ambulance train to Poole, then collected by the ambulances and stretcher bearers of the Red Cross, to be taken to the Cornelia Hospital.
There he was treated by Dr Alfred Tuthill², who signed a medical record. His diagnosis was now gunshot wound to the buttock, influenza and pneumonia. The notes record the flu affecting him on the 3rd November, and he died just the next day. Frank was one of the many soldiers caught up in the influenza epidemic at the end of the war. There were just 91 deaths from flu in Poole in 1918, but late October had seen a sudden increase.
The War Office Weekly Casualty List recorded his death as being from his wounds, although it was almost certainly brought on by the infections.
Frank was buried in Poole Cemetery. Although no reports have been traced about the funeral, in the January 1919, the Major General of Overseas Forces for Canada asked to buy the grave from the council. Later the grave was taken over by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Frank Skuce appeared in the local and Canadian newspapers very recently. His grave in Poole Cemetery had been spotted by Tony Hart of the Royal Tank Regiment Association, and thought Frank should be remembered, so far from home and any family. On the 100th anniversary of his death a ceremony was held to honour him, with wreath, a reading and the Last Post. The wreath bore the inscription You answered the call to arms and crossed the ocean, destined never to return home… we honour you, a true Son of Canada.
It is hoped his grave will receive visitors regularly in future, to honour the Canadian soldier who wasn’t able to go home.
Note: Much of the detail in these accounts is from the Canadian Great War Project. Similar details about British soldiers are rarely available because of the records lost during the Second World War.
¹Dr George Smith Small was a Scot, who worked at Cornelia Hospital from about 1910. During the war he lived near the hospital in Longfleet Road. He worked on both the civilian and military wards, and also at the Forest Holme convalescent unit. He took charge of training Red cross volunteers in the war. He died in Poole in 1951.
²Dr Alfred Tuthill was an Irishman, who came to Poole as a GP in 1901, and then went on to work at Cornelia Hospital. He worked on both civilian and military wards during the First World War. He lived in Mansfield Road, Parkstone during the war. He died in 1931, still living in Parkstone.
These two doctors were not military medical staff; they were pitched into treating war injuries for which they could have had no previous experience. They were assisted by trained and volunteer nurses from the VADs, who have been rightly celebrated, and some of them decorated. The Matron, Helen Milne, received the Royal Red Cross. The hard-pressed hospital doctors have received less attention.
The Golden Jubilee of the occasion in 1969 when the Queen opened the rebuilt Poole General Hospital presents the opportunity to look back on all of the royal events relating to the hospital. Over the years several of the Queen’s family have visited Poole’s hospital – her husband, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, cousin, grandmother and great grandmother.
Wednesday 14 September 1988: Diana, Princess of Wales
Although treated as a royal visit to the hospital with full honours and security lockdown, and witnessed by crowds of patients, staff and visitors, this was really more to do with Great Ormond Street Hospital than Poole General Hospital. Diana was there for the launch of the Dorset Candle Light campaign, part of the Wishing Well Appeal, a fundraising scheme to benefit the nationally-important children’s hospital in London. The multi-million pound appeal was a nationwide campaign to allow Great Ormond Street to develop new buildings and services, and was at the time the largest national appeal of its kind. Diana was a patron of the Great Ormond Street charity.
But Diana was obviously an incredibly popular visitor to Poole. She had also visited the Lighthouse Arts Centre before reaching the hospital. There was great excitement, with patients and staff crowding the staircase windows to see her walk along the paths at the rear of the hospital, heading to the Postgraduate Centre. Earlier she had visited a children’s ward, but she also met several local children who had attended Great Ormond Street. The centrepiece of the visit was the lighting of a ceremonial candle in the Postgraduate Medical Centre.
Friday 11 July 1969: the Queen and Prince Philip
This was obviously the most important of all the royal occasions. It was a huge coup for the hospital to secure the monarch and her husband to open the newly-rebuilt hospital. It was not just the hospital’s success; the Bournemouth and East Dorset Hospital Management Committee and the Wessex Regional Health Authority were also recipients of this royal favour because of their part in the creation of what was said to be the first newly-built District General Hospital in the country.
On a hot sunny day, the royal couple arrived at the hospital at 3.15pm, having been earlier on visits in Dorchester and Winfrith. The whole event was of course planned down to the minute between then and the 4.35pm departure. Those 80 minutes are an amazingly short time, bearing in mind all the people they met, all the parts of the hospital walked round, and the formal element of the opening. Guests in the reception party or the platform party or those lined up at various places in the hospital all had their own timings to adhere to, as well as instructions on where to park. Hospital staff, some with family members, were told where they should stand to line the route and get a good view. Medical staff were instructed to wear their academic robes. The bells of St Mary’s church were to be tolled at a set time, while the band of the Royal Armoured Corps sounded a fanfare at the appropriate time.
The royal car reached the hospital by the back door route – via Parkstone Road, along the roadway that then went through the hospital site to Longfleet Road, stopping by the steps up to the Main Entrance. The royal party were initially met outside the hospital by the town’s leaders – the Mayor and Sherriff, and the local MP ( Oscar Murton), before entering the hospital. There they were met there by representatives of the NHS – the Secretary of State for Social Services (Richard Crossman), and the local NHS leaders from the Hospital Management Committee and the Wessex Regional Board. Then, at last, it was the turn of the hospital’s own leaders – Hospital Secretary Ted Whitney and Matron Potts. And cadet nurse Monica Platt with a bouquet.
The whole party then went to the Dining Hall, which was the only place large enough to cope with the event. Staff had had to find somewhere else to eat for several days beforehand while the dining room was got ready and checked for security purposes. As the royal party reached the stage, the National Anthem was played. The formal elements were the Address of Welcome by Alderman Templeman, chair of the Regional Board, the Queen’s own speech, opening the hospital and unveiling a plaque, followed by H Morgan Williams, the senior Consultant, who gave the Address of Thanks. All no doubt following the strict protocol for such events. The Queen actually referred to Poole District Hospital in her speech – it should have been Poole General Hospital; whoever wrote the speech was confused by it status as a district general hospital for Poole.
After the speeches, the Queen and Prince Philip were then able to actually see some of the hospital and meet some patients, as well as many staff. They exited the dining room by its rear doors onto the forecourt at the back of the building. This gave the chance for patients and staff on all floors to see the Queen as they gathered at windows and stairwells. Along the pathway were gathered hospital staff to form a guard of honour, and allowing for the royal couple to interact with them. The party re-entered the hospital building to visit surgical ward AG first, where as well as patients were more senior staff lined up to be presented. Then on to X-Ray Department and the Pathology Department, before going up to the first floor to Ward A1 (Gynaecology) and Ward B1 (children’s). At each stop more staff were gathered to be presented – all those handshakes! There was then a chance for a cup of tea for them all in the Committee Room, before a short trip to the medical library. Here the Queen and Prince Philip signed the visitors’ book and autographed their portraits. It was then a final walk back down to the entrance hall. Here it was some long-serving staff who were presented, including a cashier, a seamstress and a medical records officer.
Another fanfare, back in the car and away! At which point the Royal Standard was lowered. A day to be remembered for the hospital and its staff, and by the town. The signed photograph and the plaque remain as physical reminders. The local newspapers naturally gave the event massive coverage; a more sober view of the day is presented in Richard Crossman’s memoirs Diaries of a Cabinet Minister.
Tuesday 11 October 1966: Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret’s visit to the hospital was just one part of a busy day in Poole. After driving from Hurn airport, she went to Poole Grammar School to open it on its new site on Gravel Hill. Then on to the Municipal Buildings for a civic luncheon, with a trip to Canford School arranged to follow the Poole Hospital element of the day. At every location there were endless people presented to her, visitor’s books to sign, presentations made.
The Princess was timed to arrive at the hospital at 2.22pm, arriving in an 11-car procession. The hospital was a building site at the time, in the throes of being rebuilt. She was received at the entrance to the new 13-storey nurses’ home building – Parkstone House. After being presented to the Hospital Chairman, Secretary and Matron, and walking through a Guard of Honour of nurses, Margaret was permitted to actually enter the building and view parts of the Nurses’ Home. This limited viewing was because the building still wasn’t fully completed. It was January before the first nurses moved into the building. Some senior nurses were presented to her in the Common Room, and that was it. She didn’t officially open it, just looked over parts of it. The teaching block, Churchfield House, wasn’t completed either, and only A block and the small nursing home, Cornelia Hostel, were occupied on the site.
The Princess was then driven off, in what was now a 13-car procession, to Parkstone Grammar School, 3 miles away in Sopers Lane. But this was still part of the hospital visit – she was there to attend the annual nurses’ prizegiving, taking place in the School Hall. She was received there by both school and hospital staff; the medical staff all wearing their academic gowns. As well as presenting the prizes, the Princess gave a short speech, which was followed by a response by senior consultant H Morgan Williams, and then the Report on the School of Nursing by the Matron, Miss Potts. The Princess was photographed with all the prizewinners before meeting more hospital staff in the school library. She received a Poole Pottery plate with the hospital crest and signed a photograph of herself, which is still on show in the hospital.
There does seem to be something strange about the timing of this visit to the hospital. The presentation of certificates and prizes at an annual event seems rather low key for such a royal visit, whilst the nurses’ home was viewed before completion. Perhaps when arranged it was hoped the building would have been finished and ready for an official opening. How did the grammar school feel about a royal visit that was all about the hospital and its staff? The hospital certainly didn’t have a hall of its own at the time, so the use of alternative premises was a reasonable idea. Perhaps Parkstone Grammar was chosen to ease any jealousy that the boys’ grammar school had received a visit that day!
Wednesday 10 May 1961: Princess Alexandra of Kent
Princess Alexandra is a cousin of both the Queen and of Prince Philip. Her visit to Poole Hospital had a dual purpose – an opening and a stone-laying. Her first role was to open the new Maternity Wing in St Mary’s Road. This was the first element of the rebuilding of Poole Hospital during the 1960s, and replaced the previously inadequate accommodation. A marquee was erected on ground alongside the new building for the formality of the opening ceremony. She then received a key to unlock the entrance, before unveiling a plaque in the entrance hall. The mother of the first baby born in the maternity unit was presented to her, before she went on to meet patients in the unit, presumable their babies as well.
The next stage of the visit was a royal procession back to Longfleet Road, and across to the main hospital site. The main site was then in a state of change – plans were ready to demolish the old buildings and rebuild a new hospital on the same site. But in 1961 there were just 2 buildings under construction on the main site – what was to be A block, situated away from the old buildings next to what had been the vicarage for Longfleet church, and the Cornelia nurses’ hostel on Churchfield Road.
The Princess’s role was to lay the Foundation Stone for the new Poole General Hospital. She toured the building work on A block and made a speech which was relayed to all patients in the hospital. There were reported to be 600 guests at the hospital to view the day’s two events involving Princess Alexandra.
The first royal visit:
Thursday 18 December 1890: Princess Mary Adelaide and Victoria Mary of Teck
Princess Mary Adelaide, also known as the Duchess of Teck, was a cousin of Queen Victoria and granddaughter of King George III. Whilst staying with the hospital’s founder Lady Cornelia Wimborne, at Canford House, the Princess and her daughter visited Cornelia Hospital, the original name of Poole Hospital. This was very soon after it had moved in to new premises – Peter Thompson House in Market Street. This was much grander than the previous site in West Street, and there was more for Lady Wimborne to proudly show off to her visitors. However there does not seem any indication that this was an opening ceremony.
At this time Mary Adelaide was recognised as a hardworking member of the royal family and devoted to charity work. However, previously she had lived an extravagant lifestyle, and was a subject of some scorn, afflicted with the nickname Fat Mary.
She was accompanied on the visit to the hospital by her daughter, Victoria Mary, who was 23 at the time. She went on to marry Prince George, Duke of York, who succeeded to the throne in 1910 as King George V. At the coronation, she became Queen Mary. She later became Queen Mother to 2 kings and the grandmother of the current Queen. It was over 78 years later when her granddaughter followed her in coming to Poole to visit the hospital.
Unlike the 20th century royal visits, this seems to have been a quiet affair. They would have arrived by carriage from Canford House, and probably with no police presence to control any bystanders there might have been. The hospital was very much Lady Wimborne’s project, and she would have wanted to impress Mary Adelaide, who was a regular visitor to such hospitals. Unlike the twentieth century royal visits, this event did not receive much attention in the local press.
Wednesday 21 April 1976: Princess Anne
Princess Anne came to the hospital not as a royal visitor, but as a patient. She was admitted after being brought in a St John ambulance following a fall from her horse during the Portman Trials equestrian event at Durweston, near Blandford. She was reported to be conscious but badly shaken, and was tested for concussion. She was then admitted to a room in the private ward for observation overnight. Her then husband, Captain Mark Philips, visited and stayed the night in an adjoining room. Princess Anne was transferred the next day to the private King Edward VII Hospital for Officers in London.
This was a story in the national press. A 16-year old boy from Poole was reported to have been the first to go to her aid after the fall as a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade at the event, and travelled in the ambulance to the hospital. He later received a letter from the Palace. Also receiving a letter was a local faith healer who attended the hospital to offer support and deliver a book on healing. He did not get in to see the Princess!
Princess Anne was also concussed later that year while competing in the Olympic Games at Montreal. She said then that as a result she couldn’t remember competing that day, so how much did she remember of being an inpatient at Poole Hospital?
ThursdayAugust 31 1961: Princess Jeanne of Roumania
Princess Jeanne was the wife of Prince Carol of Roumania, who was then living at Upton House as a tenant of Poole Council. She was rushed in the night to Poole Hospital for delivery of her baby, not due for another few weeks. The plan had been to have the confinement at the private London Clinic, but while visiting Upton House to prepare to move in, things took a different course. The baby was born in the early hours, and was later named Charles.
There was no pomp and ceremony, as at first no one knew her identity. Language was no problem, as she had been born in Nashville, Tennessee as Thelma Jeanne Williams. She stayed in a private room at the St Mary’s Maternity Unit, with Prince Carol a regular visitor.
There were many issues concerning the royal status of Prince Carol, and Roumania was by then a communist country. As far as the council was concerned, the Prince seemed not to have the money for the upkeep of Upton House. So this was not a prestigious royal occasion, though certainly unique. Princess Jeanne wrote an account of her time as a patient in the hospital’s staff newsletter for January 1962.
There have been several royal trips to Poole since 1988, but no more to the hospital. There do not seem to have been any royal visits to other NHS facilities in Poole, although the Duke of Kent did open the private Harbour Hospital in September 1996 and the Duchess of Gloucester did visit the charity-run Lewis Manning hospice at Evening Hill in April 2002.
Although not designated “royal”, Poole Hospital can boast of several brushes with royalty. There was some consideration in 1969 whether to rename it as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, although this idea seems not to have got very far. But then perhaps Poole Hospital is proud and confident enough in its history not to need any extra claims to status beyond bearing the name of the town.
11th July 2019: the 50th anniversary of the day the Queen opened the rebuilt Poole General Hospital.
That day ended a 10-year period of the most complex series of arrangements that hospital staff and patients could have faced, as the modern hospital was built on the same site as the old Cornelia Hospital. And while hospital services were kept running.
A decade makes for a correspondingly long account. A short summary below dates the main events, but for the detailed story read on, including some more obscure highlights, such as where John Le Carré, Fred Perry, Miss World and the Profumo affair fit into the story!
December 1957: announcement that the rebuild of the hospital was to go ahead
January 1959: building work started on the St Mary’s site for a new maternity unit
January 1960: construction of A Block on Longfleet Road site began.
May 1961: Princess Alexandra laid a Foundation Stone for the new hospital and opened the Maternity Wing
June 1963: the first wards of the new hospital in A Block were opened
March 1964: alterations to St Mary’s Block completed; transfers from main site now underway and demolition of the old hospital could begin in earnest
January 1967: Parkstone House tower block opened for nursing staff
April 1969: Outpatients and Accident Departments opened in the new buildings
May 1969: first wards opened in B Block and most departments now back on the Longfleet Road site
July 1969: Royal Opening by the Queen and Prince Philip.
The Cornelia Hospital, renamed Poole General Hospital in 1948, was built in 1907 with just 17 beds; the hurried construction of temporary wards to cope with World War One casualties was the first of numerous additions to the unplanned, though thankfully large, site. Some were wooden huts, some of more solid construction. But never enough beds or space, leading to use of wards at Alderney Hospital several miles away and to use of the old workhouse buildings on St Mary’s Road nearby.
The hospital had been in debt for years, so the advent of the NHS was seen as a way out for the hospital; it would no longer have to generate funds itself for improvements. On the other hand, it now had to work through the new NHS structure to make the case for any improvements. The local Hospital Management Committee (HMC) was well aware of the problem, recognising Poole’s need for better hospital facilities. However the HMC then had to persuade the Regional Hospital Board to put Poole’s need for a new hospital near the top of its capital plans, and then again to persuade the Ministry of Health to include it in national expenditure plans.
The case was eventually accepted. On the 12th December 1957 the momentous announcement was made, albeit rather buried in a long written answer in the House of Commons, when the Health Minister included an extension to Poole General Hospital in a long list of capital developments for the NHS. It was hardly announced with a big fanfare, and was at first listed as only an extension, but the news was so important to Poole.
Where a new hospital for Poole should be built was not at first obvious. Alderney Hospital was considered favourite at first, then a site at Wallisdown. However it was decided to use the existing hospital site on Longfleet Road, along with St Mary’s Hospital in St Mary’s Road. St Mary’s was a hospital for elderly chronic sick patients, using wards that had been the workhouse infirmary.
This choice obviously came with a big problem – how to run a hospital while its buildings were demolished and then rebuilt in the same place. This decision meant departments would need to move off site temporarily. Therefore the start of the rebuilding project had to be delayed as preliminary work was required to ready the other sites that would receive patients.
October 1958 an advertisement appeared for a temporary Clerk of the Works to supervise the erection of new buildings in stage 1 of the redevelopment of Poole General Hospital. Proof it was going to happen! The Regional Hospital Board was to use its own architects and planners for the 2-stage 8-year development; the hospital and the HMC had the task of ensuring services were kept going.
This first stage was to provide the first patient facilities to cope when the old buildings were to be demolished. This meant that building work went on alongside the old buildings while they were still in use. So obviously the first stage was on land unused on the main site, plus the St Mary’s site. This main elements of the this stage were a new 6-storey ward block on the site of a small orchard located to the north of the old buildings, a new maternity unit at St Mary’s, and staff residences.
But already the transfer of patient services between sites had begun. To clear the St Mary’s Block it was necessary to move 58 patients to Douglas House in Southbourne and others to new wards built at St Leonards Hospital.
1st January 1959:work began on the first stage (not then a Bank Holiday). However this was rather low-key – the very first work was demolition of walls on the St Mary’s site. This was preliminary work prior to the erection of the new maternity unit. A start was also made that month on a new boiler house, replacing obsolete plant; steam mains were to run 100 yards under Longfleet Road to the main hospital site. This first work was carried out by Rawlins Builders at a cost of £177,000, plus engineering and electrical work of £98,000.
Maternity services had long been recognised as a problem, despite two developments in the previous 25 years. Following a big fundraising appeal, a maternity ward opened on the main site in 1934. It was never large enough however, and in 1944 the County Council and Poole Council combined to help provide the hospital with what was called the Langran Maternity Unit in Shaftesbury Road, on the edge of the St Mary’s site. This was however quickly found wanting as well. So the first element of the new hospital was to build an entirely new and purpose-built Maternity Wing on St Mary’s Road.
This was far more than the simple maternity ward available previously. This was a purpose-built maternity unit of 54 beds, plus an antenatal clinic able to be used for mothercraft classes. The whole unit included an antenatal ward, labour suite, 3 delivery rooms, postnatal wards, isolation unit, milk kitchen, day room, and premature baby unit. On the second floor was the midwifery training school with classrooms and tutors’ rooms. One unfortunate problem was that floors were found to be damaged by stiletto heeled shoes worn by visitors.
1st January 1960: a year later building work commenced on the first ward block for the new hospital. The ward block was planned to have 165 beds, based on wards designed by the Regional Health Board’s own architects, getting away from the old Nightingale layout. The plan was to have a T-shape – beds along the top bar of the T, and ancillary rooms opening off its stem, which led to the ward entrance. Each ward was to have 15 beds arranged in bays of 4, plus 3 single rooms. The ward block and maternity unit were to be the subject of a Ministry of Health experiment in planned maintenance – fixed inspections and servicing rather than responding to discovery of faults.
1st January 1961: 51 nurses moved into the expanded nurses’ home. It had been built as a single-storey unit in 1951, but now had an extra floor added. This was the Cornelia Hostel, in recognition of the hospital’s founder, Lady Cornelia Wimborne, and the hospital’s original name as the Cornelia Hospital. There had been a variety of accommodation for nursing staff, mostly in large houses nearby. The second stage would involve the larger and more dramatic nurses’ home. One of the first new residents of the Cornelia Nurses’ Home wrote in the hospital staff newsletter about her new bed-sitter and its facilities, including its central heating, and laundry facilities, with nearby quiet room and recreation room, hair dryers, and sun verandah.
10th May 1961: the Foundation Stone for the new hospital was laid in a royal occasion for the town. Princess Alexandra visited Poole to perform the ceremony in the ward block under construction. The Princess also performed the official opening of the Maternity Wing, marking the first patient facilities for the new hospital. This royal visit was a foretaste of the event 8 years later when the Queen opened the rebuilt hospital.
January 1962: the government published The Hospital Plan for England and Wales. Government policy on hospitals was changing even while the new Poole Hospital was under construction. The policy now was to develop District General Hospitals to serve local populations of between 100,000 – 150,000. Poole would be one of these DGHs.
That month Alderman Bravery of the HMC had sympathised with hospital staff on the difficulties under which many of you are working…it is probably true to say that Poole General Hospital is struggling to provide a hospital service for the people of Poole under more difficult conditions…nevertheless we should remember that we shall be one of the first hospitals in the country to have been completely rebuilt.
September 1962: as building work progressed on the first ward block, an exhibition of equipment under consideration for the wards was held in Ward 1 at Alderney Hospital. The Regional Hospital Board engaged a professional interior designer to work on the new ward block. In one of the first such posts in the country, Phoebe De Syllas was employed to advise on equipment design, liaising with manufacturers, and on overall planning and appearance of all interiors, although it was stressed that utility obviously was first priority. She explained to staff in the hospital newsletter how colours on walls, curtains, bedding and upholstery would all be coordinated to achieve best effect. The block would also see the introduction of a completely new design of hospital bed – the Nesbit-Evans Vari-Hite General Purpose Bed.
The design of the wards was said to be a prototype for new hospitals, which would allow for maximum privacy and ease of nursing access in an open-plan layout. Two nurses’ stations provided optimum observation of patients plus good control of all persons entering the wards. Each station was a composite unit equipped with phone in an acoustic booth, clock and patients call system, built-in X-ray viewer, medicines cupboard, work top, vertical filing compartments for patient notes, stainless steel sink, and microphone point fitted for broadcasts to patients through lightweight headphones.
An X-ray unit was now to be established in the new block. The building also housed the telephone exchange on the second floor, providing purpose-built space for the operators, although they were out of sight for the first time. Part of the basement was to be used for an Admissions Office, Porters’ Room and storage.
January 1963: a sad event when the Clerk of Works, Frank Page, died of a heart attack in his site office. He had been in post since the very start in January 1959.
May 1963: the Secretary of the Regional Hospital Board stated that finding room for all the proposed buildings on the 7 acre site had been difficult. He further wrote that more than half of building costs went on engineering services, including the lifts, pneumatic tubes and call systems.
27 May 1963: in a less serious but rather amazing event – a tennis court was handed over on the St Mary’s site. This had been funded by the League of Friends as a staff facility. The opening featured a display involving tennis stars Fred Perry, Christine Trueman and other leading British players.
June 17 1963: the new ward block, designated A Block, had been completed in the May, and was formally opened a month later, marking the end of Stage One. Unfortunately the opening celebrations fell foul of the infamous Profumo scandal. Enoch Powell, the Minister of Health, was to have opened the building, but 17th June was suddenly the day of a major debate in the House of Commons on the affair. Lord Newton, a junior minister, came to Poole instead, which must have been disappointing for the hospital. The day still saw a celebration of the new ward block, with a Royal Marine band playing to local dignitaries and spectators.
The hospital’s previous long-serving Matron, Janetta Lambert, visited the ward block in July 1963, wondering what Lady Cornelia would have thought, and comparing it to the hospital she ran for so long: instead of the old fashioned long ward with so many beds on each side giving an impression of military precision, the space is divided into smaller rooms with four beds and day rooms…no noisy screens to move around each bed, instead there are curtains which can be drawn quietly and match the colour scheme…first class lifts operate to and from all departments… everything possible has been thought of to make for smooth running of the block and easier working conditions for the nursing staff.
Also that month a female patient on A2 provided a consumer view: From my window in the ward I had a marvelous view of Poole Park, with the train puffing across the middle of the lake…big tree outside my window, where I could watch the birds flying…let me mention a couple of items which show evidence of thoughtful planning…the provision of plastic water jugs and glasses which are immeasurably preferable to the glass variety from the patients’ angle…a second pleasant surprise is the hinged flap in the centre of the bed-table which lifts to reveal a mirror set in the lid… maintaining female morale.
However it had been reported at an HMC meeting earlier that some patients felt lonely in the new ward layout. The old Nightingale ward design had left little room for privacy, but apparently some patients in the bays of the new wards rang for nurses just for the company, straining nursing resources.
Old hospital buildings: 55 beds for dermatology, dental, Amenity, and Recovery plus outpatients.
St Mary’s site: 101 obstetric and gynaecology beds, including private beds, plus a staff sick bay.
4th July 1963: resident medical staff moved into their accommodation in the penthouse on the new ward block. Whilst they appreciated the facilities and the wonderful view, one doctor was disconcerted about the walkway along the roof outside the bedroom windows. She thought it like living in a bungalow 6 floors up!
Residences for medical staff had previously been in Grasmere, a house overlooking Poole Park bought in 1950 by the hospital. This was now to be converted into 4 flats for married medical staff replacing those in Hambro House and St Mary’s Lodge. Hambro House, which had once been the vicarage for the church nearby, was to be demolished when work started on the Isolation Unit, while the Lodge was to house the Chest Clinic temporarily.
The second stage of the rebuilding involved complex transition arrangements across different sites in several phases of work. Construction of the other ward blocks of the main building could not start for some time because most of the old hospital had to be demolished. Large-scale modifications were required to the St Mary’s Block to receive the departments to be transferred from the main site.
Sketch plans for the individual departments in the new buildings had been circulated to heads of departments and consultants in July 1962 to enable the detailed plans to be agreed. It was at that stage that communication with all staff was stepped up via the newly-launched staff newsletter, newssheets, and lunchtime meetings – no emails in those days!
The Isolation Block had been originally listed as part of the first stage, but work began only after the opening of A Block. It was designed as a fully air conditioning unit on the “race track” plan – first unit of its type in the country. It had all single rooms, most with sanitary facilities. The specialised engineering services including special ventilation systems were to cost £50,000.
The whole of the second stage was originally planned to be complete by the end of 1967, but inevitably with such complex construction work the date went back 18 months in the end.
1st March 1964: the contractor handed over the altered St Mary’s Block. This was the starting signal for the sequence of transferred services, scheduled in 3 separate phases. Each departmental move involved big practical issues and a lot of hard work for staff. A one-way traffic scheme had to be put in place, with removal vehicles entering the St Mary’s site from Maple Road and exiting into St Mary’s Road. The Poole Herald headline called it “Operation House-Move at Hospital.”
1st Phase – 9 March 1964: Outpatient Department, Medical Secretaries, the Dispensary, Medical Records, Almoners and part of X-Ray were transferred across and opened at St Mary’s. Sister Barham recounted how the Outpatients move had gone, recalling how they had cups and saucers ready but no electricity or water boiler at first. She said a few patients got lost in the first week, but at least no one fell in the large hole nearby where petrol tanks were to go.
2nd Phase – 6 April 1964: the Casualty Department moved across, along with the Chest Clinic, and more X-Ray facilities. The complete X-ray move was scheduled for 15 April.
3rd Phase – 4 May 1964: the Laboratory, Mortuary, Kitchens, Dining Room and Administration were transferred to St Mary’s. Nursing staff now vacated their accommodation at the original Parkstone House to temporarily move to accommodation at Alderney Hospital and Merion at the Parkstone Unit. School clinics were moved from Hambro House to Poole Central Clinic. A temporary Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD) was also set up in the St Mary’s Block at the Maple Road side.
At the same time as departments moved into temporary quarters, some name changes occurred: Casualty became the Accident Department, the Dispensary became Pharmacy, and the Laboratory became the Pathology Department. Patients had not only to find the departments, but know what they were called!
The St Mary’s Block was not the only site receiving patients in the transition. Alderney Hospital also had a big role in the temporary arrangements, with a second operating theatre built there to cope with transfer of surgical work, together with X-ray and laboratory facilities. Wards 16 and 17 at Alderney were cleared for 80 surgical cases and their patients moved to the new Isolation Block.
The Parkstone Unit was redecorated and had X-ray facilities installed ready to receive 27 medical patients. This unit in Lower Parkstone had previously been a sanatorium and later became Castle Hill House for learning disabled children.
June 1964: The main site was now ready for clearing all the remaining old buildings. Construction of Stage Two could now begin, earlier than the previous date of February 1965, and Messrs John Laing could start work. The first wards demolished had been women’s medical and women’s surgical earlier in the year.
August 1965: in a newsletter article by Mr JC Allan, the Regional Board’s Project Secretary for the hospital construction, staff were introduced in to the concept of Commissioning for the new hospital. They were told about the use of work study, network analysis and critical paths, with 9 streams of work to structure the commissioning process. Later newsletters reported on more practical aspects of the commissioning of the hospital – the huge number of operational policies required and the amount of paper involved (no computers!), the 3-stage cleaning work of the 1040 rooms as they were handed over by the builders, the role of stores staff in receiving, storing and delivering the vast amount of equipment and furnishings.
August 1966: the stack for the new gas-fired hospital incinerator was under construction within A block, with the incinerator room in the basement. It was expected to deal with all clinical waste in 3-4 hours each day
2nd January 1967: the first nurses moved into the new nurses’ home – the 13-storey Parkstone House, designed to house 202 nurses. Because of its height this was perhaps the most noticeable building of the new Poole Hospital – visible from miles around. It was purely for nursing staff – it was at first described as a Sisters’ andNurses’ Home. The more junior the nurse, the lower the floor they were allocated to. The building had cost £346,000 and another £27,000 was spent in furnishing its 197 single bedsitters and 5 flats.
With Cornelia Nurses’ Home also well established, there was at last all nurse accommodation onsite. The previous arrangements that had included a mixture of houses on Longfleet Road and Parkstone Road, the original Forest Holme building, Alderney Hospital, and the Merion block at the Parkstone Unit were all now in different use.
13th January 1967 the Minister of Health, now Kenneth Robinson, visited the hospital, perhaps making up for Enoch Powell’s aborted visit 4 years earlier. As well as the building work, he viewed a model of the whole scheme, which had received national prominence when a picture had appeared in the Illustrated London News. He inspected the ward block, isolation unit, the temporary Accident and Pathology departments at St Mary’s, as well as the maternity unit. He then saw Parkstone House nurses’ home, when he was asked if other hospitals’ recruitment would suffer because Poole had such luxury accommodation! The sea views from there and the penthouse may have led to his comment: I feel sure you must have one of the most beautifully situated hospitals in the country.
8 May 1967: the Nurse Training School moved into its new home in Churchfield House, adopting the title of Teaching Department. It was conveniently sited between the nurses’ homes in the Cornelia Hostel and Parkstone House. The building had cost £48,000, with £4,700 to equip it. Pupil and student nurses had played a big part in moving the teaching equipment across from Forest Holme.
June 1967: the Queen’s Birthday Honours List included an MBE for Edward John Whitney, the Hospital Secretary. Ted Whitney obviously shouldered a huge burden with the rebuilding. He is remembered by the Whitney Lecture Theatre in the Education Centre at the hospital.
June 1968: the Commissioning Team was able to move onsite from their temporary quarters in the old Forest Holme building. They now took up offices on the first floor. Nearby was the newly-established Medical Photography Department, one of many totally new departments for the hospital.
October 1968: ward B3 was furnished and equipped early to test out procedures for the new wards as they were completed. In May B3 was to become the first ward to receive patients in the 2nd Stage.
30 January 1969: the Main Entrance was now open for use, providing access at first to just A and B blocks. Receptionists were there to direct patients, who could admire the ornamental fountain and flower displays in the entrance area, paid for by the League of Friends. The entrance hall was intended to be the hub from which all routes around the hospital radiated. There was also a hospital shop in same area run by WVS, which also ran canteens in Outpatients and the Accident Department. It has taken 50 years for the hospital to get a new Main Entrance!
Car parking arrangements were being publicised. The hospital car park would have 240 spaces, mostly for staff during the day, but available to visitors in the evening. A pedestrian subway was included running from the car park through to basement of B Block. The council was planning restrictions on street parking nearby for the first time. Problems were revealed when a letter appeared in the BMJ in July bemoaning the dearth of parking facilities at the new hospital.
April 1969: the hospital invited its near neighbours, residents in Longfleet Road, to a tour of the hospital. Those living nearby had put up with years of building work, and must have been curious about what could be within the new buildings. Public relations were perhaps given impetus by occasional complaints about what was going on. One resident had complained in the press about the loss of trees, and accused the people behind the whole scheme of Hitlerite behaviour!
The hospital went on to arrange many tours of the buildings that year and later for local residents, professional groups, civic leaders, and groups from overseas. It was estimated in February 1970 that over 3,000 visitors had been shown over the hospital.
There was another influx of visitors in mid-April, but this time to help with the move. Soldiers from Dorset bases came in to help to move 250,000 medical records from their temporary home on St Mary’s site to their new home. For the first time medical records had a new printing system for all patient forms, replacing handwritten forms by clerical staff.
April 1969: the new kitchens were operational. The staff dining room was also now open in its new home. It was designed as one large room subdivided by removable screens, and adjoined by a coffee room.
Saturday 26 April 1969: the new Accident Unit opened. It was due to open at 10am, but by then 8 patients had already been seen. The very first patient was reported to be a woman unconscious from an overdose. The new Accident Department had twin theatres accessible from Accident/Day Ward, and Outpatients; resuscitation room; recovery/observation ward of 5 beds; plaster room; consultants’ room doubling as rest room and relatives room; children’s treatment room; and X-ray facilities. Department clerks were to be on duty from 8am-8pm 7 days a week. Planning for the department assumed a doubling of the number of patients seen in 1964 within 15 years.
The Intensive Care Unit was located immediately above the Accident Department. This was also close to the main operating theatres and Recovery Ward.
Monday 28 April 1969: the new Outpatient Department opened, having closed at 5pm on the Friday on the St Mary’s site. A feature of the new department was the creation of sub-waiting areas to help with patient handling on arrival; colour-coding was introduced to differentiate clinics. Clerical staff were also appointed to deal with patient reception and registration in order to relieve nurses of as much non-nursing work as possible.
Adjacent to Outpatients was the Day Hospital. This was equipped with 10 beds and its own theatre. Attention had been paid to ensuring local GPs understood the concept of a day hospital. The very first day surgery was recorded as a hernia repair.
The same day saw Pathology, Pharmacy, X-ray, and Medical Social Work departments also open for business in their new homes. The 1964 wave of departmental moves to St Mary’s were now all reversed .
2nd May 1969: the Echo contained an article by a distinguished patient, a governor of two London hospitals, in which he described the new hospital as a 5 million monumental multi-storeyed masterpiece.
Monday 5 May 1969: the Department of Physical Therapy opened after moving from its old base in Seldown Road. It had occupied the Belle Vue property there since 1945, when its physiotherapy and occupational therapy facilities were seen as huge progress. Now it had purpose-built treatment rooms, gym and hydrotherapy pool. Belle Vue was to have 6 staff flats built in its grounds.
8th May 1969: the Bishop of Salisbury performed the dedication of the hospital’s St Luke’s chapel.
May 1969: the Radiotherapy Department moved onsite from its previous base at Boscombe. Ward B3 was to have 22 beds for radiotherapy patients.
July 1969: this was the point where it could be said the rebuild was completed and official opening was awaited. The hospital had cost £4.5 million, and was expected to have about 1150 staff. These would include 50 medical, 525 nursing and 100 other professional staff. The bed allocation was 508 acute, 52 maternity, 16 special care baby cots, 50 bed isolation unit, 41 paediatric, 30 geriatric assessment, 6 ITU, 4 cardiac, and 10 day hospital beds.
Comparing the first 4 months of the hospital being operational with the 4 months before the moves in 1964, it dealt with an increase of 3,982 attendances in the Accident Department, 2,161 extra X-Ray attendances, and an extra 332 operations.
11 July 1969: the Royal opening of the new Poole General Hospital
The visit to Poole by the Queen and Prince Philip was obviously a huge occasion for the whole town, as well as the hospital. The official programme for the day lists the people who were presented to the Queen, the order of events, and all the arrangements. They arrived by car, able then to drive right through the site from Parkstone Road to Longfleet Road. The formal part of the event was held in the Dining Hall, presumably as the largest space available. After her speech, the Queen unveiled a plaque; the address of thanks was by H Morgan Williams, the Chair of the medical staff committee on almost his last day before retirement.
The royal couple were then accompanied on a tour of parts of the hospital, visiting Ward AG (Surgery), X-Ray, Pathology, Ward A1 (Gynaecology), and Ward B1 (Childrens) before going on to the Committee Room. The Visitors Book was signed in the Medical Library nearby.
The hospital grounds were lined with staff and their families, with vantage points for patients from the wards. Other patients were able to watch a CCTV feed of events to the wards. The streets were obviously lined with the people of Poole. They had waited a long time for a modern hospital, although no doubt many recalled the old Cornelia with affection.
The hospital was of course not ever completed, developments have been ongoing since 1969. That same year alone saw the opening of a cardiac unit and an 80-bed extension began on C Block. A public appeal was under way to fund the construction of a Postgraduate Education Centre, to bring together teaching and library facilities for medical, nursing and other staff. It was reported that amongst donors were local celebrities DJ Tony Blackburn, Miss World Ann Sidney, and author John le Carré. That December BBC Radio broadcast its popular Any Questions programme from the hospital.
While the hospital has kept changing and evolving over the last 50 years, 1959-1969 was clearly the peak time in creating a modern hospital for the town.