During the first half of the twentieth century, when tuberculosis was still a disease feared by all, facilities in Poole for sufferers included the exotically named Rizwan nursing home in Broadstone and Nirvana in Parkstone. The King Street Dispensary on the other hand had a much more mundane name. Dr Johns’ Sanatorium was very literally named – a sanatorium run by a Dr Johns. But this institution had another and much grander name – Alderney Manor Sanatorium. This grander name matched the sort of patients that the sanatorium was aimed at, which the always-informative Historic Hospitals website has featured previously as huntin-shootin-and-fishin-at-an-upper-crust-prefab-sanatorium.
Dr Johns was Walter Denton Johns, born in Norfolk and educated professionally in Durham. He was one of several doctors drawn to the Bournemouth area in the later years of Victoria’s reign to open sanatoria for tuberculosis sufferers. Whilst tuberculosis was more prevalent in the poor, they were little provided for in terms of hospital treatment. Poole’s Medical Officer of Health had unsuccessfully proposed that a small sanatorium should be provided at Baiter Hospital for local residents, but generally the poorer residents received little more than advice. But all classes were vulnerable to the condition; those who could afford to sought relief in seaside areas like Bournemouth or Torquay, or in Germany or Switzerland where the air was dryer. Bournemouth was quick to highlight its climate for treatment of advanced cases of pulmonary tuberculosis, particularly with the open-air treatment methods. Advertisements in the British Medical Journal on June 30 1906 include several sanatoria in Bournemouth, plus just one in Poole – Dr Johns’ Sanatorium. Less well-off sufferers from across the country were still advised to visit the south coast if possible, to obtain the advantages of the climate, and some certainly reached Poole, as the Medical Officer of Health report in 1902 made the point that lodgings for them were cheaper in the Parkstone and Branksome districts than staying in Bournemouth. By 1896 Dr Johns was running a sanatorium in Southbourne, Bournemouth, described as being for the upper middle classes. Perhaps he wasn’t successful enough in that location, or perhaps Dr Johns saw the potential in opening a sanatorium for the wealthy in open country rather than the seaside. He identified a location in north Poole, more inland and on higher ground, but subject still to the prevailing south westerlies. This offered him the chance to sell it to potential patients as a country estate-style of treatment centre.
The site was Alderney Manor, off Ringwood Road, in what was then variously named as part of Newtown, Branksome or Parkstone. Now it is the Poole district of Alderney, very much made up of suburban streets, but at that time a mix of woodland and heathland, part of the Canford Estate.
It was late in 1900 when Dr Johns began negotiations with Lord Wimborne to take a lease on the land, which was almost directly across the road from Alderney Isolation Hospital – an infectious diseases hospital that did not treat tuberculosis cases. A previous tenant of Alderney Manor had been an eccentric MP -Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, who described it as a shooting lodge. The tenant who came after Dr Johns was the coincidentally-named Augustus John, the painter. He set up home at Alderney Manor in 1911, and his bohemian lifestyle is fortunately interesting enough for several biographies, which include descriptions of Alderney Manor. These reveal that it consisted of 2 buildings, the larger of which was actually known as Alderney Cottage. Some distance apart, hidden by rhododendron bushes, was the Alderney Manor building itself. This was clearly very distinctive, described as… a curious low pink building, an elongated bungalow with Gothick windows and a fantastic castellated parapet… It looked at first sight, like a cardboard castle from some Hans Andersen story – a fragile fortress… The smooth stucco surface, once a proud red, had faded leaving patches here and there of a cardboard colour…With its single row of windows pointing loftily nowhere, the house seemed embarrassed by its own absurdity.¹
The lease signed by Dr Johns in December 1900 was for 21 years at a yearly rent of £75; the purpose listed to carry on an open-air sanatorium for the treatment of consumptive patients. The major feature of Dr Johns’ Sanatorium was open air treatment – based on the principles of treatment begun by Dr Otto Walter of Nordrach in Germany, whereby patients were exposed to fresh air at all times, in all weathers, were fed an extensive diet, and submitted to an exercise regime determined by the patient’s temperature. Dr Johns’ claim was that he offered the “hut system”. He placed 11 double sleeping huts around the site for the male patients to live in, all year round. They measured 24 foot by 12 foot, and were wooden but with corrugated iron cladding, heated with anthracite stoves.
There were 3 double day huts for female patients, but they slept in bedrooms in the Cottage – presumably with permanently open windows to achieve the same effect. The huts were aligned in rows with clear space between them. There was also a sun garden, with what were called ‘sun baths’. A lake is also shown on maps of the Manor. Meals were taken in the Manor building. The Manor also consisted of consulting rooms, administration area, kitchens, and staff accommodation.
The lease specifically granted Dr Johns “the shooting and sporting rights” over the land. The country around within the Canford Estate was an area used by Lord Wimborne for country pursuits, with shooting parties and hunting expeditions. The facilities on offer at Dr Johns’ Sanatorium were described in a contemporary work: For amusements, croquet, sea-bathing (under medical supervision), fishing on Lord Wimborne’s preserves, and rabbit shooting on the estate itself, are provided. A bandstand has been erected for occasional concerts. A local land agent gives lessons by arrangement in the management of landed property”.² The Manor also featured a wine cellar, probably not common in infectious disease hospitals. The advertisement in the British Medical Journal had described it as in an ideal spot, specifically built for the cure on the Hut system, with sun bathing all the year round. Do the current residents of Alderney realise they can sun bathe all year round?
The sanatorium opened at the beginning of 1901 and closed during 1911. As no other patient lists seem to have survived, it is convenient that the censuses taken in 1901 and 1911 make it possible to obtain some idea about Dr Johns’ success in admitting wealthy patients. The census taken on 31st March 1901 was literally a few weeks after the opening, and it reveals just 11 patients against its 25 patient capacity. Of these, 7 are said to be living by their own means ie had no work as such, and therefore quite likely to be well off. The others were listed as a doctor, railway manager, timber merchant and inspector of schools – certainly middle class patients, though not necessarily wealthy. The census on 2nd April 1911 was just before the closure, and there were now only 4 patients. The 2 men listed were a mining engineer and schoolmaster; one of the women has no work listed, but the other is a housekeeper, which may be a mistake, or a special case. It seems rather unlikely that such people needed advice on the management of landed property! Perhaps in the intervening years the patient profile had been wealthier. None of the patients listed were local. Their ages show the oldest patient was 50, but most were in their 20s and 30s.
A list of the staffing of the Sanatorium shows 1 doctor, 6 nurses, 1 secretary, 1 cook, 5 maids, 3 general staff, 1 gardener and 4 hut cleaners. ³ Just the one doctor was not perhaps the original plan, as at an early stage there had also been an Assistant Medical Officer. Dr Egbert Coleby Morland listed that role at Alderney Manor in his qualifications for writing a prize essay in 1902 on the design of sanatoria. Dr Moreland later achieved the more prestigious position of Editor of the Lancet medical journal. The 1901 census shows a Matron, Sarah Payne, and one nurse living in, and Matron Laura Purdon but no other nurses in the 1911 census. An extra staff member was the dairyman sought in 1907, to look after 8 cows.
The lease was given up in 1911, when Augustus John was able to take it on (at a lower rent) the pink castellated bungalow and turn the former sanatorium into a bohemian home for his entourage, lady friends and guests. Did they know its previous use? Dr Johns had to make good the premises and take away all the huts and sun baths. By December of that year he was advertising for sale a billiard table, a piano, and several anthracite stoves probably from Alderney Manor. Presumably the sanatorium had not been a long-lasting success.
Dr Johns’ future career is somewhat unclear. He certainly stayed in the area and is listed as living in nearby Longham at Lawn Farm by 1920. After 1911 he may have opened a sanatorium at Deep Dene in West Howe, just a short distance from Alderney Manor. The Red Triangle Farm Colony for tuberculous soldiers from World War One was opened in 1917 there, named as the site of a sanatorium. and one source names Dr Johns as being involved in that venture, although other sources fail to include him in lists of staff. Whether Lawn Farm was a sanatorium of any kind is not known. He died on 11th August 1938, living in Hermitage Road, Parkstone. His wife Ellen had died in 1905 living at Alderney Manor, and they are both buried at St John the Baptist Church, Moordown. Unfortunately no image has yet been found of Dr Johns.
¹Michael Holroyd: Augusts John. Chatto & Windus 1996.
²Frederick Rufenacht Walters: Sanatoria for consumptives 3ed. 1905. Available at the Wellcome Library.
³ Particulars of Dr Johns’ sanatorium at Alderney Manor. May 1902. D-WIM/JO-877E at Dorset History Centre.