It’s exciting when you receive a package sent by special delivery. Helen Lawes has been asking locals for memories and pictures featuring Shaftesbury’s Westminster Memorial Hospital. As hospital Matron, she was hoping for some special memorabilia. But the parcel that arrived from the Midlands on Friday morning offered more than Helen had wished for.
The documents turned up just one day before Saturday’s Tea Party, hosted to celebrate 70 years of the NHS. With the party in full flow, Helen held up an A4-sized laminated black and white photograph of a young woman. It was a former Shaftesbury nurse.
Helen had been moved by her story. “This was a lady called Audrey Tuckett. She was only seventeen when she came here in 1946. Unfortunately, she’s since passed away. Her husband heard about our tea party. Sadly, Audrey had dementia before she died but she had written her memoirs and there was quite a bit about her experience in Shaftesbury Hospital. He sent them to me,” said Helen.
Helen was particularly struck by Audrey’s anxiousness. “She arrived on 1st January 1946, on the bus. She travelled on her own to Shaftesbury. It was snowy. She was so nervous about meeting the matron that she was sick on her new coat. When she arrived at the front door to be greeted by the matron, she had taken her coat off and rolled it up into her bag. She stood there, in the snow, in her blouse. In awe of the matron,” said Helen.
Audrey’s memoirs recounted her first year in Shaftesbury. “It’s very moving at times, said Helen. Audrey lived at the hospital and had a bedroom on site.
The community responded well to Helen’s appeal for hospital memories. She was also pleased to receive items for display from a local lady called Jenny. “There are original letters from her mother, who was a nurse. Those letters include one accepting her for nursing training. There’s her nurses belt, buckles and the nursing handbook from the 1960s. It’s really lovely,” said Helen.
Hospital staff had filled one half of a large room with old photographs, albums, hospital information booklets and staff manuals. The timeline of the hospital’s milestone events were listed on display boards. It all began in 1870 when the Dowager Marchioness gave £2,000 to build the cottage hospital. In 1923 the hospital’s first telephone was installed. In1953 they had central heating put in. And in 1971, the Duke of Westminster opened the hospital extension for use by outpatients.
Speech bubbles on the display panels contained the words of former patients and staff, taken from emails and from hand delivered notes that had been dropped off at reception. One former patient recounted recuperating following major heart surgery in Southampton. The relaxed atmosphere ‘had a beneficial effect on me’, the patient wrote.
Names of former staff were also recalled in these fond memories, including receptionist Mrs Brindle and Sister Foster. League Of Friends committee member Bobbie Perrin loaned pictures of her sister, a nurse, standing outside the hospital with a small Morris Minor, which was the doctor’s car.
Helen says that hospital staff will be able to enjoy reading the documents for a few more weeks. “I’ve been asked to put it upstairs in the staff room. Perhaps we can display it a bit longer so people in the town can see it at their leisure,” Helen said. “It’s lovely to see the memories and look back and see how times have changed,” she added.
Caroline Clarke was born in the Shaftesbury Hospital. We went to look at the old maternity room. It’s now the Shaston Ward’s office. Caroline became the hospital’s Matron in 1989 and she said that the displays brought back wonderful memories of her years at the hospital. “I first came here as a volunteer. When I came back, Staff Nurse Peterson was a Sister and she was my role model. I have so much affection for her. Sadly, she wasn’t well enough to come here today but she was a wonderful nurse. She was a person I wanted to be like,” said Caroline.
The pictures also reminded Caroline of the staff training initiatives in which Shaftesbury Hospital excelled. “Investors in People was one. We worked very hard. We were the first place within Salisbury Health Authority to gain that status. Seeing that photograph with so many people on it is brilliant,” said Caroline.
Caroline recalled her time at Shaftesbury Hospital in the late 1980s fondly. “It was a wonderful time in nursing. Things were just taking off. There was a huge thing about education for nurses. We were affiliated with Bournemouth University. We were the first hospital where every qualified nurse did an introductory course at Bournemouth University. I was incredibly proud of that,” she said.
Caroline is also proud of some of the changes she helped to introduce. “I was able to arrange that we had Ashmole Ward, where we put the longer stay patients. The Shaston Ward was for the GP’s patients. We had a real mix. It gave the staff the opportunity to move around between different areas and find their strengths and weaknesses.
“We opened the John Lidsey Terminal Care Unit. It made a difference. We were able to send the nurses on specialist courses in looking after terminal patients. The relatives could be there all the time. If they wanted to stay with a loved one, we had a little kitchenette and they could sleep overnight. It made all the difference for so many people, both patients and relatives,” said Caroline.
“One of the people who was a few years ahead of me in school died in the John Lidsey Unit. To be able to look after him and his family touched me very much,” Caroline said. ”We were able to provide a service that I am very proud of.”
Growing up in Shaftesbury and running the hospital, which had 24 hour A&E then, meant that Caroline never knew who would come through the doors. “Many of the elderly patients were my friends’ parents or grandparents. You need a line between the ‘professional you’ and the ‘you who grew up with these people’. It is a hard thing to do,” Caroline reflected.
Carolyn Cox was one of three former Matrons present on Saturday. She is a familiar face today in her role as Chairman of the League of Friends. “I helped set up the day hospice when it was here. It was very successful, I think,” said Carolyn, in between serving slices of cakes baked for the tea party celebration. “It’s the community spirit here in Shaftesbury Hospital which really made it. The community was behind you. The patients were always very well looked after. And with such therapeutic views from the hospital, what more could you want,” Carolyn smiled.
As the Town Band struck up and children gathered in the grounds for a paper plane-flying contest, Carolyn turned to her organisation’s birthday. There have been events to mark the NHS’ 70th across the country but the local League of Friends is also marking an important occasion. “We have 30 years under our belts, said Carolyn, adding, “We’re desperate for new members, particularly from the younger population. Just give me a ring.”
The League has purchased two vehicles for the hospital, which it also maintains. They also pay for items that the NHS cannot fund but which make the patient experience better. “We fund the smaller things, like regular newspapers and art activities for patients and we have special days like tea parties,” said Carolyn.
And a special day it was. “I’m amazed by the response and I am humbled as well,” reflected Helen. “I feel very proud to be the Matron here at this hospital at this special time, knowing that this hospital and the NHS are so dear to so many people in the community. “I’m really grateful to everybody,” she said.