Thursday, 24 July 2008

Florence Gill (nee Gould) remembers three matrons (1936-1940) and a pet donkey

I spent four years there from 1936 to 1940, having gone there from St. James’s where I spent the best part of a year. I had rheumatism in various forms from the age of two, going on to an attack of acute rheumatic fever. I was six when I went to St. James’s and eleven when I came home.

My memories of Thorpe Arch are still very vivid and I remember many names of the patients and staff, who were kind and who was not, the teachers’ names, the specialists and the three matrons who were there in my time. When I first went there the hospital was for convalescents only. The address was just The Marguerite Home, Thorpe Arch, Yorks. Later this was changed to the one you know.

Later, the place was for adult women who needed longer hospitalisation. I visited an aunt there who had a broken leg, she was there about three months, but I rather enjoyed the trip. There were some changes but the main buildings I knew were still there. We went for a trip around there some years ago and I just couldn’t find it, but I mentioned it to someone who turned out to be a doctor and he said the place was still there but for what purpose I don’t quite know. Some of the patients were there for TB, but some were like me; some with rickets, but a good many had been left crippled by polio.

The matron who was there when I arrived was called Watson. She died there in odd circumstances believed to be suicide. Her Alsatian dog jumped out of her window and fell through a glass roof below which was the baby ward but fortunately missed the children’s cots. We then had Matron Balmer who was a lovely person, but didn’t last long as she got married. Matron Downs came next and she was still there when I left.

There were frequent visits by the committee who ran the hospital, all the country gentry. Mrs Lane Fox came quite regularly. She lived at Bramham Hall with her daughter Felicity who was in a wheelchair.

We had teaching all the time I was there, with a Miss Whitehead. The gardener was Mr Whitehead, no relation. He seemed to do everything besides gardening. He looked after the resident donkey called Hopey, who was kept in a meadow. Sometimes he got used to the music and came near the wards to listen to it.

Sometimes the nurse would play the piano and we would have a sing-song but we also had a radio. Now and again Hopey would get out and always ran to the kitchens and poor Mr Whitehead had to chase after him. As I was leaving he was digging up the tennis court, part of the war effort, I suppose.

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