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.

Margaret Vicars has her discharge signed by Miss Lane Fox

This is Margaret Vicars letter of discharge signed by Miss Felicity Lane Fox. There are no wasted words in her letter, despite Margaret being a patient for almost four years, but then there was a war on.

Note the date signed, 1st September 1944, during war time. There is no doubt in the author's mind that the letter will reach Margaret's parents in time for them to collect their daughter the following day, a Saturday. If only we had such confidence in our postal service today, particularly when there was no first and second class systems then.

Miss Felicity Lane Fox went on to become Baroness Lane Fox, who's story is told, in part, below.

Taken from The Yorkshire Evening Post of April 18th 1988.

Battling Baroness Lane Fox, a champion of the disabled despite being wheelchair-bound herself, has died.
The brave Yorkshire Tory peer, 69 the daughter of Mr Edward Lane Fox and his wife Enid. She was struck down with polio when on a family holiday at Filey.
The medical experts did not hold out much hope for the little girls survival,but they reckoned without the tremendous strength of purpose which in later life made her a tower of strength in helping the disabled.
She raised many thousands of pounds through broadcasts and interviews and was a familiar figure being driven around the country by her mother in a converted double-deck van.
Her first voluntary job was as an appeals organiser to the Yorkshire Association for the Care of Cripples in 1939.
During the war years she was secretary of the Thorp Arch Children's Orthopaedic Hospital and away from her work was a lover of sport and was joint secretary to the Bramham Moor Hunt.
She was an active political worker and keen supporter of the Conservative Party and her life peerage was personally recommended by Mrs Thatcher, who was one of her many admirers.