Archives relating to the founding of Mary Wardell's Convalescent Home and its evolution into a Military Hospital in the First World War are very sparse, and the Hospital's historical narrative is fragmented.
In 2019 more fragments of the RNOH Stanmore story arrive in Iva's office in a trunk donated by Derek Sayers and labelled 'R.N.O.H. Photographic Archival Collection'. In her report for Pegleg Productions and the National Heritage Lottery and Culture Recovery Fund, Heritage Consultant Dr Sam Carroll writes:
"... Derek had been a research histologist at RNOH and a colleague of John Cholmeley, a former surgeon, who had previously written books about the hospital The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital from its origin in 1905 to 1982 (1982) and A history of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (1985). When John became elderly and frail he passed his collection of resources on to Derek who has taken care of them ever since..."
Inside the trunk are many treasures. Pictured below are photographs taken after Mary Wardell has died and the First World War has ended. In 1920 The Wardell Hospital is sold and becomes the 'Country Branch' of the RNOH. The excellent 'Lost Hospitals of London' website states that the Committee of Management of the RNOH in Great Portland Street bought the Hospital for £4,000:
"... after undertaking to provide convalescent treatment in accordance with a trust set up by Miss Wardell. A 23-acre field next to the garden was purchased for £1,635."
These photographs illustrate the evolution of Mary Wardell's Convalescent Home and the Auxiliary Military Hospital of the First World War into the RNOH 'Country Branch', a further development of the RNOH legacy of Orthopaedic medicine:
These beautiful photographs are likely to be publicity images taken to promote the 'Country Branch'. The same nurses and children appear in many of them, which indicates they were taken on the same day and carefully 'staged'.
The photograph above is heavily re-touched, but after High Resolution scanning superb detail is revealed. We can see the 'Treatment Hut', or 'hutment', donated to the 'Country Branch' by Queen Mary's Hospital in 1922.
These huts, which Nicola Lane remembers from her time at Queen Mary's Roehampton, were used throughout the First World War, as they could be quickly assembled in response to need.
Queen Mary's Ward was demolished in 1985, documented in this photograph from Derek Sayers' collection. It is said that a child's trolley was discovered during demolition:
The trolley pictured below used to be on display in the Herbert Seddon Teaching Centre. Could it be the one discovered in 1985?
Just as Mary Wardell chose the site for its fresh air to enable recovery from infectious disease, the RNOH 'Country Branch' promotes the healing effects of 'Dr Sun' and 'open air treatment', claiming to prevent "Nine or ten thousand deaths a year from Surgical Tuberculosis".
RNOH scrapbook: Daily Chronicle, October 22nd 1922:
"...among the trees and flowers of an old-fashioned garden, numbers of London's little cripples were lying yesterday on rugs or in cots, winning health and strength from the sunlight..."
These scenes in the 'old-fashioned garden' give us a glimpse into the hospital grounds of Mary Wardell's Convalescent Home and the Military Hospital. The planting was almost certainly created during Mary Wardell's era. In her letters and fundraising publicity for the Convalescent Home she makes many references to the importance of the gardens for the well-being of the patients, and raising funds to pay for two gardeners to maintain them.
RNOH scrapbook: 'The Tatler', April 16th, 1924:
"Here the creative rays of the sun are combined with the skills of surgeons and nurses..."
Pictured below is another archival treasure discovered in a dusty box - the Annual Report of the City Orthopaedic Hospital: "For the Gratuitous Surgical Treatment of the Absolute Poor only. Principally Prostrate Crippled Children."
The 'Lost Hospitals of London' website states that The City Orthopaedic finances deteriorated badly and so they reluctantly merged with the RNOH in 1906. Read the fascinating story here:
'Voluntary' hospitals like the City Orthopaedic, for 'the Absolute Poor Only', had been established in the Nineteenth Century throughout the UK, and like Mary Wardell's Convalescent Home relied on donations, endowments and charity for their survival.
A cutting from the RNOH Scrapbook describes Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester attending a fundraising dinner for the RNOH Country Branch in 1923 :
"I am most anxious to develop this hospital at Brockley. (cheers) As you know it is right in the country. It has a garden, trees, pigs, chickens, and all the things which must spell fairyland to poor children from a great city..."
Prince Henry goes on to say:
"...and when we consider that at the same time they are being transformed from helpless cripples into strong, self reliant citizens of our Empire, the worthiness of our object is overwhelming..."
The terminology of the past is very different to today, and in the dictionary the word 'cripple' is defined as 'dated, offensive' - and it is considered offensive by many people. According to a graph tracking its use over time, use of the word peaks between 1900 and 1920.
Artist and disability activist Tony Heaton OBE is a former patient at the RNOH and his work has often explored the perception of disabled people as invisible and 'other'. Here he reflects on the 'cripple' word:
"The C word is an opportunity to think and for disabled people, us cripples, it’s an opportunity to explore...
Cripples do pop up throughout art history. LS Lowry, who would probably self-define as disabled if he were alive today, painted ‘The Cripples’ in 1949. It’s a powerful work, and it has been suggested he portrayed himself at the centre of the composition, perhaps associating himself with them, the different, the outsider. His friend, sceptical of this gathering of cripples, took Lowry on a short drive across Manchester in which, to his friend’s surprise, they counted over a hundred visibly disabled children, women and men.
The painting has been described as ‘…this motley collection of unfortunates, painted large and with an unflinching eye for detail, is tough…’
Suggesting perhaps that we become somehow invisible, too hard to contemplate...Lowry’s subjects from between the two World Wars were no doubt returning veteran victims of the terrible conflicts, but there would also be those bearing the impairments of disease and ill-health brought on by poverty, malnourishment and harsh working conditions.
Seventy five years ago, not long after Lowry painted 'The Cripples', Sir William Beveridge in his radical report that pre-empted the birth of the Welfare State, cited the five giants needing eradication as Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.
Sadly they are still present in society, as are we cripples, and whilst we would want to eradicate the five giants, we can be sure that disabled people will always be present."
In 1923 the RNOH 'Country Branch' opens the very first Hospital School, certified as a 'Residential School for Physically Handicapped Children' - another legacy from the First World War era, established after the 1918 Education Act made schooling for all disabled children compulsory:
Pictured below is another recently recovered treasure, a Special Edition of the 'Kings Breakfast' by A. A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepard, donated in 1925 to the children at the RNOH Hospital School: "This is a presentation copy for the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital." and signed by author and artist.
The creators of the 'King's Breakfast', A. A. Milne (author of 'Winnie the Pooh') and his brilliant illustrator E. H. Shepard, both served at the Front in the First World War. Shepherd served at the Somme, Arras, Ypres and Passchendaele and was awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry’. When the War ended, he packed all his drawings and everything connected to his military service in a trunk where it remained hidden for 100 years until an exhibition at the House of Illustration in 2016.
In the Movietone clip below, at 0.46 we can see the RNOH Country Branch children performing in celebration of the new front gates, at a ceremonial opening by the Duke of Gloucester in 1930.
The financial challenges faced by Hospitals dominates every stage of the evolution of the RNOH, from Mary Wardell's Convalescent Home to urgent appeals for the Wardell Auxiliary Military Hospital, and then the RNOH 'Country Branch'. The struggle for donations and endowments is ever present.
In the cutting pictured below, Chairman of the RNOH, the Earl of Denbigh, writes an article titled: 'Hard Times for Hospitals. Right and Wrong Methods of Meeting Present Temporary Crisis', where he argues for retaining the Voluntary system:
"...Under any State or Municipal system the management and medical staff in every Hospital would have to be paid, and in addition there would be the cost of management and supervision by some central Government Department."
The year is 1927, and Britain is struggling to recover from the First World War. There is Recession and Mass Unemployment, and the Earl of Denbigh acknowledges these are 'bad times for most people' but insists this is 'temporary'. He is being optimistic. The Great Depression is just 2 years away - and the challenges of providing rehabilitation and retraining for the wounded ex-servicemen of the First World War remain.
For the next chapter in 'Our Search for the Grey Lady' go to: