Recently my attention was drawn to a line of poetry about the Dog Rose which we may not often see in these days when hedgerows are cut back by equipment on a tractor, but was more common in my younger days when a farm worker cut the hedges into shape with hand tools. The short reference is: “Unkempt about those hedges blows, an unofficial English rose” by Rupert Brooke.
The Dog Rose has a scientific name “Rosa Canina”. It grows naturally in hedge rows with delicate pink and white blooms which result in rosehips. In wartime children were exhorted to collect the ripe hips to be converted into rosehip syrup as it has a high vitamin C content which is beneficial for the skin and to help arthritis etc. I believe it may still be available at chemists counters, although vitamin tablets are now common.
In the days before the NHS our village, in common with others, annually held a “Hospital Sunday” when the grounds of a large house owned by two spinster ladies, the Misses St George were opened to all and the nearby town silver band played, “followed by a silver collection” in aid of the local Cottage Hospital. When very young I was confused as the nearby public house was the “St George and the Dragon”. Other villages and towns had flag days for the same purpose.
Many people joined a Friendly Society, paying a regular membership fee in case they became ill and required a doctor or hospital visit, which would be paid at least in part by the society.
All of this changed 70 years ago when the National Health Service came into being, the subject of recent celebrations. The then Health Secretary, Aneurin Bevan introduced the scheme in July 1948 which he launched from Park Hospital, Manchester, now known as Trafford General Hospital. It has been said that he was influenced by his younger memories of Tredegar. We all know and are grateful for the NHS as it has become. But what was it like before the NHS?
To examine the changes in our hospitals before and after I visited the Local History Centre of Bridport Museum and looked at the files for hospitals in Bridport , as an example of one local town.
The first general assistance for poor people was the Poor Law Institution, known as the “Workhouse” following the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Bridport Institution was opened in 1837 in No 1 Bedford Place, Barrack Street to house 250 inmates. From 1929 it became an infirmary for 114 inmates until the NHS, when it became the “Port Bredy” geriatric hospital, so named after the description of Bridport in several books by Thomas Hardy. It has since become private flats.
The Isolation Hospital was built near Allington Hill and looked after tuberculosis and diptheria patients. It was probably much needed in its day as earlier Bridport had also suffered an epidemic of Cholera in the early 1800s with 30 people dying in South Street in five weeks, as noted by the Rector. It later became a Geriatric Hospital and in the mid 1980s housed Vietnamese Boat people.
In 1870 St Thomas’ Cottage Hospital and Dispensary was opened in North Allington following donations, it was suggested people could “buy a brick”. It closed in 1915 and has since been demolished and succeeded by private housing.
Bridport General Hospital was built off Park Road in 1912 on land given by Colonel Thomas and Mrs Colfox. It took the place of the smaller St Thomas’ Hospital and opened in 1915 with beds for 18, later 30 patients and two private wards in 1931, when children’s and maternity wards and an operating theatre were provided. A Hospital League was formed in 1928 and continued until 1949. The General Hospital was transferred to Hospital Lane, North Allington in 1992 to the site of the old Isolation Hospital which was demolished in 1989. Its title became Bridport Community Hospital and was opened officially in April 1996 by Baroness Cumberlege.
A new Medical Centre was opened in West Allington in June 2007 by Oliver Letwin, our local MP and superseded the previous centre in North Allington. So the health care in Bridport developed within the National Health Service.
Before the Reformation by King Henry VIII and his son, some aid had been provided by religious “hospitals” from which the modern title descends. There were two in or just outside Bridport. The Hospital of St John the Baptist was just across East Bridge, inside East Gate on the town side of the River Asker, south of the road. Its main purpose was as a place of reception for guests, pilgrims, travellers and strangers, but probably they could help the sick. Records are mainly wills, the earliest of AD1209 in which Christine de Stikelane left a bequest to “the church of the Blessed John”. Other wills refer to the brethren and sisters there serving God and request that they pray for the soul of the person making the bequest, some of which were substantial. The wills were witnessed by up to 8 local dignitaries. The deeds referred to the Master or Prior, or Brother of the Priory, which became a private dwelling house after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Before the Dissolution it is interesting to note that the Prior was fined 6d for taking a larger than lawful toll for grinding corn and apparently Killings Mill had been gifted to the hospital. In 1769 the hospital was rebuilt as the “Marquis of Granby” coaching inn and in the 19th century it became the Granby Works, a leather shoe upper factory.
The other Bridport Hospital of the time was a Leper House of St Mary Magdaline, or Priory in West Allington, just west of the present Medical Centre. King Henry III granted protection to lepers in a Patent Roll of 1232 and it was endowed by John de Holteby, Canon of Salisbury in 1247. Once again there were bequests to the Leper House with requests to the Chaplain to say special prayers for the souls of the persons making the bequests. Also there were references to the brethren and sisters and “good doers” of the Leper House. In 1535 the Priory was valued at £6 plus the value of candle sticks and bells. At the Dissolution Henry’s son, King Edward VI granted the Leper House and lands to Sir Michael Stanhope and John Bellow in 1549. In 2003 local mason Karl Dixon produced a sculpture which the West Allington Residents Association erected adjacent to Magdalen Lane. It portrays a leper boy holding a begging bowl and bell.
Lyme Regis also had a leper hospital, founded by Carmelite monks, also known as White Friars because of the colour of their habits. Their Friary was founded in 1246 and was on the hill above the hospital, which was built around the Leper’s Well. A leper’s chapel of the Blessed Virgin and Holy Spirit was built nearby in 1336, as lepers were not allowed in public churches.
From the Middle Ages the only other aid was from local “Wise Women and Men” who produced medication from herbs and acted as unofficial midwives.
If you are unable to place the short extract about the “English unofficial rose” it is from “The Old Vicarage, Grandchester” by Rupert Brooke, 1887 to 1915. The poem ends with “Stands the church clock at ten to three ? And is there honey still for tea ?”, which may be more familiar.
Bridport History Society reopens for the Autumn on Tuesday September 11th in the Bridport United Church, Main Hall, East Street at 2.30 pm with a Programme change. Pat Hase is unable to attend, so Jane Ferentzi-Shepard will talk about “Workhouses in Dorset”. All welcome, visitors entrance fee £3.
Cecil Amor, Hon. President Bridport History Society.