Hospitals of Barking
To my wife, Anne, who nursed at Barking for many years.
J. G. Brian
When most were debating the outcome of the Boer War and the new word "Mafeking" was heard to describe a celebration, the members of the tiny Council of the Urban District of Barking were choosing the site for their new hospital. It was to house those with fevers and was destined to provide the nucleus for future services to raise the level of the public health.
The site chosen was that of the Upney Meadows, bounded by Upney Lane and close to the marshland of Ripple Level, which ran from Ripple Road to the Thames riverside. In 1860 malaria was indigenous in the areas of the Wash, the New forest, the Mendip and the Quantock Hills, the coastal Lake District, the fens, Eastern Kent, the South Downs and the tidal estuary of the Thames. The various forms of malaria had their own local names, but "The Ague" and "English Sweating Sickness" seem to have outlasted the others. In the mid-
Upney Meadows site was previously used as part of Baking’s market gardens industry, but the stubble and the stray potatoes were cleared and two wooden huts were erected a short way back from the road. One of them, Humphrey Hut, survived until the Second World War, when it was accidently burned down when a few sparks from the Mobile Unit Crew's stove set fire to some bird nests in the guttering. One of the crew lost his life in that fire when he went back inside the inferno to try to recover a nurse's handbag.
The two huts stood in that wide, open space and, served as clinics for the advice and treatment of mothers and sick children, and the service slowly expanded as it was seen to fulfill local needs. From earliest times the Council of Barking had shown interest in the welfare of' its poorest citizens, and the pioneer spirit, so clearly evident right up to the formation of the National Health Service, was by no means of recent origin. Barking seemed to be at the receiving end of anything unpleasant that could be sent its way. As late as 1884, when the sewage of a growing London was being ejected into a River Thames that was too slowly-
In 1931 new, brick, buildings were constructed to take over the work of the overburdened huts and an Administration Block and Nurses' Home was built at the same time. The Administration Block fronted on to Upney Lane, close to what is now Upney Station, and the three isolation wards, Jenner (now Worricker), which was for diphtheria patients, Ross, which housed scarlet fever patients, and Lister (with a small operating theatre) which cared for septic conditions, mixed infections and childbed fever were erected behind the Nurses' Home. All these buildings were very well-
The general impression of the hospital was one of dignified beauty and charm. Tall poplars lined the roadway from the main gate to the boilerhouse, an orchard flourished in the middle of the grounds beside a hard tennis court and a rose-
Behind Ross and Harvey Wards, running the length of the grounds beside the railway line was one large, open field. This was sometimes used by convalescent patients for competitive football matches. The same length of free space was also used by the Medical Superintendent to improve his golf.
At this point in the development of the hospital site there were very few houses built on the Leftley Estate, which is bordered by Upney Lane, the railway line, Mayesbrook Park and Longbridge Road. It was, therefore, possible to see from the hospital gate a train leaving Becontree Station, then walk up Upney Lane to Upney Station, and be waiting on the platform as the westbound train came in. Weekday service was at twenty-
The Nurses' Home was the centre of the hospital, with the front Ground Floor housing Matron's Office and the Telephone Room. The upper floors and the two wings were mostly nurses' bedrooms, with two rooms set aside as Sick Bays. Between the two wings was the Kitchen, which supplied food for staff and patients. But not all staff, by any means. The only source of refreshment provided for me was a cold-
There was an odd little disciplinary rule that the modern generation will probably never understand -
Of the old days, possibly two structures remain. One is that tiny strip of roadway between Westrow Drive and the nearby shops. That is the original Upney Lane. The other is the shops themselves, properly "Gibbards Cottages", which are probably the oldest dwelling-
Just as the hospital site was a market garden, so Leftley Estate was a farm, and Manor Farm grew the best wheat in Essex. On the hospital site, however, the best crop must have been earwigs, and one was well-
Summer was a delight for naturalists. The bird population was dense and varied (wagtails still abound) and all kinds of moths and butterflies were plentiful, and in the fishpond behind Paget Ward was not only a collection of enormous golden carp but the finest Tiger Animalcules that I have ever seen. I still have the photographs that I took of them with the laboratory microscope and an ancient plate camera. A summer day at Barking Hospital before the last war was filled with the hum of bees and insects, birdsong from the poplars, successful shots on the tennis court and the roar of a Lister truck hauling food trolleys or laundry from ward to ward.
Expert souvenir hunters will have noted that the hospital teaspoons are labeled "BARKING HOSPITALS" if they are pre-
Upney Maternity Pavilion was the most modern in the country. Windows were of Vitaglass, which permitted the passage of U.V. light; floors were of cork; the heating and lighting systems were independent of Barking Hospital and all staff lived in a row of old farm cottages that were opposite Sandringham Road. The new Maternity Block has been built on their site. During the war-
The years from 1936 to 1938 were idyllic, with the challenge of providing a good public health service filling all our days and most of our nights. It was an uphill struggle. We had to plead with doctors to send specimens to the laboratory for expert examination. We had to plead with patients to attend the free clinics, which they wouldn't do, because they thought of it as charity. We had to plead with the Establishment to realise that the Day of Science was at hand.
I had to call at an outlying clinic to take and collect some swabs from a little girl with a question of rape. For the first time in my life I met a child who had been wrapped in newspaper and stitched up in her underclothing for the winter.
It may be true that lice never live in dirty heads, but other things do. I found that there were people who would never wash their hair in the winter for fear of catching pneumonia or something worse.
I learned from one rheumatic old man that the stiff joints and swellings were not rheumatism. "Can't be the rheumy. Potato allus in my pocket. Ais!"
I learned the hard way that ignorance is not confined to the uneducated.
One day a Medical Officer thought that it might be a good idea to look at the haemoglobin of a pallid, sleepy mother who was not doing at all well. So I set out with the necessary equipment on the first call to the wards in the history of the new laboratory. Half-
"Why?" she said, standing in the doorway.
"For some blood," I said, "Nothing more."
"NO YOU WON'T," she said, "We've done without you people in the past, and I won't have you in here now!"
And she slammed the door in my face.
The name of that loyal servant of the rule-
But they were beginning to come -
Then came the autumn of 1938. War fever. Munich. The phoney peace. The shattering of our dreams.
Parts of our clinics were boarded-
Then we had EXERCISES, in which experienced drivers attempted to move ambulances whilst wearing gas capes, gas gloves, gas masks and gumboots, with no driving lights, and taped-
So we had MORE EXERCISES, in which we pretended to be patients. I chose to pretend that I was knocked unconscious and blown up a tree. I nearly froze to death whilst awaiting rescue, only to find myself later abandoned in Casualty with a large label tied round my neck. Written on the label was:-
All that the A.R.P. exercises proved to any of us was that they wouldn't work, and in our working teabreaks we were all filled with gloom that the dreams of a ~ood public health service were gone forever.
That last year of peace, for what it was worth, dragged on through a sultry summer and many subtle changes were taking place all around us. There seemed to be a lot of secret meetings taking place behind closed doors. Those who emerged were grim and silent, far too busy and far too important to stop and explain away our fears. From various Town Halls emerged strange faces with one thing in common -
It was the final invasion that shook us most. Twelve magnificent ladies with strange headgear descended upon us and announced that they were the Sisters from the London, and that they would be in charge. With them they brought twelve earnest but undisciplined young men -
On Friday the first of September the whole hospital was "stood down" except for a skeleton staff, and we were told to report back instantly to our posts if war were declared. We all felt it would be our last weekend alive, and few of us had any idea of what to do with it. On that sunny Sunday morning came the radio announcement, then the sirens wailed announcing the first air raid, and we were at war. My instructions were to report immediately to Barking E.M.S. Hospital Laboratory for Blood Transfusion and General Pathology.
The clinics were filled with sawdust and carpenters and strangers were drinking our tea. Jenner Ward was cleared of everything and then it was all put back again "in case it might be useful". There were bandages and traction weights and those awful Thomas splints lining the walls and there were stacks of hot-
But the first casualty was from a motorcycle crash with a kerb in the black-
The first operation in the Pavilion was an appendicectomy on a man who was not in the least amused that he was operated on in a maternity hospital. We were left with the impression that he wanted it stitched back in again until he could go to a "proper" hospital.
Then we were on the map, and we began to collect the hospital birds looking for any chance of a shot of morphia, and we learned the value of never leaving a cupboard or drawer unlocked. There were drunks and suicides and lead-
We all worked "A. R." (= As Required) and that meant a day or two without any sleep at all at times, then everything settled down to sleep in that period of the "phoney war".
All nurses had trouble with their stockings, and I was having trouble with the stockings of a certain Nurse Ratcliffe. The trouble was that she had six pairs, and I could find only five. I took all of them out of the pot of formalin and alcohol and counted them -
We had just reached the stage of accepted apologies and the air of the dull, grey Saturday afternoon was filled with the drone of aircraft. The Red Alert sounded, and the Night of Fire began. Everything shook and went on shaking, and burning legal documents from fires in the City of London began to fall from the skies. Westward and nearby the red glow was white-
And then it started all over again. And then we learned that we would never rest, for it started again and again as we were ready to stop. At dawn the sky was filled with smoke and Jenner Ward was piled high with discarded clothing and empty packs. Someone started to clear it up and new stocks were found and Jenner Ward was made ready again, and all was still. A Sunday morning, and no bells rang.
Night after night the bombers came back, and day after and day the blood -
Two particularly nasty bombs were the V.l and the V.2. The first was a ton of T.N.T. carried by a kind of automatic airplane which crashed at a chosen distance and exploded. The second was a faster-
One morning at six a V.l landed at the open end of the bank of boilers of Barking Power Station. It was change-
One of the casualties had been left until last because he said that his neck was broken. He came in later, strapped to a chair, and his neck was wrapped in Plaster of Paris and a hook-
One summer evening I was having a quiet drink with one of the students in a Barking pub when the wall came in. We both rushed out to find the site of the incident, and I jumped aboard a passing loaded Army ambulance heading for the hospital. There is a door behind the driver giving access to the stretchers, and I went through to help where I could. On Jenner Ward we unloaded, and I was very busy for the next four hours with the casualties from the incident.
Then we began to clear up and re-
"Could I have some help, please? I've hurt my foot."
From the sole of her right foot we drew a piece of glass one inch by three inches, tapering to a point. She had driven that ambulance all night with that piece of glass embedded in the foot she used on the accelerator pedal.
Sportsmen, actors and Civil Servants get medals and O.B.E's .. I doubt if she did.
Medical staff came from many sources, and the range was wide. Some were G.P.'s from anywhere in Britain, some had been on the staff of provincial hospitals, and some were from Europe and had fled the horrors of political tyranny. These last were often the hardest to work with, since their English could sometimes be inadequate. But the biggest problem was that they had suffered terribly, and we simply didn't understand. One poor woman, who could say more by waving her hands and arms about than she could put into English words, was a particularly sad lady. Much of her time she spent silently weeping into a tiny handkerchief and turning away when approached. It took many months, but later we learned that she had watched her parents and her brother thrust into a gas chamber and she had escaped with her husband and her son. The son had been accepted for training as a pilot/navigator, but on his third flight had been reported as "missing, presumed killed". She had come to us shortly after the son's death, and within three months her husband had a fatal heart attack. She was then entirely alone, and in a foreign country facing an unknown future. She spent much of her time in the hospital silently sobbing and hiding away and I deeply regret that none of us did much to make her life worthwhile. We thought of her as a very wet blanket. But we were only later to believe the evidence of Mauthausen, Treblinka, Dachau and all the other places that she had tried to tell us about for months.
These Continental doctors came with their mid-
Some of these doctors had actually seen warfare, and the Spanish Civil War veterans tried to advise us on schemes that would work or fail. We could pump blood more quickly into shocked patients with a CO 2 cylinder, as in Spain, they said, but we had visions of bursting bottles and wasted blood. One night a young girl was brought in after a bomb had ignited a gas main and she had been almost grilled alive. From an Italian doctor who was on the run from a bad-
Vultures and Carrion Crows are well-
Maggots are nicely-
Now, if you find a little girl who has been badly burned over a lot of her body there will be an awful lot of dead tissue lying around that the little girl will find it most painful to part with, so you have a problem.
But not if you are an Italian Refugee from Mussolini in a bad mood.
You wrap the little girl in an oil-
Sister Nason of Lister Ward was the one who stayed with the little girl, and when we both unwrapped her the stench was quite the most repulsive that I have ever met. It took me days to wash it out of my hair.
Nobody gave Sister Nason a medal, either.
Somewhere, in the maternity wards, there should be a baby's cot, a rather special one. It is in memory of Dr. Mary Lough, who died from septicaemia acquired when treating a patient with Childbed Fever. It was before the days of anti-
Ross Ward has a desk pad in memory of a nurse who collapsed and died from a typical pneumonia, which came as a mini-
The Social Club has a record player in memory of Miss Hilda King, the one-
There were other "in-
One of the twelve medical students who descended upon us so' suddenly in the phoney war was always popular and a tireless worker, but he was dying from leukaemia when they all left us to return to the London at the end of their six-
There were lighter moments. It seemed to have been decided that Barking E.M.S. Hospital was too near the "front line" for comfort, and admissions for routine treatment were reduced to a minimum. Ross Ward was closed down and the space used as a reserve store for beds, splints, dressings and the vast Bragg-
To the concerts I added exhibitions of craftwork by staff, and the walls were covered by beautiful embroidery and needlework. More hidden talent! I found a teacher of Handicrafts at a local school, and she formed a panel of judges to award the prizes that the judges, themselves, provided. There were four such exhibitions, and the standard grew higher every time.
But the best of the Ross Days was at Christmas.
Christmas ends on Twelfth Night, so there was plenty of time for each ward to hold its own Christmas Party, as well as the traditional Nurses' and Domestics' Parties. New Year's Eve was always to have a Scottish theme, but on the other nights the sister could choose the theme as she wished. The final party was always given by the Maternity Staff for some long-
Some of those Christmas Parties were very moving, for we are all human and homesickness affected us all in one way or another. We were all a long way from home.
At the Domestic Party in 1943, when we were all feeling the strain of the restrictions and shortages of wartime life and the war-
There she stood, in the centre of the stage, staring vaguely mid-
There were never a large number of Scottish people on the staff, but those who were there made their presence felt on each New Year's Eve. Whichever ward ran the party that night could be assured of some surprise gifts of shortbread and other items of Scottish confectionary that came out of thin air. Scottish people are very generous. But perhaps the star attraction was the tireless Mr. Michie, perched on the back of a chair and playing endless reels for hour after hour on his tin whistle. Genuine Scots, of course, led the way, but the large Irish community were not far behind, giving their own version of how reels should be danced. New Year's Night was a time of active exercise for everybody, and the hugging and the kissing that broke out at midnight made up for all the restrictions of the year.
Sometimes performers from outside the hospital would offer to give us a free concert sometime during the year, and we always made them welcome. Some were very good, very good indeed, and may well have gone on to well-
A group of three, dressed as strolling minstrels with an additional member, a pretty girl who was a talented singer, wandered among us one evening on Ross. With no apparent plan they would break out into song or music near a group or in a corner, then drift away and catch the mood somewhere else. It soon became clear that they were cleverly sizing us up, and when they felt that they could identify the origins of the various groups among us they took advantage and played appropriate local music. (It is true, when in large company, we tend to agglutinate together into groups of similar taste). The fiddler, dark and slim with clever fingers, played away at Irish Reels where he detected a group of Irish nurses, but the star of the night was the bluff, round-
By the time that the war was ending I had developed an intense loyalty and admiration for Barking Hospital, although conditions were hard and the work fairly exhausting. There was never an end to it. It went on and on. Rations were not really adequate -
A great pile of wood and rubbish, almost as high as the ancient chestnut tree, stood near the hard tennis courts and awaited ignition. It was Mr. Michie who threw the torch, and soon we were standing around the V. E. Fire, for the war in Europe was, at last, ended. Some of the refugee doctors were standing in the firelight hugging each other with tears streaming down their faces, but most of us were happy to find ourselves still alive. I know well that most of us did not expect to see peace, ever again. Trying to deal with screaming or moaning casualties with exploding bombs and the sharp crack of gunfire all round, the silent prayer of most of us was "Make mine quick; no mutilation, PLEASE!" We felt so vulnerable, and with the V.l and V.2 missiles day after day and night after night we knew that our luck would run out soon. Hospitals had been bombed to dust nearby and our colleagues lost forever. -
The fire eventually died down in the early hours of the morning and we began to say our goodbyes. Some had already resigned, and were going immediately to their homes in the far North or down to the South-
Matron Hedgecock was in tears, and I felt like weeping with her. Trying to speak clearly, she kept on saying, "All my best nurses; they've gone. What am I going to do now?"
Most doors were wide open in the Nurses' Home, the rooms evacuated and ready for cleaning. Dining tables in the Refectory were reduced to three, holding about eighteen nurses. Patients had long been discharged home.
Dr. C. Leonard Williams had been the Medical Officer of Health and Medical Superintendent, and began to set plans in motion. Eventually the National Health Service would take over everything, but meanwhile we would carry on as if the war had never happened. But, of course, we would use anything that the war had taught us. Bit by bit we salvaged the clinics and the concrete sandbags came down and natural light streamed into the gloomy wartime wards. Shelters were demolished and the vast iron tanks of water for firefighting were drained, and I often wonder what happened to their resident water boatmen.
Dr. Williams was a unique man to work for. He did not drive, but expected you to drive yourself to the utmost of your ability. He tolerated fools very badly indeed, and pompous officialdom got very short treatment from him. Plain speech, well-
With such a man we began to re-
New faces came, and some went again fairly quickly. Some came from the Services or from closed-
The example of Barking was about to be destroyed. The Public Health Department was to go. There were to be no more Medical Officers of Health. Hospitals would not have Medical Superintendents, but lay Administrators instead. Hospitals would not be answerable to local Councillors or to the general public.
Groups were formed, usually of about four or five hospitals. Barking Hospital would join King George Vth, Jubilee Hospital (its original title) along with Chadwell Heath Isolation Hospital and Ilford Maternity Hospital. Dagenham Sanatorium (built as a Smallpox Hospital for West Ham Corporation) and Goodmayes (Mental) Hospital, also built for West Ham were to join the Group later. The Group was to be called the Ilford and Barking Hospital Management Committee. But it was nearly otherwise. Another plan was to join Barking Hospital with Rush Green Hospital to Oldchurch Hospital, thereby nearly matching the Barking and Havering Health Authority territory. But it did not happen that way.
The I. and B. H.M.C. raised the status of K.G.V., renamed "King George Hospital" to that of headquarters, but this was a move generally followed, rewarding the voluntary hospitals for coming into the N.H.S •• Many of the staff were promoted up one stage, but the staff of the municipal hospitals stayed where they were.
Later "Barking" was dropped, and it became the "Ilford and District H.M.C.", then the "Redbridge and Waltham "Forest H.M.C." and finally the" Redbridge H.M.C.". It may change yet again.
All kinds of rumours abounded, and it was once planned to turn Barking Hospital into a sanatorium, or a geriatric hospital, or a General Hospital, and then suddenly it became a Maternity Hospital. And not before time. The pregnant were everywhere, and at one time mothers from as far away as Clayhall and Cranham and Rush Green were only too pleased to find a bed no further away than Barking Hospital. Plans were made for extension.
Much earlier, long before the war, plans were made by the Borough to raise funds for a General Hospital by means of an Annual Fete and Carnival. The site planned was in Loxford Lane, off South Park Drive, near where Hyleford School now stands. Money was steadily coming in, but the war stopped activity for a time. When the war was over a National Health Service was planned and the planners promptly took over the Barking Hospital Fund. If anybody ever built that hospital it would be the N.H.S., so they took the money. There was a bit of a protest but it didn't get very far.
The extension to Barking took the form of a Tower Block, called by some "Princetown Block" because of its ominous, grey colour. It was built in the middle of the space between the fever hospital and the pavilion, and experienced many air-
Garland's Drive was blocked by a prefabricated building intended to house a few mentally handicapped people before eventual release into the community, and the row of red-
Between Harvey and Ross Wards new buildings were erected for future geriatric patients and one entrance is festooned by what seem to be large, white pipes. The entrance also abuts well into the roadway.
Between the old Nurses' Home and the station is a structure housing the Hedgecock Nurse Training Unit, artistically built and looking like a cross between an entrance to a tropical plant house and a Swiss mountain inn. Margaret Hedgecock would definitely not approve, for she was very conservative in her tastes.
The general pattern of Barking Hospital is now decidedly odd. A grey tower, a Swiss cottage, a pipework pagoda and a new maternity block somewhat reminiscent of a 1930's cinema. All a very far cry from the quiet and reassuring harmony of the lawns and the meadows and the waving poplar trees concealing the sturdy red-
I recall the team and the team spirit, the loyalty and the dependability, those who did not see what there was no point in seeing and did not hear what was never intended for their ears. In spite of the unflattering NO FRATERNISATION there were many romances that led to marriage, and those marriages have lasted extremely well. Too many may have been separated by death, but very few have ended in divorce.
But then, they always were a loyal lot!
The architect for the 1931 and 1936 buildings was the Borough Architect, Mr. Dawson, who also build Rush Green Hospital -
On the roof at the front of the Nurses' Home two mysterious birds gazed out eastwards, blazing brilliantly in gold in the first rays of dawn.
At a "University of Barking" session, when the style of Greek architecture was being thrown around I asked Dr. Williams the function of the two birds on the roof, suggesting that they were to guard the Aesculapian Temple of the University of Barking.
Dr. Williams was not amused.
Well, Dr. Williams, I am sorry to report that they have flown.