The History of Chiswick Hospital by Dorothy Bartram

From Journal 20 (2011)

Chiswick Cottage Hospital was opened in June 1911. To celebrate its centenary Dorothy Bartram, who worked at the Maternity Hospital and was an active member of the League of Friends, recounts its story.

Residents of Chiswick in the Victorian period who needed medical treatment had limited choices. If they could afford the fees they could engage the services of a private doctor – there were six in Chiswick in the 1840s. Otherwise they would have had to rely on visiting the Chiswick and Turnham Green Dispensary for advice and medicines. This was set up by Dr Henry Thomas Leigh in his home at Annandale House on the High Road in the 1850s, and operated until the 1930s. It was supported by subscriptions from the better-off, and potential patients had to obtain a ticket from one of the subscribers which entitled them to treatment for a very low fee.

If they required in-patient treatment the nearest hospital was in Hammersmith, the West London Hospital, which opened in 1860. Again this was available to those who could obtain a letter of recommendation from a subscriber to the Hospital.

As the population increased, and people became aware of the better facilities in neighbouring areas there was a growing demand for Chiswick to have its own hospital. This came to a head during the discussions on how Chiswick should celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 – a popular suggestion was that a cottage hospital would be a fitting memorial; but sadly nothing came of this, nor of several later attempts to provide a hospital.

As a disgruntled correspondent in the local paper (signing himself ‘One of the Committee of the Dispensary’) put it in 1908: ‘a great amount of talk and so little done’. This anonymous correspondent then promised a donation of 100 guineas towards a hospital if other public-spirited local residents would join with him in raising the necessary funds. Was this Mr Dan Mason, (founder of the Chiswick Soap Company, later Chiswick Products) making a first attempt to get the ball rolling? He was certainly a member of the Committee of the Dispensary. He must have been disappointed when no-one came forward to help, and the idea had to be dropped yet again.

Villa Amalinda
After the death of King Edward VII in 1910 the District Council set up a committee to consider building a local hospital in his memory. This proposal received the usual lukewarm response, but in 1911 the local newspaper reported the welcome and unexpected news that in June Chiswick would have a Cottage Hospital: ‘the outcome of the quiet unaided efforts of a well-known Chiswick gentleman, who however desires to remain anonymous’. The expenses of setting up and equipping the hospital, and all its running costs for the first twelve months, were to be born by the anonymous donor, with the idea that if the hospital was successful plans could be put in hand for a larger institution that hopefully more local people would come forward to support. Later this anonymous benefactor was revealed to be Dan Mason, acting on the old adage ‘if you want something done, do it yourself’.

Villa Amalinda on the north side of Burlington Lane, opened as Chiswick Cottage Hospital, June 1911. Photo: The Chiswick Times.

The Hospital was housed in a double fronted two-storied villa in Burlington Lane, known as Villa Amalinda, near the premises of the Chiswick Soap Company. It had been until recently a Home for Motherless Children, run by Mr R T Smith, the local philanthropist who also set up the Chiswick Mission. On the ground floor the two large front rooms became the wards for men on one side of the hall and women on the other, with three beds in each, and there was also an operating room and a kitchen.

On the upper floor were the children’s ward, the dispensary and rooms for the Matron and nursing staff. The Matron was Miss Catherine Sutherland, a redhead from Scotland, who had been a ward sister at the West London Hospital. The first patient, admitted on 1 June 1911, was a three-year-old boy from Devonshire Place, suffering from periostitis and a tubercular abscess, who went home cured after a few days.

During the next twelve months 160 in-patients were treated for all manner of diseases, accidents and operations. The District Council, concerned that this valuable service might end when the donor’s promise of twelve months’ support came to an end, set up another committee to consider how they could take over the running of the Hospital when the year was up. However this proved unnecessary, as in January 1912 the donor intimated that he had decided not to give up control, but to carry on the Hospital and extend its usefulness.

A new hospital on The Mall
In 1911 Dan Mason had bought Rothbury House, at the eastern end of Chiswick Mall, from Acton Council, for the bargain price of £1,900. They had acquired it in 1906 in order to route their storm sewer through its grounds to an outfall into the Thames on the far side of Chiswick Eyot, and no longer needed it once the work was finished.

Rothbury House stood in three-quarters of an acre of grounds. The house itself was retained as the administrative block and for kitchens and staff quarters, and the Hospital was built in the rear garden using the most modern techniques to produce a building that was easy to keep clean and free of infection. It was linked to the house by a covered walkway. The layout of the Hospital was similar to Villa Amalinda, but on a larger scale. On the ground floor the main corridor was flanked by a ward for ten male patients on one side and a similar ward for ten women on the other side, and at the back an operating room fitted out with the most up to date equip-ment. The children’s ward on the upper floor could take at least twelve patients. Out-patients were seen in a specially-equipped building near the main house.

Careful attention was paid to heating, ventilation and specially designed electric lighting. As the local paper reported ‘no expense has been spared to make the institution what it undoubtedly is, a model of its kind’. Dan Mason had built and equipped the Hospital at his own expense, and generously endowed it for the use of the people of Chiswick in perpetuity. This endowment was administered by Trustees and a Board of Management. Unfortunately their records do not survive, so there is only limited information on how the Hospital operated.

The principal entrance was from Netheravon Road where the doctors, who gave their time free of charge, arrived in horse drawn carriages. A secondary entrance was from Chiswick Mall. The doctors were all local men who also had their own medical practices in Chiswick, including Dr Shuter, Dr French, Dr Dingley Pitt, Dr Ducat, Dr Rashbrook and Mr N Sinclair. The nursing staff consisted of the Matron, Miss Sutherland, two sisters, two nurses and six probationers, plus two district nurses.

The last patients were discharged from Villa Amalinda in July 1912 and the first new patients, four children, were admitted to the new hospital on 4 October. Local businesses such as Fullers and Chibnalls were able to send their workers to the Hospital confident of excellent treatment. Some of the illnesses treated at the Hospital were appendicitis, tonsillitis, and bronchitis, and the most frequent operations performed at that time were circumcision, and the removal of tonsils and adenoids. By the end of the first twelve months nearly a thousand people had been treated, and about a third of them admitted as in-patients. There was no charge for the patients who did not have funds to pay for expensive medical treatment. People from all walks of life were admitted to the Hospital such as blacksmiths, gardeners, chimney sweeps, horse keepers, cooks, draymen, peddlers, butchers, policemen and bakers. All the names and details of these people were carefully recorded by hand in beautiful leather bound admission books which are now in the Local Studies Collection at Chiswick Library.

The Vulcan ambulance acquired by Dan Mason

When the First World War broke out Dan Mason set aside a ward for soldiers returning to England directly from the front. He purchased an ambulance, a Vulcan, with a red cross flanked by a picture of St Nicholas. At the first opportunity he drove the new ambulance directly to Chiswick station to collect injured soldiers returning from the front. The injured men were lovingly cared for by efficient nurses, who were proud to be able to help the war effort. Many tributes were later paid to the Hospital for their care. By 1917 there were no more wounded soldiers as specialised hospitals were provided for them, but the work of the Hospital among local people was expanding and another eight-bed ward was opened. That year over 2,700 patients were seen, and some 550 were admitted as in-patients or emergencies
such as complicated births. Later in the 1920s a new X-ray department was opened. Radium treatment was available free of charge at the Hospital, but could also be supplied to better off patients in their own homes, for a fee.

Dan Mason died in 1928 in Biarritz, where he had gone to convalesce after an illness. He was buried in France and a memorial service was held at St Nicholas which was attended by so many people that it was standing room only in the church. The following year the Trustees erected a beautiful bronze plaque in the entrance hall of the Hospital honouring Dan Mason.

This poem, published anonymously in Punch then in Forward, the Chiswick Products staff magazine in 1932, shows the affection with which the Hospital was regarded. (Yggdrasil means ‘Tree of Life’ in Norse mythology)

The third hospital
However time did not stand still, even in ‘such a very pleasant place’ – Rothbury House, by then some 150 years old, was becoming very costly to maintain, and the Hospital buildings and equipment were out of date. The Board decided that the best solution was to demolish all the buildings and build a new modern hospital on the site. An architect called Hugo Bird drew up plans for a new hospital overlooking the river, providing accommodation for a similar number of patients, but with much improved facilities.

Matron and staff, Christmas 1933. Photo: Dorothy Bartram

The new hospital would have three wards, a male ward with 14 beds, a female ward for 14 women and a children’s ward on the top floor catering for about 10 children. The foundation stone was laid by another Dan Mason, nephew of the original founder, and his wife, on 29 February 1936. The new hospital would cost £30,000 but such was the generous provision from the Mason Family that the Board were able to cover the building costs and only appealed to the public to help raise the extra £5,000 necessary for the equipment.

An artist’s impression of the new hospital, published in The Brentford and Chiswick Times in May 1935.

The war years: Chiswick Maternity Hospital
The rebuilding of Chiswick Hospital was completed by 1940, but the building was used only for storage for several years. An auxiliary post was opened for people with minor injuries when the Second World War started but the main building lay empty until 1943. On 13 January that year the Hospital was requisitioned by the Ministry of Health, and maternity patients were moved from the West Middlesex Hospital in Isleworth, which had been damaged in an air raid. This was the birth of the Chiswick Maternity Hospital.

The first baby, a girl, was born on 20 January 1943. In May the first pupil midwives arrived to take the six month Part One Midwifery course. Visiting hours were very strict with only one visitor for half an hour each day. This visitor could either be the patient’s husband or her mother, if her husband was in the forces. London was being regularly attacked by German planes.

The Hospital suffered several close calls; at one point nearly all the windows were blown out by the shockwave of a rocket falling on the other side of the river. On another occasion a bomb fell close at hand during the hours of darkness with a terrible crash. The cry went up ‘we’ve been hit’. The nurses rushed off in search of the damage when suddenly from the top floor came peals of laughter – the vibration of the blast had caused all the metal bedpans to fall onto the floor of the sluice room causing the deafening crashes – relief all round! However in September 1944 it was decided to evacuate the entire Hospital, staff and expectant mothers, to Gateshead on Tyne. The evacuation was not a success as within three weeks the tutor and many other staff returned gratefully to Chiswick.

After the war ended the Hospital remained a maternity unit, and became part of the National Health Service in 1948. On 2 June 1953 the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was celebrated at the Hospital. Patients were allowed to watch the ceremony on television, a relatively new phenomenon for the Hospital, and their mealtimes were moved around so as to cause as little interruption to the ceremony as possible. Three babies were born on that day, and were each given a commemorative cup and saucer and special coin.

There was accommodation in the Hospital for midwives and sisters and some nurses. There was also a house in Park Road, and two houses on the Mall, The Osiers and Green Ash, which were used to house doctors and nursing staff. One of the doctors who was doing his obstetrics was the famous Roger Bannister, who was the first man to run the four minute mile and was an Olympic gold medallist. He qualified as a doctor in 1954 after spending a year at the Maternity Hospital. There was a lovely garden surrounding the building, and a river garden where the medical staff kept a boat. Many happy years passed at the Maternity Hospital and various projects took place alongside the everyday arrival of babies.

Chiswick Maternity Hospital

The Hounslow Mother and Child Study led by Dr Andrew Matthews monitored childhood diseases and infect-ions in the first 5 years of life in the 1,937 babies born at the Hospital from October 1970 to February 1972. The report appeared in The British Medical Journal on 14 August 1976.

The birth rate peaked in 1964 with 1,616 deliveries, but by 1972 the birth rate had unfortunately dropped so much that the stork ceased to fly as it were over Chiswick Mall, and the Maternity Hospital closed in 1975. Memories of the Cottage Hospital and Maternity Hospital were always happy ones and anyone who ever worked there or had been a patient there would always speak highly of what a wonderful place it had been, and how any ghosts who haunt that site would surely be happy ones!

Medical school accommodation and filming: 1976-1984
Whilst the building was not in use for medical purposes, the empty rooms were occupied by students, doctors and physiotherapists from Charing Cross Hospital. The rooms allocated for use overlooked the river with splendid views of the river garden. There was also a cottage and the matron’s flat which were usually occupied by doctors from overseas and their wives.

Duing this time the BBC and other film companies hired the wards and the garden to make films, dramas and documentaries. At various times the Hospital became a police station, the Home Office, Scotland Yard, a prison, and, of course, a hospital. The films made there included An American Werewolf in London, the famous TV series The Chinese Detective, Angels, Not the Nine O’clock News and Bergerac. During filming the students and staff were allowed to make use of the ‘chuck wagon’ which provided food on set for the actors and film crew. This perk was also taken advantage of by the local police and postmen!

Chiswick Lodge
When filming eventually finished, and the students reluctantly moved on to other accommodation, there was a long period of controversy over the future of the building – should it be pulled down, be converted into a psychiatric unit, or a hospice, or returned to its original function as a general hospital for the people of Chiswick. However agreement was eventually reached that the old hospital building should be metamorphosed into a nursing home for patients with motor neurone disease, Alzheimer’s and Hodgkinson’s Chorea, and renamed Chiswick Lodge.

The refurbishment commenced with the two upper floors. These floors were converted into several sections, consisting of individual bedrooms and small sitting rooms, to create a homely atmosphere for the patients. There was also a large sitting room for communal use and entertainments, for example musicians often played there. The beautiful garden was also renovated so that there were comfortable seats and easy access for the handicapped. On the ground floor, the kitchen had also been renovated for the provision of meals for the staff and patients. In 1986 Chiswick Lodge opened its doors to patients from Horton Hospital in Epsom, many of whom suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Another service provided by the Hospital was a Day Unit providing essential services, support and companionship for vulnerable elderly people, free of charge. It was on the ground floor close to the entrance hall, staffed by nurses, physiotherapists and visiting social workers. The patients were given breakfast, lunch and tea, and spent their time in activities such as playing memory games, watching TV, supervised cooking or working in the garden. This Day Unit still continues its good work in Hammersmith today. The ground floor also housed the Nuffield ward for patients suffering mainly from motor neurone disease.

The League of Friends
With the arrival of the patients from Horton Hospital came an already established League of Friends. Local Chiswick people joined the League, and the organisation was soon busy fund-raising by means of jumble sales, letter writing and street collections. They were able to buy a bus to take patients on outings, and also paid for regular entertainments and parties on special occasions. Members of the League also visited the patients, made friends with them and their relatives, and joined with them at the parties and outings. All the residents received a birthday and a Christmas card, and there was a special celebration when one of the residents reached their 100th birthday and received a telegram from the Queen.

After many happy years the Lodge was under threat of closure and everyone was devastated. The relatives, nursing staff and patients were all very happy in this lovely home, close to the river Thames. A major campaign was commenced by the League of Friends which lasted two years, but to no avail. Sadly the Hospital slowly wound down and finally closed on 30 March 2006. The motor neurone patients were moved to a specialist building at the Royal Hospital and Home in Putney. The League of Friends made sure to visit all the ex-patients of the Chiswick Lodge; however, sadly some of them were not able to survive the shock of the move.

The building was slowly demolished, this work being completed in 2010. The site is now to be developed into luxury town houses, so as not to waste those beautiful views of the river.

Chiswick Local Studies Library holds he registers of the first two hospitals; the Library at Cherry Blossom; the British Library Newspaper Collections at Colindale,;The Nursing Journal; The Brentford and Chiswick Times – Richmond office. The author wishes to thank Miss E Mitchell at the Library of the Royal College of Surgeons for her help with the research

Dorothy Bartram worked for the Matron of Chiswick Maternity Hospital until it closed, and continued to work as the Warden of the building which later became Chiswick Lodge. Dorothy was an active member of the League of Friends. She is now working on a more detailed history of the Hospital for publication separately

Dorothy Bartram died in November 2021. Her obituary can be read on the St Nicholas Church website

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