The Story of Molesey Hospital

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1981

"Honour a physician with the honour due unto him"
Ecclesiasticus, xxxviii, 1

Perhaps this narrative ought really to have been called the story of Molesey Hospitals, in the plural, for in effect it tells of five separate institutions. A cottage hospital on three different sites, an isolation hospital, and the present hospital since the inception of the National Health Service.

1874 - The first attempt

The first neighbourhood cottage hospital in England was established in 1859 in the Surrey village of Cranleigh, and the idea was eagerly taken up in other parts of the kingdom. By the early 1870s cottage hospitals had sprouted all around the district, at Surbiton, Teddington, Wimbledon, and other places. In 1874 a small group of sympathisers in Molesey thought it time that a similar institution was provided for the benefit of people here, and took steps to start the ball rolling in that direction. For if remote rural villages with a thousand souls or less could enjoy the blessings arising from their own hospital, surely the Moleseys, with more than three times that number and expanding at a rapid rate, ought also to be able to provide the community with similar facilities.

These plaintive musings soon came to the ears of the local press and on the 3rd of October in that year the Surrey Comet reported in its Molesey column: "We hear that there is every possibility of a cottage hospital shortly doing its good work". How optimistic that statement must have sounded to our band of hopefuls. A fulfilment of their most sanguine aspirations.

A public meeting was called for the evening of the 23rd of October at St. Maryís schools (now the Adult Education Centre), which adopted unanimously the resolution: "That it is desirable to establish a cottage hospital for the parishes of East and West Molesey". A provisional committee was appointed, complete with officers, and with powers to frame rules and regulations for the conduct of the hospital. Doctor Skimming, whose "indefatigable industry" for the cause was praised, accepted the post of medical officer.

The gathering was told that almost £130 had already been collected, and there were pledges of other contributions to come. More than which, they had had the promise of a house, rent free, which could provide accommodation for patients and staff.

The latter was to be the munificent gift of Lady Harriett Hoste, a resident of Hampton Court Palace, a great granddaughter of Sir Robert Walpole, Englandís first prime minister, and widow of Captain Sir William Hoste, a protege of Nelson and one of his most brilliant commanders. Who had already shown great generosity to Molesey in providing a house in Manor Road for use as a school and Methodist meeting-place.

It seemed as if the project must certainly succeed - they already had a foundation fund, which promised to increase, they had a potential home, they had considerable enthusiasm. However, they reckoned without the strength of the establishment, the coterie of wealthy property owners who were the real arbiters of power in Victorian Molesey.

The first intimation that things might not go the way the committee hoped was probably when the chairman, the Rev. L.W. Till, received the replies to the letters he was asked to write to some of the more prosperous residents, asking them to accept honorary positions on the committee. (With an eye, no doubt, also to receiving a financial encouragement at the same time).

Luckily one of these replies has survived, that from Francis Jackson Kent, the second largest landed proprietor, with over one hundred acres of Molesey in his possession, and therefore one of the most affluent men in the vicinity. In which, although acknowledging the compliment of being asked, he declined the offer to sit on the cottage hospital committee, "not considering it is required in the parish and that it would be injurious generally to the neighbourhood".

The village now divided into two factions. Those in favour of a cottage hospital, and those against. Prominent among the former were the vicars of St. Maryís and St. Paulís, and the two local doctors, the men who most often met with, and could most readily appreciate, the sufferings of the sick, especially among the poorer sections of the community, the unfortunates who could afford neither to be nursed properly in their own homes, nor to travel to one of the great London hospitals, and whose only other recourse was the union workhouse at Kingston. A degrading spectacle.

The other side consisted mainly of the wealthy property owners. The men who held the purse strings and wielded the power.

Each side canvassed for support, and soon circulars promoting the ideas of one party or the other started to be disseminated around the village.

In a letter to the Surrey Comet, one of the "antis" contended "that the establishment of a hospital here would be detrimental to the town"; and attempted to frighten others into opposing it by saying: "it would be of no possible utility, and might lead to the propagation of infectious diseases". An impression which the editor (who seems to have supported the pro hospital party) quickly refuted by quoting a sentence from one of the promotional leaflets: "It is an essential principle of Cottage Hospitals that neither contagious, infectious, nor incurable diseases be admitted".

However, the fundamental cause of the resistance to the hospital is blatantly exposed by other statements in the same letter: "It would assuredly increase the burthens of this already well taxed locality - If a hospital be allowed to exist in the midst of a respectable population, it seems to require very little forecast in order to realize the baneful effects of such a movement - Who, I ask, would be anxious to take up residence so near a building of this description - It would certainly deteriorate the value of house property all about the neighbourhood".

Herein, of course, lies the key to this well-orchestrated opposition. The thought that a hospital would have a deleterious effect on property values. No concern whatsoever on the help it may bring to their less fortunate fellow creatures.

This hostility from the very people upon whom the committee would have to rely heavily for financial viability was a shattering blow. In the face of which the movement wilted. Within a very short space of time the whole crusade collapsed, and the brave plans to provide Molesey with a cottage hospital were buried for a decade and a half.

1889 - A second attempt

Some fifteen years elapsed before another attempt was made to establish a cottage hospital in the Moleseys, and once more a similar pattern was to emerge. Again there was the initial enthusiasm. Again a committee was formed. Again funds were raised. Again the opposition rallied. Again the movement was undermined, and again crumbled beneath the onslaught.

Nevertheless, there were now in Molesey people who were determined that the obstructers should not be allowed to thwart progress for ever. And they came from widely separate ends of the social spectrum.

On the one hand was a noble dame - elderly, aristocratic, and very kindly - in the shape of the Dowager Lady Barrow; and at the other, the people of Molesey themselves, ably led by the friendly societies - the Oddfellows, Foresters, and Buffaloes. Both sides working together for a common cause.

Who, then, was Lady Barrow? This grand lady who, in her eightieth year, had the welfare of the people of Molesey so much in her heart, and the unflinching determination to do something about it. Perhaps we should stop our narrative for a while and take a brief look at her most remarkable life.

The Dowager Lady Barrow

Rosamund Hester Elizabeth, widow of Sir George Barrow, second baronet, was born in 1810, the twenty-first child of William Pennell, sometime consul-general in Brazil (Who later lived and died at the house now known as "Green Arden" in Spencer Road). Her eldest sister had been married several years before to a rising politician called John Wilson Croker, but the couple were childless and looked then like continuing so. It was arranged, therefore, between Mrs Croker and her mother, even before the birth, that the child should be handed over immediately to the Crokers to be brought up as their own offspring. To complete the illusion the little girl was given the same name, Rosamund, as her putative mother, and Hester, after Crokerís mother. In fact, it was not until after she had grown up that for the first time she was told the full story of her parentage.

John Wilson Crokerís career as a politician and statesman advanced rapidly, he became a member of Parliament, was principal secretary to the Admiralty for over twelve years, and appointed a privy councillor. He was an intimate of royalty, and moved in exalted circles. Rosamund (usually known by her pet name "Nony") knew all the great people of the day. As a girl she was twice sent for to play with the little princess who became Queen Victoria.

In 1827 her portrait was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence. It shows a truly beautiful seventeen-year-old girl, and immediately caused a sensation. At the Royal Academy "men", it was said, "stood before it in a half circle admiring its loveliness in the exhibition: it was all airiness and grace". Prints and copies were made of the picture which were sold by the hundred, bringing wealth to the artist and fame to the sitter. Croker himself said that no portrait of the same size and class had ever produced so great an impression.

The young girl was now feted. She was presented at court, and kissed by two kings. William the fourth, it is said, kissed her twice in succession, "the first time as a king, the second as a man". The Duke of Wellington was also among her admirers.

Wealth, fame, rank, were all hers now simply for the taking, but she was a girl of deep religious convictions. Fearing that in the adulation of her physical beauty she might become vain and her head turned away from spiritual thoughts, she made a vow not to be drawn into the vortex of social frolics. The round of balls and parties which were the whirl of court and aristocratic circles, into which she could easily fall and where without doubt she would have been most welcomed, were not for her. Further she pledged never purposely to look into a mirror for the next two years. A determination to which she adhered faithfully. In later life she averred that it was entirely to the embracement of these principles that her exceeding longevity could be attributed.

Shortly after the painting of the portrait, the family moved to "The Grove" at West Molesey (today, alas, destroyed for ever). From here, on 23rd July 1832, she married George Barrow, the son of Sir John Barrow, a distinguished author and traveller, and one of the founders of the Royal Geographical Society. She bore him eight children.

Towards the end of her life she moved to Kent Road, East Molesey, to a house (now number 17) which was renamed "Ulveston Cottage", after the town in Lancashire where the Barrow family had resided, and which is still dominated by a massive memorial to her father-in-law. This was a smaller but much more suitable home for her old age, than those to which she had previously been accustomed.

It was here in January 1906, in her ninety-seventh year, that she died. Her body was laid in the family grave in West Molesey churchyard. The people of Molesey followed the coffin to its last resting place, and a guard of honour was formed by the charities she had supported - the hospital, the fire brigade, the friendly societies, and church groups. She was described shortly before her death as a "noble woman, whose fine soul was arrayed in rich beauty".


The Dowager Lady Barrow. On her ninetieth birthday.

1890 - Success at last

When the movement to form a cottage hospital foundered once more against the rocks of sectional interests, it was Lady Barrow whose initiative finally succeeded in getting the scheme floated.

If the community was so divided that progress could not be made, it was obvious that only by the determination of individuals would the worthy object be achieved. Lady Barrow, therefore, resolved that with the help of others she would provide that effort.

To this end she gathered together a group of willing workers who had the same interest in view, and who would attend to the day to day running of the hospital and arrange for the collection of funds. Prominent among whom were Doctor Holberton, of "Chetwynd" in Palace Road; Mrs Tatham, wife of the vicar of St. Paulís; and her daughters. Mrs Tatham was very concerned about nursing and at one time arranged classes in her own home to teach the art of caring for the sick.

On the 15th March 1890 the Surrey Comet announced: "The Cottage Hospital scheme for East Molesey having been abandoned by the Committee who had the projection in hand, the same object has been, taken up by Lady Barrow, who will start it as a nurses home assisted by the Misses Tatham. A cottage has been taken in the Manor Road, and the institution will be opened shortly. Subscriptions in money or in kind will be gladly received". The following week the paper apologised for having failed to associate Mrs Tathamís name with this announcement.

The house referred to in Manor Road stood (and in fact still stands as number 19) not far from the Methodist Church, slightly back from, and at an angle to, the road. Here in May 1890 the "East and West Molesey and Hampton Court Cottage Hospital" eventually opened its doors.

Lady Barrow became a familiar figure, as every day she went round from her home in Kent Road to the hospital to visit the patients and breathe words of spiritual comfort. Even though in later years she had to be wheeled round in a bath-chair.

As to raising the funds, this was where the friendly societies came into their own. They had grown up so that working men might cooperate together in mutual self help, to combat the multifarious afflictions which befell the necessitous poor in pre social security days. They had started collecting for the hospital even before the previous inept committee had collapsed. In 1889 they had held a grand church parade, marching through the streets of the village to St. Paulís church, the members rattling their collecting boxes all the way along the route, to gather the pennies of the standers-by. This money had stayed in the bank, but directly the opening of the new hospital had been announced a joint meeting was called, at which it was agreed unanimously that everything that had been collected would be transferred to the funds of that institution. At the same time the sum of five pounds, the result of an effort by a carol party the previous Christmas, would be handed over as well.

This church parade was such a financial success, and so popular, that it was decided to repeat the effort the following year, and it became a regular annual feature of Molesey life for several seasons.

The proceeds of the 1891 parade, amounting to nearly twenty-five pounds, were taken round to Lady Barrowís house by the organisers, and handed over to her ladyship personally. She was so pleased with their exertions, that she forthwith announced that any fully paid up member of any of the lodges would be admitted to the accident ward of the hospital at any time, free of charge, providing it was not fully occupied at the time.

After two years Lady Barrow decided it was time to hand over the reins entirely to others. She had launched the scheme (mainly by stimulating others to take on work they would not otherwise have done).
She was now over eighty, and although mentally alert her physical health was not good. In spite of the "Dismal Jimmies" the hospital was flourishing. Now was the time to turn it into a proper public affair, financed by the community, and run by the community.

In February 1892, therefore, her son-in-law, the Rev. V.B. Smyth, vicar of West Molesey, called a public meeting to put this decision into effect. He said, the hospital had been a great success. In less than two years some seventy patients had been treated, and there was a healthy balance of over two hundred pounds at the bank, with no bills outstanding, but it was thought the time had come when Lady Barrow should be relieved of all responsibility. Although, he said, she would still continue to visit the hospital as often as she could.

A working committee was then appointed, consisting of the incumbents of the three Molesey parishes, the chaplain of Hampton Court Palace, the medical practitioners, and nine lay members, based on a representation of two from each of the Molesey parishes and three from Hampton Court.

Soon after its opening the committee resolved to change the name from Cottage Hospital to Nursing Home. It being said that a number of subscribers, including Dr. Holberton, the medical officer, considered that the name sounded better. Although in 1893 they had a change of heart and reverted back to the name as it originally had been. This reversal may have been due to the fact that they almost lost a legacy of a hundred pounds, which had been left to them under the name of the Cottage Hospital. The executors had challenged that a nursing home was not the same. Luckily the case was won, but the change came soon after.

The first report after the new committee had taken over manifested the faith that the organisers placed on the hospital and the good work of which it was capable: "We desire to call attention to the great value of an institution such as this, where patients are able to obtain good accommodation, properly prepared and suitable food, and last, but by no means least, skilled nursing. Many of the patients treated with success in the Nursing Home could not possible have recovered so completely or quickly in their own homes, and some could not have been treated there at all".


Dr. H. N. Holberton. The first medical officer of Molesey Cottage Hospital.

1894 - Pemberton Road

The cottage in Manor Road was really too small for the good work which was now being carried on and the committee, looking around for more commodious premises, alighted on a house called "Alliance Villa" in Pemberton Road, which was then empty. A lease was arranged, and in October 1894 the hospital moved into its new abode, which was destined to provide its home for the next forty years.

After the move the house in Manor Road reverted to a private dwelling, at first called "Cromwell Cottage", and later "Waverley Cottage". It is now number 19, used as a builderís yard, and much dilapidated.

The new premises at first provided five beds. However in 1897 Tom Tagg, a well-known Thames waterman, boat-builder, and hotelier, passed away, and his friends proposed to raise a monument to his memory, which should be both permanent and useful. At first it was suggested that a lecturn be placed in St. Paulís church, but then the happy idea of endowing a bed in the hospital was mooted and eagerly adopted by the trustees. The accommodation was, therefore, raised to six; and a brass plate was placed over the bed announcing its remembrance of Mr. Tagg. It was stipulated that the endowment would be on the understanding that although generally to be used for all purposes connected with the hospital preference should be given whenever possible to watermen or those deriving their living from the River Thames. Prominent among the list of subscribers to the bed were Richard DíOyly Carte, of Savoy Opera fame, and Martin Cobbett, the well-known writer.

A cot was added later so that infant patients could also receive attention.

In 1921, after the end of the Kaiserís War, the hospital received a donation of £1,032 from the surplus of the Hampton Court Auxiliary Hospital, which had been started by the British Red Cross and the Order of St. John, at The Old Court House by Hampton Court Green, to nurse wounded soldiers, and was then being wound up. The gift was specifically intended to endow a bed, with the proviso that, as far as possible, it should be reserved for the relatives and dependants of servicemen. An oaken tablet painted with red and black letters was erected in the Board Room to commemorate this grant.

A great aid to patientsí comfort was achieved in 1925, when Molesey hospital became the first in Surrey to be completely equipped throughout with a wireless-set at every bedside. This achievement was made possible through the generosity of an anonymous well-wisher, who not only supplied the equipment but installed it himself.

The most momentous event in the history of the hospital whilst it was in Pemberton Road, however, undoubtedly occurred in January 1927, when the owner of the property, a Mrs. Margaret Fuller, died, and left the freehold of the house to the hospital trustees, to form a lasting monument to the remembrance of her late husband, James.

James Fuller, who had died four years earlier, was a long time resident of East Molesey. He had formerly been the licensee of both the Albion and Castle Hotels in Bridge Road. After his retirement the Fullers moved to Surney Villas, 16 Manor Road, which was almost directly opposite the cottage in which the hospital first started, and where daily they would have observed the good work in which it was engaged. Oh! if only all the property owners in the district had been but half as public spirited as Mrs. Fuller, what a vastly different story might then have been told.

By an unusual coincidence Mrs. Fuller died at number 15 Kent Road, the self-same house as that other benefactress of the hospital, the Dowager Lady Barrow, had passed away, and which by then had been turned into a private nursing home, known as "Lorne Lodge".

A bronze plaque enunciating Mrs. Fullerís benevolent gift to the district is now affixed to the wall on the outside of the present hospital.

The Management Committee

As has already been stated, the first committee was formed of the local Anglican clergy, the medical practitioners, and nine lay representatives elected at the annual general meeting.

In 1909 the scope was extended in two ways: firstly, by the cooption of the ministers of all the denominations in the area, which meant that the Methodists, Baptists, and Catholics were all represented as of right; and secondly, (a strike for womenís lib) the rules were altered to allow ladies to serve, and a number were henceforth elected and performed sterling service.

The committee usually met monthly, mainly to approve the accounts and sign the outgoing cheques, and keep the normal administrative machinery functioning. On very rare occasions not enough members turned up to form a quorum, and the work had to be left to the officers to perform.

The committee minute book covering many years has fortunately been rescued and preserved (mainly due to the efforts of Dr. Humble). It contains some revealing and occasionally amusing sidelights on the working of the hospital. Although one feels at times certain personal undercurrents and disharmonies hinted at but not always fully divulged. Such, for instance, as in 1929, when a number of influential members resigned form the committee; and again at another date when the matron was asked to resign. The full stories of which will never ever be told.

The book commences on the 28th of October 1920, when the members present were: Mr. Marler (in the chair), the Rev. A.G. LeMasurier (vicar of St. Maryís), and messrs Burton, Dobree, Hiscocks, Neilson, and Stevens. The expenses for the month totalled £40 9s. 8d.

The following are among the more interesting items:-

28 December 1922.† Mr. Marler spoke as to the good report in pretty nearly every case, of the treatment of the patients and their acknowledgment of the same.

Hours of visiting were fixed at three days a week, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, two to four p.m.

29 March 1923. Miss Thompson, a patient who had been in the hospital made a complaint that she had been given margarine instead of butter. Upon investigation this was found to be not correct.

6 February 1925. A resolution was passed that the present matron be requested to resign, with a monthís notice and a bonus of twenty guineas, and a new matron appointed, at a salary of £80, rising to £100, per annum.

The staff in future to consist of matron, nurse or probationer, maid, and cook-general.

13 May 1927. The chairman explained that the reason for the greater cost of running the hospital was principally due to the nature of the cases dealt with, which were of a much more lasting nature, and especially due to the numerous motor accidents which occurred.

31 October 1929. It was reported by Mr. Nielson that there would be motor-cycle races at the residence of Lady Barrow, Grove House, West Molesey, on Sunday 3 November, at 1 p.m., and the members of the committee were asked to give this function their support, as the net proceeds were in support of the hospital. (This Lady Barrow was the wife of the grandson of the Lady Barrow who figured so prominently in the founding of the hospital).

25 October 1937. The chairman reported that the sum of £17 9s. 8d. had been received as a result of Pound Day collections. This was considered very satisfactory as owing to the police regulation there was no street collection. He expressed thanks to the Guides and Scouts for their work in the inclement weather. Goods received amounted to four hundred and twenty-nine pounds in weight. (That is nearly four hundredweight).

Raising the cash

As the hospital was, of course, a voluntary organisation, and although patients were charged for treatment according to their means, it relied heavily upon the generosity of contributors for its very existence. The raising of funds made exceptional demands on the time, energy, and determination of the committee and helpers. Many and varied were the devices contrived to prise money out of the people of Molesey. Molesey seems never (except for one or two notable cases) to have been able to attract large donations from wealthy residents, although by jove there were a considerable number of them living here. In 1911, for instance, the report of the committee bewailed: "It is a sad fact that while the poorer classes knew and valued the work of the hospital, as the large number of small subscribers showed, yet many of the well-to-do inhabitants of the district hardly knew there was a hospital in the place, or, if they knew it, it was merely a name to them".

This was a situation far removed from say Weybridge, where any person donating five hundred pounds or more was given the title "Founder", and had their names illuminated on a panel prominently displayed in the entrance hall. And there were many names upon it. Five hundred pounds would have run Molesey Hospital in the early part of the century for almost a year and a half.

We have already seen how the friendly societies organised their annual fund-raising parade around the village. Every year the peregrination assumed a larger, more colourful, and more successful character than the year before. In 1892 it was reported that the procession traversed every road in East Molesey, except Wolsey Road (and that was omitted for no other reason than lack of time). A feat which was accomplished in one and a half hours. It was led by the Molesey Mechanics Band, resplendent in their new uniforms of blue and gold, supported by the Walton Band, in Huzzar outfits, and followed by the Oddfellows, Foresters, Buffaloes, and the slate clubs from the Europa and the Kings Arms, each preceded by their lodge banners carried high; and accompanied throughout by the Molesey Fire Brigade. When the collecting boxes were opened the sum of £35 17s. 4d. was counted, mainly in pennies and halfpennies.

Another effort in the 1890s was arranged mainly by the ladies, who set up a stall to sell fruit, flowers, and vegetables, all of which had been donated from peoples gardens and allotments. The stall was often to be found in the summer months, either outside Hampton Court station or near the Lock, to take advantage of the crowds who on sunny weekends thronged in their thousands to the palace and the riverside.

The organisers of these events racked their brains to devise something new every year to stimulate interest and encourage donations.

Around the turn of the century the Friendly Societies started to run a sports meeting, which proved very popular and continued for many years; and later the church parades were discontinued. First of all the sports were held in the paddock of Hurst Park Racecourse, but were afterwards transferred to the East Molesey Cricket Ground.

In 1907 the Molesey Wheelers Cycle Club introduced a cycle carnival to boost the hospital funds. The spectacle of a cavalcade of gaily decorated bicycles and tricycles parading through the streets was something Molesey villagers had never before beheld. The ingenuity displayed by the riders in embellishing their machines was said to have been "much admired by the spectators", and demands were made to repeat the exhibition the following year. Which indeed it was, and for several following years.

Other devices used to raise money were:- the collecting of silver foil; the annual "Pound Days", when young ladies dressed as nurses went around the district gathering money and goods (supposedly by the pound - hence the name), especially groceries, which kept the hospitalís larder well stocked for sometime; and many functions run by individual organisations, such as dances, whist drives, and the like, The profits of which were passed to the hospitalís benefit.

In October 1937 the chairman reported that the sum of £17 9s. 8d. had been received in cash as a result of Pound Day collections. This was considered very satisfactory in view of a police regulation that there was to be no street collecting. He expressed thanks to the guides and scouts for their work in the inclement weather. The amount of goods received in kind totalled nearly four hundredweight.

Some of the gifts to the hospital were, to say the least, of a very bizarre nature indeed. In August 1928 the Committee found themselves presented with a donkey, which Mr. Vic Stevens (of Rowe and Stevens, draper and postmaster) undertook to dispose of for the hospitalís benefit. He apparently raffled the animal and raised the sum of £18. On another occasion a patient, unable to pay his bill, discharged his debt with one of his prize pigs.

However, during the interwar years the most popular event was undoubtedly the annual carnival. Which started off simply as a means of drawing people to the sports meeting on the cricket ground. Eventually, when athletics became more of a competitive nature and less of a friendly local affair in which everybody competed, especially the children, the carnival took over the main business, and the venue was changed to Cigarette Island. The animated procession of cheerfully decorated floats, horses, and bicycles, and children in fancy dress, marching through the main streets from West Molesey to Hampton Court, being the inducement to draw hundreds to a colourful fete and the crowning by some well-known personality of the carnival queen.

In 1927, when the hospital was having a particular financial struggle, Mr. Christian Nielson, a vigorous worker for the cause over many years, moved in the local council that as a charity the hospital should be relieved of the burden of paying rates. A passionate plea, for which he received virtually no support at all. One councillor commenting "I donít think it is quite fair to make every ratepayer subscribe to the Hospital willy-nilly", and the chairman even suggested that to give public aid by way of rate rebate might do more harm than good by stopping subscriptions from other people.

Nevertheless, in the following year the councillors relented, and on 23 February 1928, Mr. Nielson was able to report to the committee that the U.D.C. had agreed to give a grant to the hospital equal to the amount of the rates chargeable upon the building; and the secretary was instructed to write to the clerk expressing the thanks of the committee.

Hospital Day at East Molesey, 1911.

East Molesey Hospital "Pound Day", 1913.

East Molesey Hospital "Pound Day": "Jimbo", the "Daily Mirror" elephant.

The work expands

In the first twenty years of the hospitalís existence over one thousand one hundred patients had been treated, but the staff and all others concerned were still anxious to do more. The annual report of 1910 in describing the accommodation in Pemberton Road as "small and inadequate and entirely unsatisfactory for important operations", said "It is the ambition of the committee sooner or later to be able to build a new hospital properly equipped in accordance with modern requirements".

This frantic cry was captured by the ear of at least one sympathetic resident, and the following year a very generous offer was made by an anonymous lady to erect a new purpose-built hospital in a different position, on condition that the committee found the site and raised the money to purchase it.

The first location looked at by the committee was a plot in Beauchamp Road, which they were unsuccessful in obtaining. Secondly they were well advanced in negotiations for a piece of land in Vine Road, but were frustrated by the action of local residents who, when they heard of the intention, petitioned the local district council "earnestly protesting against the scheme, which", they said, "would entirely spoil one of the most open and healthy roads in East Molesey, and render it almost intolerable to its present inhabitants", and asked the council to use their influence to prevent "such an injustice". Not that the council in those days had the power to stop it, but they so swayed the owner of the ground that he refused to sell it to the hospital.

After being thwarted yet again with a third potential site the committee gave up the struggle, and unfortunately the offer so liberally proffered had to be declined, much to the chagrin of all concerned with the running of the hospital. The property owners, it seems, were just as prejudiced and just as powerful as they had been thirty years before. They had won once more, and would do so yet again.

Twenty years later the hospital was still in the same situation. In 1930 the inadequacies of the accommodation were again causing grave anxiety. The subject of a new up-to-date hospital came up for discussion once again, and the argument put forward so impressed a sympathetic resident that he immediately offered to contribute a thousand pounds towards the provision of new premises. The committee, so spurred, investigated the matter and found a suitable site in Arnison Road. Unfortunately, before the proposal could be brought to a successful conclusion word leaked out and the residents of the road brought pressure to bear on members of the committee to abandon the project. Once more hostility had its way. Once more it was the ailing sick who suffered.

The report in that year, as in most years, stressed the problem: "Whilst the result of the yearís working is satisfactory, the committee would like to impress upon subscribers the necessity of acquiring a more up-to-date hospital as soon as possible, the present premises not being altogether suitable for the valuable work which is being done, and it is hoped that a special effort will be made to increase the capital funds so that this question can be dealt with in the early future".

Four years later the cry was still being re-echoed, at the annual meeting in March 1934 Dr. J.W.M. Humble, the medical officer, made it clear that "Molesey wants either an addition to the present hospital, or a larger building - The hospital has been full since the beginning of the year and there was a waiting list". Mr. W.G. Brown urged that a special appeal to the public should be made to raise the money for a larger hospital.

The next twelve months became the busiest in the whole of the hospitalís then history. Five hundred and fifty-nine patients were treated in that little house in one year, and the committee warned that "It is evident that calls on the resources of the hospital will grow; it is unfortunately evident that the hospital cannot accommodate larger numbers and it is imperative that efforts must be made to secure and maintain other premises".

By a stroke of good fortune the next year an opportunity presented itself that was too good to be missed. Owing to the reorganisation of local government the old isolation hospital in High Street, West Molesey, became redundant, and the committee, prompted mostly by Drs. Humble and Bowling, entered into negotiations to purchase the property. Esher Council agreed to sell the building to the Cottage Hospital Trustees for a greatly undervalued price of just over £900. Although not in an ideal situation from an access point of view, it was at least in a position that could not possibly be detrimental to anybodyís property value.

Nevertheless, before we discuss the acquirement of the new premises and the move thereto, perhaps we should look at the isolation hospital itself and how it came to be built. A story which has been called "an interesting chapter in the history of the local government of the district", although some people had even harsher views on the subject.

The Isolation Hospital

The events which led up to the building of the Isolation Hospital were indeed a sorry tale of mean, miserable, petty-mindedness. A saga which sullied the reputation and lowered the prestige of Molesey in the eyes of many people throughout the land.

The story starts in 1889, when Parliament passed two Acts aimed at controlling the spread of infectious diseases. These two, the Infectious Diseases (Notification) Act and the Infectious Diseases (Prevention) Act, among other things made it obligatory for any person in charge of a patient suffering from certain specified illnesses to notify the fact to the medical officer of health for the locality, and also required the local sanitary authority to take prompt precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic, by arranging for the complete isolation of infected persons. Although, surprisingly, the legislation contained no stipulation binding the authority to adopt any particular method to obtain the isolation required. It was left entirely to the local people.

At this time the Moleseys were divided under two separate health authorities. West Molesey formed part of the Kingston Rural Sanitary Authority, and as such the parishioners were entitled to use the facilities of an isolation hospital which that body had very wisely erected at Tolworth immediately after the passing of the Act.

East Molesey, on the other hand, was a health authority in its own right, governed by what was known as a local board, and the East Molesey Local Board was a particularly backward and parsimonious body indeed. If they were required to fulfil certain statutory obligations, it was certain they would be done in the cheapest way possible, and if they could be accomplished without spending any money at all - so much the better for that.

From the outset the board rejected any idea of providing a hospital themselves for the isolation of sufferers. Therefore, Mr. F.A. Stringer, the only member who appears to have had any feeling at all for the patients, moved that the necessary steps should be taken to bring the parish into the Tolworth Hospital scheme, and allow East Molesey people to be admitted thereto and benefit like their West Molesey brethren.

The Rural Sanitary Authority replied that East Molesey could be brought in on a like for like rateable value basis, which would have meant a contribution equivalent to a rate of approximately one penny in the pound. This proposal was discussed by the General Purposes Committee, who recommended to the monthly meeting in June 1890, that "the Board ought not to accept so burdensome a proposal". And accept it they did not.

Mr. Stringer, commenting on what he called "this extraordinary deadlock", said it was incumbent upon the Board now to go on to the logical sequence of arranging for hospital accommodation themselves. "They were inflicting a most cruel wrong, without providing any compensating remedy". Needless to say his suggestion was rejected out of hand.

The only backing Mr. Stringer seems to have obtained was from Dr. Skimming, the Medical Officer of Health, and from the Surrey County Council and The Local Government Board, both of which bodies wrote to the East Molesey Board urging them to avail themselves of the powers they possessed, and provide accommodation to isolate infectious cases within the district. However, the Board again decided not to entertain the matter "at the present".

In his report for that year Dr. Skimming stated that there had been two deaths from infectious causes, one from diphtheria and one from scarlet fever, and stressed that "No attempt at isolation could be made in the absence of an isolation hospital".

During 1895 seven people died from notifiable diseases, and Dr. Knox (who had taken over as Medical Officer of Health from Dr. Skimming) lamented that "The want of an isolation hospital is a grave defect in the sanitary administration of the district. I trust that in the near future, the remedy may be supplied, and we may have a proper isolation hospital of our own for the reception of infectious cases".

The next move came in a suggestion from Teddington, that they together with Hampton, Hampton Wick, and East Molesey, should join in forming a joint isolation hospital scheme. This proposal soon ended up with the others, as so much scrap paper in the waste bin. On the same plea - too expensive.

Meanwhile, in an attempt at fulfilling their statutory duty to isolate infectious cases, but to do so without spending any money, the Board put the responsibility back onto the shoulders of the house≠holders themselves to isolate the whole house, and prevent anybody from coming or going in or out until the infection was proved to be clear.

This idea bore down very heavily on the working classes, because the breadwinner could no longer go to work, and in those pre-social security days, when there was no work there was no bread. As well as disease the family were now forced to suffer extreme hardship, even hunger.

To provide some alleviation the Board next moved to permit one member of the household to go to work but to lodge out, this meant that the wage-earner now had to pay for his own external board as well as keep his house going. Another unsatisfactory arrangement. However, to overcome this objection the Board next agreed to make a small allowance to the family for the time of the enforced isolation, on the pretext of employing the parents as nurses to the children.

As soon as the Local Government Board heard of this arrangement a stiff letter was sent to the Board advising them that there was no statutory authority for the payment of compensation in this form and ruled that what they were doing was illegal, and should cease.† But the Board was adamant.

At the next annual audit of accounts the district auditor disallowed the payments as unlawful and surcharged the fifteen members of the Board and their clerk who had signed the cheques with the whole of the money which they had illicitly expended. Ultimately, after allowing the recalcitrant Board plenty of time to make proper arrangements, which they signally failed to do, the Government prosecuted the members and the clerk for the recovery of the sums surcharged.

Meanwhile the 1894 Local Government Act had disbanded the old rural sanitary authorities and set up district councils. West Molesey ultimately became united with East Molesey to form a new urban district, and West Molesey residents were no longer qualified to use Tolworth Hospital. A sum of £1,400 was paid to the Molesey Council in settelement of the money West Molesey had contributed in rate payments towards the setting up of the hospital. Which the Government ruled could be used for no other purpose than the provision of isolation hospital accommodation.

Eventually, after considerably more prevarication, the Council agreed to comply with the Local Government Boardís wishes, and plans were drawn up for the erection of an isolation hospital for Molesey. The surcharges on the councillors were then remitted, although the whole costs of the action, amounting to about £40, had to be paid by the defendants. In the interim, especially to cater for a particularly virulent outbreak of scarlet fever which occurred, the Council agreed to board the patients out at Tolworth.

The foundation stone of the new hospital was laid by Mr. James Ray, the chairman of the U.D.C., on the 6th of October 1910, and was opened on the 6th of May following; over twenty years after the wrangling had first begun.

One of the most satisfied people who stood on that spot that day must have been Dr. Knox, who had lamented the deficiency of isolation facilities since he had taken over as the districtís M.O.H. from his brother in 1898. He now saw the project in fulfilment.

The site chosen was ideal as far as a fever hospital was concerned. When standing on the ground there was not a single house of any description in sight. The architect of the building, or rather buildings, as it consisted of four separate blocks for isolation, was a Mr. Lodge, of the firm of Foster, Lovell, and Lodge, of London.

After having resisted the inevitable for so long and ultimately being forced to comply with the law, the council now swung the other way. They became positively proud of their new acquisition, and patted themselves on the back for having provided it. From being parsimonious they appear to have swayed almost to prodigality.

The land for the hospital, which was originally an orchard (of which some of the trees still remain), cost over £1,000, the buildings nearly £3,500, and with other expenses, including laying a gas main to the Walton Road, brought the total outlay to just over £5,000, or somewhere about £400 per bed.

Thus the Council, which could have joined the original Tolworth scheme for the equivalent of a penny rate, but would not on the ground that it entailed unnecessary expense, now saddled the district for many years with repayments and maintenance costs of over four times that amount. They had themselves had to pay the costs of an expensive legal action, they had spent twenty years in needless and bitter bickering, they had even provoked a scathing attack upon themselves in an editorial article in the Times Newspaper, and they had left a soured atmosphere which took years to eradicate.

However, they did leave a building which was now to prove very useful as a home for the Cottage Hospital.

A new hospital - at last

Under the Surrey Review Order of 1933, East and West Molesey, with Esher and the Dittons and the parishes of Cobham and Stoke díAbernon were united together to form the new Esher Urban District. With this amalgamation Molesey Isolation Hospital was no longer required, because arrangements were now made to treat all the infectious cases from the combined district at Tolworth, which was expanded specifically to accommodate the extra intake.

The Council, therefore, had a redundant hospital on its hands; and, as we have seen, the organisers of Molesey Cottage Hospital had a long standing ambition to improve their good works in larger and more suitable premises; what more natural, then, than the two should get together to solve their common problem?

The Cottage Hospital had had its hopes raised often enough, only to see them dashed to the ground each time. Even if this possibility looked rosier than the others, the Committee could be forgiven for approaching it with some degree of caution. The site was, indeed, further from the centre of population (as it was then - it has shifted somewhat since) than they would have liked, but taken all round it had much in its favour, and this far outweighed the few disadvantages.


Preliminary negotiations were opened with the Council, who offered to sell the hospital for the amount of money still outstanding on the original loan charges, a sum slightly in excess of nine hundred pounds. This figure was immediately volunteered to the Committee as a free gift by Mr. Harold Wesley, of "The Wilderness", Molesey Park Road, and with this generous bounty, and the approval of the Ministry of Health, agreement was reached and the sale concluded,

Mr. Wesley was an extremely rich man, with interests in several companies, both here and in America, mainly dealing with paper manufacture. Nevertheless, he contributed generously to many good causes in the district.

Whilst living in Manor Road, Thames Ditton, his previous home, he donated the whole of the £1,500 required to build a new headquarters for the Ditton Scout Group. On coming to live at "The Wilderness" he was introduced to the efforts of the Molesey Branch of the Lest We Forget Association, which fostered the welfare of servicemen wounded during the First World War, and not only liberally subscribed to its funds, but every year entertained a large party of disabled soldiers and their nurses in the mansionís extensive grounds alongside the river Mole. A tradition which had been started by Sir William Firth, his predecessor at the house.

He travelled extensively, chiefly across the Atlantic, and it was whilst returning from a business trip to New York on the liner Aquitania in May 1939, that he was suddenly taken ill and died before the ship docked.

The freehold of the premises in Pemberton Road, thanks to Mrs. Fullerís benevolence, was the property of the hospital, and there were no debts outstanding. The Committee were now in a position to sell the house and apply the proceeds to refitting the new building completely with fresh equipment, to the erection of an operating theatre with all modern appliances, and to the construction of covered passageways connecting the separate wards and buildings together.

With the alterations complete the hospital was now available with twenty beds for adults, three for children, four private paying wards, a nurses home, and domestic offices. "It will", it was said, "provide a lasting service to the sick and needy of a rapidly growing district".

The new hospital was due to be opened officially on Saturday 22nd. February 1936, but unfortunately on the preceding Saturday, about four oíclock in the afternoon, after the men who had been working on the alterations had gone home, smoke was observed coming from the roof of the west wing, which was found to be on fire. The Molesey Fire Brigade was quickly summoned, and owing to their prompt turnout the blaze was kept from spreading, and damage was confined to a very small area.

This incident, however, was not enough to stop the opening ceremony from going ahead, and on the appointed day, Lady Firth, the wife of Sir William Firth, unlocked the front door with a golden key. How proud Molesey was on that day, after having gone so long its ambitions for an up-to-date hospital were now fulfilled. The only dampener on the scene was the weather - it poured the whole time.

It was still, of course, a voluntary hospital, and it was now necessary to work even harder to raise the cash to run and maintain the improved services. Molesey people rallied round to support their new acquisition. The biggest fund raiser was undoubtedly the Molesey Carnival, which not only contributed to the hospital, but provided, the district with an annual festival of colour and fun.

Owing to the more efficient use of facilities offered by the new premises, the treasurer was able to report to the annual general meeting held at the hospital on 23 April 1937, after the completion of the first full years work there, "that the weekly cost per patient was much less than formerly and compared very favourably with adjacent districts".

Under the National Health Services Act of 1946, on the "Appointed Day", the 5th. of July 1948, the responsibility for financing and running the nationís hospitals was transferred to the Minister of Health. Molesey Cottage Hospital, along with all the other voluntary hospitals throughout the kingdom, ceased to be dependant upon local fund raising, and the word "Cottage" was dropped from the title.

After the move from Pemberton Road the premises there reverted, to residential accommodation and were turned into three flats; that is until the early hours of Tuesday the 8th. of August 1944 when one of Hitlerís flying bombs landed on the house opposite, killing three people, injuring many more, and causing much devastation. The old hospital was so badly damaged that the remains had to be entirely demolished, to be replaced by a new building after the end of the war.

Molesey Hospital. Showing three of the old Isolation Hospital blocks, and the interconnecting corridors constructed to facilitate the use as a cottage hospital.

Aid and comfort for the suffering

In March 1920 a meeting was convened at Angle House in Beauchamp Road, the house which is now St. Josephís Convent, but was then the home of Mrs. Vogel, wife of Harry Vogel, editor of "The People" Newspaper, to publicise the work of an organisation known as "The League of Mercy", and to try and form a branch of that body in Molesey.

The Duchess of Albany, daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria, who presided, informed the meeting that the League had been formed in London in the early part of the century, to try to solve the problem of the increasing demands being made on the comparatively few people who voluntarily maintained hospitals and institutions for the needy, helpless and suffering, and to spread the collection of contributions over as wide a section of the population as possible.

Before the League was started, only 4,000 out of the six million people in London subscribed to the upkeep of hospitals. Through the work of the League the whole population was enabled to have the opportunity and privilege of contributing. "I know", the Duchess said, "that the very poor are wonderfully generous and ever ready to help those who are worse off than themselves".

The ladies who formed the backbone of the League, did much good work in raising funds; and Molesey Hospital on a number of occasions, when things were running badly, made application to them for grants. Pleas to which they seldom seemed to have turned a deaf ear. Even though the donations they could give were comparatively small, they enabled the hospital to keep going.

There was also in Molesey a Ladies Linen Guild, which visited the hospital, assisting the staff with sewing and running repairs to the bed-linen, and giving such aid and comfort to the patients as they could. Later a Hospital Comforts Committee was also formed.

These groups afterwards combined to form the League of Friends of Molesey Hospital, which over the years has performed sterling service in providing many of the extras which help to make the patientís stay in the hospital that much more bearable.

The League of Friends have raised large sums towards, among many other things, the Outpatients Department, a Day Rest Room, wireless and television, therapy and physiotherapy equipment, patient to nurse call system, curtains, furnishings, and Oh! so many more things for the comfort and well-being of both patients and staff.


In a work of this length it has not been possible to expound on all the aspects of Molesey Hospitalís history; of all the manifold contrivances employed to gather contributions; or to mention all of the hundreds of men and women who have devoted (and still devote) their time and energies to the welfare of the patients, be they committee members, fundraisers, medical, nursing, or domestic staff. Because they have not been named it should not be thought their efforts are unappreciated.


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