Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society held a meeting on Monday the 17th of January 2022 in the Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph. The speaker was Geraldine Outhwaite with a talk entitled “The Hospital Where Everyone Smiles: When Biddulph Grange was a Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital.” An interesting talk on this subject began which included many facts and figures which fully illustrated and illuminated this unusual period in the Grange’s History and that first appeared in her book published in 2020.
This write-up will cover a small part of the evening’s entertaining journey covering only five key areas based on the characters that peopled the talk. Geraldine began by quoting a sentence from a book written in 1983 by Anne Ferris sold to help the Grange League of Friends to raise funds to restore the gardens, vandalised when the hospital closed, which eventually came under the control of the National Trust in 1991. “Much has been written concerning the gardens at Biddulph Grange, rather less about the house or those who have lived in it and very little about the hospital.”
The first character from the talk, who Anne Ferris also wrote to when compiling her book was Sir Harry Platt. The Lancashire Education Committee (LEC) purchased the hospital for the nursing and treatment of the crippled children of East Lancashire. It was the first dedicated orthopaedic hospital for children provided by a local authority and the county had a great need for such an institution. Sir Harry Platt was a pioneering orthopaedic surgeon who had been at the helm of the Grange hospital from its beginnings when under the auspices of the LEC. In 1914 he was appointed surgeon to Ancoats Hospital, Manchester, where he organised the first special fracture department in Great Britain.
Photograph: Sir Harry Platt with patients, nurses and colleagues at the Grange.
On the outbreak of the First World War he became a Captain RAMC and was appointed by Sir Robert Jones, the then Army consultant in orthopaedics, to be surgeon-in-charge of a military orthopaedic centre in Manchester. It was there that he acquired his considerable experience of nerve injuries and undertook studies in bone-grafting. He showed great organising ability and later described himself very truthfully as a contemplative man, more of a physician, and “not naturally a great craftsman.“ He later fostered many other institutions - the Ethel Hadley Hospital, Windermere, and the Children’s Hospital at Biddulph Grange. In 1920 he became consultant orthopaedic surgeon to Lancashire County Council and surgical director of the Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry, and in 1932 orthopaedic surgeon to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, subsequently to become its first Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery in 1939. He held all of these posts until his retirement and, with the inception of the NHS, he also served on the Board of Governors of the Manchester Royal Infirmary from 1948 to 1963.
In 1871 it was Robert Heath, a local industrialist who bought The Grange. Robert Bateman and his sons had by the 1860s used up their savings creating the gardens. Heath and his family lived there for over twenty years. In 1896 a catastrophic fire burned down so much of the house that it had to be restored with the aid of the architect Thomas Bower. After WW1 the house became unsustainable for the Heaths to run.
In 1921 Heath Jnr. offered the house to the North Staffordshire Cripples’ Society for conversion to a hospital. However it wasn’t until 1928 when Lancashire Education Committee took it over that it began to function as a dedicated children’s orthopaedic hospital. So, the history of the Grange as an orthopaedic children’s hospital got off to a shaky start initially. It was not until the LEC took it over that its hospital life began. Then it had 90 beds and 3 wooden wards for the crippled children of East Lancashire.
There was quite a demand for this type of dedicated hospital for children, as the numbers of children, for various reasons, suffered bone and osteo problems. Throughout the 1930s, Lancashire continued to improve and maintain the house, hospital and gardens.
Then in October 1933, following another nation-wide outbreak of poliomyelitis, an extra ward was added to help with the rehabilitation of those extra sick children, affected by the disease. In Sept 1937 work commenced on the building of a new hospital with supporting services: this consisted of 3 wards, 1 on the ground floor and 2 on the upper floor with an operating theatre in between. (The original operating theatre was in the present tea room.) The total number of beds available at this point was 96. So by 1939 the modern children’s hospital was opened.
The next two characters in this story are the Matrons Rochelle and Cleator. Matron Rochelle (later Mrs. Titley M.B.E.) took up her duties in 1928 and remained in post until 1951. She was from Hanley originally but was a former school nurse and health visitor working in Rochdale. She maintained the highest possible standards. Under her tenure The Grange was a close community of nursing, medical and domestic staff, many living in the upper floors of the house as well as working together.
Everything was done to make the children’s stay in hospital a happy one with activities taking place that did not occur in other hospitals. e.g. Santa came at Xmas with presents, there were pantomimes, Nativity plays, May Day celebrations, outings to the sea-side and Rudyard Lake, Brownie and Scouts to join and many more activities. There was a boy’s ward, girl’s ward and babies’ ward and a teaching staff employed to teach the children. Her Senior Sister was Sister Bateman.
Matron Cleator (on the left) and Matron Rochelle
When Matron Rochelle retired in 1951, she was succeeded by Matron Cleator. She carried on Matron Rochelle’s work with its concentration on the education of the children and keeping them occupied in their hospital stay, as well as getting better of course, but as well as running The Grange, she also ran a pre-nursing course for nurse cadets. She also enjoyed the social gatherings that The Grange put on for the staff at Christmas and in the summer including the pantomimes and summer pageants.
A most moving part of the talk occured when Geraldine introduced Mr. William Mason from Lancashire who had been a patient in the hospital for 2 years when a child. Geraldine read William’s notes of his stay which outlined his time as a patient. The outdoor wards, the teaching sessions, the walks in the grounds and looking forward to the visits of his parents and grandmother travelling down from Lancashire by train to Congleton. There are other reminiscences in Geraldine’s book of former patients. Geraldine would like to thank Mrs. Rosemary Rogers for getting in touch with information about William and escorting him to the meeting.
Our fifth character is a composite of a number of head gardeners. When Biddulph Grange became a hospital the gardens near to the house over time did undergo drastic changes which have been regretted by the garden enthusiasts. The upper terrace, the Eastern terrace with its music room, the rose parterre, the verbena parterre, the cherry orchard and the dahlia walk were all lost during the course of time as ward extensions were built to the East of the house and the terraces to the South were simplified.
However, the rest of the gardens continued to be maintained to a high standard, for the next sixty years, by three able, successive Head Gardeners, namely: - Bill Shufflebotham, Fred Hancock and Eric Bowers and their respective staff. Much is owed to their dedication and they enabled the National Trust to see how much of the lay-out of the original Victorian gardens remained.
Eric started work at the Grange when he was 14, in 1943, and was still working there (then as head Gardener) in 1991 when the NT took over. Robert (Bob) Hudson began work at The Grange on the 1st of October 1978 as a young apprentice and is still working up to the present time. He spoke however about his memories of the Grange when it was still a functioning hospital and up until The National Trust took over the gardens to restore them to their Victorian splendour. Eric Bowers was the head gardener when Bob started at The Grange. Geraldine also spoke to Nigel Bowers about what he remembered about the work that his father Eric did. (Eric passed away in 2015.)
A lively question and answer session followed the talk which included the memories of many of the audience who had relatives that had been patients when the hospital became a male orthopaedic one. The hospital began taking general cases as the health of the number of children in Lancashire improved with better diet and care under the N.H.S.
The Chairman of the Society, Mr. Roland Machin, thanked Geraldine for her illuminating talk, shining a light on a long chapter in the development of the history of the Grange.
The Next Meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 21st of February 2022 in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph at 7 p.m. Mr. Jonathan Fryer will introduce Professor Ray Johnson’s film about the “Sneyd Pit Disaster: January the 1st 1942” and answer questions about his new book “The Small Mines of the Biddulph Valley.”