Memories of St George’s Hospital & Rothwell

Back in 2017 we published an article about St George’s hospital which is now of course the St George’s housing estate on Wood Lane. One of the many comments left on the page was from a former Rothwell resident called Heather Spereall (nee Jeffrey) who’s family moved to Rothwell in January 1967 when her father was appointed as Senior Nursing Officer for both  the St George’s and the Haigh Hospital in Rothwell.  The family lived in the Matron’s house until Heather was almost 5 years old. The family later moved from the hospital into the town until leaving the area in 1978.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Heather and hear more of her memories of Rothwell during this time.

“The house we lived in wasn’t the detached house in the hospital grounds but the one which was integral to the hospital building. We entered through the main hospital door then turned left into our accommodation. (see below)

On the right were offices but the upstairs of our house extended over these. The bedroom on the left was my parents’ room, the single one in the middle was mine and on the right was a huge family size guest room. The downstairs rooms were very spacious as well. When we moved out of the house it was turned into offices and my dad’s new office was what had been his bedroom, and his secretary worked in my old room!

Lily Lawton was the matron’s maid, whose duties were extended to looking after me while my parents were working. As you can see she’s wearing a uniform – this was her afternoon uniform, the one she wore for doing housework in the mornings was lilac with a white cotton apron.  She was very strict and stood for no nonsense from anyone, but also very loving and I visited her regularly in Rothwell until she died in 2003 aged nearly 89. 

I also remember several white painted huts dotted around the grounds which Lily and I would sit in when out on our walks – I think they were meant for patients to be able to sit in and rest for a while if they were walking in the grounds, or to shelter if the weather suddenly turned bad.

I remember the Christmas concerts that were put on every year by members of staff for the patients and visitors.  Anyone who could sing, dance or do comedy was expected to take part. My dad was usually at work on Christmas day, so we would have our Christmas dinner and presents on Christmas Eve at home then on Christmas Day we would go into the hospital and would go around the wards to greet the patients. “

GARDEN PARTIES

“The summer garden parties were great fun – see the photo of me riding a penny farthing! 

I also remember back in 1973 when the actress Fenella Fielding opened the summer garden party at Haigh hospital. My dad was a fan of hers and he managed to get her to come and open the proceedings!

THE HOSPITAL SHOP

“Mrs Thompson was the manager of the Nurses Home, she is pictured below in the hospital shop which was based in there, the shop opened one day a week for patients to go and buy clothes and accessories if they wished.”

SCHOOL DAYS

“I went to Haigh Road Infants school and then Rothwell Victoria Junior School before a year at Royds before we moved away.  My first teacher at Infant School was Mrs Seville, she was lovely and I was mortified when I had to move up to the next class. I loved my first day at school, a lot of the other children were crying when their parents left, but I remember asking my parents that evening if I could go back after tea!  My first friend was a girl called Julie and I used to share a bottle of milk (back in the days when this was provided!) with a girl called Sarah. My best friend through infant and junior school was Elaine Hargrave (if she or anyone who knows her is reading this I would love her to get in touch). After junior school we went to different secondary schools so didn’t see as much of each other, then we completely lost touch after I moved out of the area. 

At infant school I remember a group of us going to sing Christmas carols for the patients at Haigh Hospital, it seemed funny seeing my dad working there during the school day and calling him ‘daddy’ when to everyone else he was Mr Jeffrey. 

Rothwell Victoria School had 2 disused mine shafts on the field, with some very flimsy fencing around them which used to get trodden down and pupils used to dare each other to walk around the inside! No OFSTED inspections in those days and very hit and miss health and safety!

I remember a friend and myself sneaking out of the school grounds through a gap in the fence alongside the school field! It was lunchtime and we went to her house – she lived on Low Shops Lane which was newly built, I recall the rhubarb fields either side of the path we followed.”

SHOPPING

“I loved the Mil-Ric fabric shop.  Either Lily or my grandma used to make a lot of my clothes so I remember going in there quite regularly to choose the material.

My mum had difficulty walking, but could drive a car with hand controls, so from my being quite a young age she would park near a shop and ask me to go in and get what was needed. I often went in a butchers which I think was called Kietals (later taken over by Dakin’s) to ask for ‘half a pound of thin pork sausages’, which are still the best ones I have ever tasted.

I remember Morrisons being built and thinking although it was easier for my parents, and possibly cheaper, to be able to get all the food in one place, it made me nostalgic for going in and out of all the smaller independent shops.”

SPRINGHEAD PARK

“We often went to the park, I remember the fairs being on and one time my mum complaining of the price of the rides – 5 new pence!  I don’t think I appreciated what a great place the park was until we moved away and didn’t have anything like that near to where we lived.  There was something for everyone with play areas for different age groups, and even a pond where you could sail toy boats and the gardens which my parents used to enjoy.  I think most of the play equipment wouldn’t meet today’s health and safety standards!”

PASTIMES 

“There were fortnightly dances at Rothwell Church of England School which we used to attend. My mum was disabled and could no longer dance but my dad loved Old Time, Ballroom and Sequence dancing so I became his dance partner, starting with him walking me round the dance floor standing on his feet, then learning the steps when I was big enough.  A lovely couple called Mr and Mrs Horne ran the dances, they also did a Monday night dance at Blackburn Hall which we sometimes went to until they had to stop for some reason. There came a time when the school hall was no longer available either, but my dad said they could use the day room at Haigh Hospital instead and I believe they still continued to meet there after we left Rothwell.”

COMMUNITY SPIRIT

“Looking back I think there was a really strong community spirit which I haven’t felt in the same way in any of the places I’ve lived since. My parents weren’t religious but when I was 3 or 4 my mum became friendly with Pauline Davies who ran the Sunday School at Rothwell Baptist Church, so I started going there and went regularly for the next 8 years until we moved. If we had stayed in Rothwell I would probably have continued going and eventually joined the adult services when I was old enough.”

AFTER ROTHWELL

“Sadly we left in 1978 when my dad took a new job out of the area, but I still visited Lily’s daughter who lived in Rothwell until she died in 2016 so I’ve seen how the old St George’s site has been developed. I never settled in East Yorkshire where we moved to so when I left home I went to Bretton Hall College outside Wakefield which was a bit like coming home. Since leaving there I’ve lived in Darlington but one of my sons now lives in Wakefield and works for the Wakefield Express, so I’ve still got something of a connection with the area.”

GET IN TOUCH

Do you have similar memories of the local area that you would like to share? Or do you remember Heather and would like to get in touch with her? If so please email us at LS26Local@gmail.com and we can pass your details on. You can also find Heather on facebook by searching Heather Spereall, Darlington.

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