All posts by Graham Snowdon


This was John Taylor’s fourth visit to Stumperlowe Probus Club, but this time it felt more as though we were the vis­it­ors and he was lead­ing us on a fas­cin­at­ing day out, vir­tu­ally in our own back­yard.

It’s amaz­ing what undis­covered treas­ures there are on one’s own door­step, and John’s talk took us on a  guided tour either side of the bound­ary between South Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

That wavy line has of course been changed many times over the years. The Sheffield suburb of Dore, which once stood on the border of the Anglo-Saxon king­doms of Northumbria and Mercia, was in the county of Derbyshire until 1934, and neigh­bour­ing Norton was trans­ferred to Sheffield in two tranches, in 1901 and 1934.

John’s present­a­tion could have been sub-titled Connected Jottings, but in fact there wasn’t a jot­ting in sight as he took us through an eclectic mix of local his­tory without a single note in front of him. John is a pro­fes­sional his­tor­ian with a broad know­ledge of his sub­ject. He is a writer, his­tor­ical con­sult­ant and researcher, and often acts as a guide for English Heritage and other public bodies.

More import­antly to us, per­haps, he also believes that his­tory should be a fun sub­ject appeal­ing to all tastes and back­grounds.

I like to look beneath the sur­face and link things together, so that the talk has con­tinu­ity,” he told us in his intro­duc­tion. “Horace Walpole coined the term ‘serendip­ity’ [mean­ing a for­tu­nate hap­pen­stance or a pleas­ant sur­prise], but the dif­fer­ence with me is that I actu­ally look for serendip­ity.”

Our meander star­ted in Norton, birth­place (in 1781) of Sir Francis Chantrey, the lead­ing por­trait sculptor of Regency era Britain. Chantrey, who died at the age of 60 and is buried in the church­yard at Norton, was a friend of the Bagshawe family, which gave us a link to Oakes Park, home of the Bagshawes for almost 300 years until 1987.

Sir Francis Chantrey, sculptor

Francis Chantrey designed the ter­race in front of the house, but Sir John Nash laid out the grounds of Oakes Park and the lake there was dug by Napoleonic pris­on­ers between 1803 and 1804. So on now to Dronfield, where the Lucas Arch marks the site of Lucas’s steel foundry which pro­duced can­non­balls which were used in the Napoleonic Wars and, in all prob­ab­il­ity, at the decis­ive Battle of Waterloo.

The Napoleonic link then took us on to Chesterfield, where French officers who were pris­on­ers of war were bil­leted at the Falcon Inn, now a branch of the Yorkshire Building Society.

Chesterfield’s crooked spire.

The town is prob­ably most famous for its crooked spire, and in the church­yard of St Mary and All Saints is a memorial stone to a French pris­oner who was cap­tured in Sardinia, imprisoned on a float­ing hulk ship and then offered parole in Chesterfield.



Tapton House

We went, appro­pri­ately, via the only remain­ing build­ing which made up the ori­ginal Chesterfield rail­way sta­tion to Tapton House, which was the home of rail­way pion­eer George Stephenson for the last ten years of his life. The house was then bought by the Markham family of engin­eers and col­li­ery owners and it was the birth­place in 1872 of the prom­in­ent suf­fra­gette Violet Markham.


George Stephenson, engin­eer and inventor

George Stephenson, whose statue stands out­side the present Chesterfield sta­tion, is best known as the father of the rail­ways, but he also designed a miner’s safety lamp and even a glass cucum­ber straight­ener, an example of which is on dis­play at the town’s museum. Not a lot of people know that.



At Ashover we saw the Crispin Inn, dating back to the time of Agincourt, and — next door to it — All Saints’ Church which houses a lead font dating back to 1150 which the rector, Emanuel Vaughan, buried in his garden for five years during the Civil War.


The wind­ing house for the former Matlock tram­way

Hold tight! Our next stop was Matlock, and what was pre­vi­ously the wind­ing house for the steep­est road­way tram system in the world, beat­ing even San Francisco. Smedley’s Hydro in the town became a School of Military Intelligence during World War Two, when Dirk Bogarde (who would end his ser­vice as a major) was among its stu­dents.


The former Rowsley sta­tion

Rowsley Retail Park was built as the sixth    Duke of Devonshire’s rail­way sta­tion. No doubt Chatsworth’s garden designer Joseph Paxton used the sta­tion in later years, but his first jour­ney to Chatsworth had been via the Chesterfield coach and a long walk over the moors. Paxton, who coin­cid­ent­ally was the mater­nal grand­father of Violet Markham, of Tapton House, is buried in the family tomb in the church­yard at Edensor.


The Rutland Inn, Bakewell

Who knew that Jane Austen wrote, or at least revised the manu­script of, her novel Pride and Prejudice while stay­ing at the Rutland Arms in Bakewell, where the first eponym­ous pud­ding was made by an Ann Wheeldon?


Frederic Barker, Archbishop of Sydney from 1854 to 1882, was born in Baslow and is buried in the church­yard there.


The Round House, Ringinglow

Almost back in Sheffield now, and the Round House at Ringinglow, built in 1893 at the con­ver­gence of two turn­pikes, isn’t round at all but octa­gonal. Totley Tunnel, which cuts beneath the Derbyshire-Yorkshire bound­ary, was opened in the same year but the memorial to the nav­vies killed during its con­struc­tion is in the cemetery at Crookes, tra­di­tional centre of the Irish com­munity in Sheffield.


Our run-in to the centre of Sheffield was via the city’s first tram shed at Heeley, built in 1878, and the Botanical Gardens, to the Wicker Arches, designed by Sir John Fowler, of Wadsley Hall, whose later work included the Forth rail­way bridge.

After a diver­sion to Ecclesfield, where Nelson’s per­sonal chap­lain Alexander John Scott is buried (he was the father-in-law of the vicar), we ended up in para­dise. Well, Paradise Square to be pre­cise.

The afore­men­tioned Francis Chantrey had his first studio at No 24, and other occu­pants of the square included the phys­i­cian David Daniel Davis, who was present at the birth of Queen Victoria in 1819 and was later appoin­ted first Professor of Midwifery at the University of London.

Never again need we be short of ideas for a local day out!



Keith Booker, making his fourth visit to Stumperlowe, brought with him greet­ings from his home club of Dore, and explained that his latest selec­tion of pho­to­graphs from around the world was put together by request after he gave us Part One just over two years ago.
“I’ve gathered together a new selec­tion of pic­tures taken on a few of our adven­tures fea­tur­ing some less seen sub­jects, and others better known, which my wife and I found absorb­ing, sur­pris­ing and some­times amus­ing,” he explained. “You and I all have one thing in common today,” he added, “and that is that we are seeing this latest com­pil­a­tion for the first time!”
The cynics amongst us per­haps thought we were in for a slideshow of hol­i­day snaps, but this was a travelogue with a dif­fer­ence. Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days has noth­ing on Keith Booker’s Around the World in Fifty Minutes.

From the ancient city of Petra …

The open­ing theme was the Ancient World, and we star­ted off in the city of Petra, in Jordan. At its peak Petra – which trans­lates as ‘rock’ — was home to 20,000 people who, in the midst of the desert, built an ingeni­ous system of water­ways and a huge amphi­theatre. Next stop was the Great Pyramid of Giza, which at 480 feet was the tallest man­made struc­ture in the world for nearly 4,000 years, con­struc­ted out of 2.3 mil­lion stone blocks. The Great Sphinx of Giza, which meas­ures 238 feet from head to tail, is estim­ated to have been built earlier than 2500 BC.

Time to move on, and the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (now actu­ally in modern day Turkey) was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Olympia, site of the ori­ginal Olympic Games, The Temple of Posiedon, near Athens, and Old Corinth, famous as a trad­ing centre, were next on the itin­er­ary.
Back on the magic carpet, and Rome was our next stop. The Colosseum, built in 72 AD, could seat more than 50,000 spec­tat­ors and it is thought that half a mil­lion people and twice as many anim­als were killed in the man versus beast con­tests.
Versuvius looms over both Herculaneum and, more fam­ously, Pompeii, the city which was des­troyed by vol­canic ash in 79 .
On now to India. Traditional house­boats can be hired on the Kerala back­wa­ters near Cochin, or Kochi. They are related to the dhow and were ori­gin­ally designed as spice trad­ing ves­sels. Today, spices are mainly trans­por­ted by road, giving the boats a new lease of life as leis­ure ves­sels.
We saw sim­ilar scenes in Thailand and Vietnam before ringing the bell for the next stop, Venice, where today there are still 400 gon­dolas ori­gin­ally used to trans­port goods from the mar­kets to the palaces along the canals.
North now to Lake Garda, where we saw part of the hull and bow of the Italian naval cruiser Puglia, launched in 1903, installed in a garden high above the lake and bring­ing a new slant to the craze for deck­ing.
Across the Atlantic now for a look at the impress­ive bridge of the Queen Mary, which oper­ated between 1936 and 1967 and is now pre­served as a hotel and con­fer­ence centre in the har­bour at Long Beach, California.
Its suc­cessor the QE2 was launched in 1969 and retired in 2008, having sailed a greater dis­tance than any other vessel of any type, and Keith cap­tured it in Hong Kong har­bour for his photo col­lec­tion. In an instant, Keith then whisked us off to Scandinavia for the QE2’s last visit to Norway and her appear­ance at an annual steam­ship fest­ival, which in 2008 was held in Stavanger.
Continuing the mari­time theme, the Titanic’s first and (as it tran­spired) only port of call on her ill-fated maiden voyage from Southampton was Cork, in Ireland, where we saw an appro­pri­ate memorial. A number of the Titanic vic­tims have their final rest­ing place at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Keith was on hand with his camera there, too, to show us the grave­stones laid out in the shape of a ship’s bow.
On next to New York, worth a whole show in its own right, and then to Greenland, the largest island in the world but with a pop­u­la­tion of just 56,000.
From basalt form­a­tions in Iceland we flew as if by magic to the sim­ilar Giant’s Causeway on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, and then headed north via Tromso and its Arctic Cathedral to the North Cape, the most north­erly point in Europe.
The old com­mer­cial dis­trict of Quebec has some remark­able murals, giving it a link with Cannes, in the South of France. Soon we were back in Ireland, and Dublin in par­tic­u­lar, and the North Yorkshire fish­ing vil­lage of Staithes also had its moment of fame before we jetted off to Australia, and the Sydney Opera House.

… to the iconic Sydney Opera House

After a stop-off in Bangkok, it was time to board Japan’s famous bullet train for a dis­tant view of Mount Fuji.
Then it was back towards home, call­ing in at Istanbul, the ori­ginal ter­minus the Orient Express. Keeping to the rails, we saw the Blue Train in South Africa and the Panama Express, which runs along­side the canal.
We didn’t go to Zywiec, in Poland, so Yalta – scene of the famous post­war powwow between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin – was a good place alpha­bet­ic­ally to wind up our magical mys­tery tour.
Keith was asked which places he would still like to visit, and his reply was Machu Picchu and Easter Island. He has no plans to turn this present­a­tion into a tri­logy but, as they say, watch this space …

* Keith kindly donated his fee to St Luke’s Hospice.

A Visit to The Yorkshire Air Museum

A small but select group of Stumperlowe Probus Club mem­bers enjoyed an inspir­a­tional and at times emo­tional visit to the former RAF Elvington air base near York which now houses the Yorkshire Air Museum or, to give it its full name, the Allied Air Forces Memorial and Yorkshire Air Museum, on Wednesday, September 13.

Our select group, minus the pho­to­grapher of course, with some of the exhib­its on show behind us.

As with other visits in the past, for example to the National Rail Museum, the four and a half hours we had allowed proved barely time enough to explore all the exhib­its, indoor and out­door, as well as the archive mater­ial and cinema screen­ings, not to men­tion a lunch­time visit to the NAAFI where many of the British and French air­crew lost during World War II would have enjoyed their last meal.

No 77 Squadron suffered heavy losses during its time at Elvington, with over 500 air­crew killed, miss­ing or taken pris­oner and almost 800 Halifax bombers lost as it played a major part in the Battle of the Ruhr and the bomb­ing of Berlin. In May 1944, 77 Squadron moved to the newly opened nearby RAF Full Sutton and was replaced at Elvington by two French squad­rons, num­bers 346 ‘Guyenne’ and 347 ‘Tunisie’ who both played lead­ing parts in the bomb­ing of Germany.

The Handley Page Halifax Mk III

Elvington is the largest ori­ginal war­time RAF Bomber Command sta­tion open to the public any­where in the world. Retaining the authen­tic atmo­sphere of an oper­a­tional base, the site con­tains the 77 Squadron Memorial, the French Air Force Memorial, the Royal Canadian Air Force Memorial, the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Memorial and the Air Transport Auxiliary Memorial.

Elvington was the war­time home of the only two French Air Force Heavy Bomber Squadrons, who flew the huge Halifax four-engined bomber on mis­sions over occu­pied Europe. The museum, which is held in spe­cial affec­tion by many vet­er­ans and the des­cend­ants of those brave airmen , has there­fore enjoyed a unique rela­tion­ship with the people of France, and the French Air Force and gov­ern­ment, since its found­ing more than 30 years ago.

Of the out­door exhib­its, the high­light for many was the French Mirage IV nuc­lear bomber which had been offi­cially inaug­ur­ated at its new home at Elvington only ten days earlier. The Mirage, which was Western Europe’s fast­est mil­it­ary jet cap­able of sus­tained speeds of Mach 2.2 (1,400mph), was trans­por­ted by road on a four-day jour­ney from the Chateaudun air base in France.

The French Mirage IV nuc­lear bomber

The new attrac­tion, which was first pledged to the museum by the French gov­ern­ment more than 12 years ago, was offi­cially unveiled on September 3 by Général Laurent Lesellier, rep­res­ent­ing the Chief of the French Air Force. It joins the much smal­ler Mirage III fighter which is also the only one of its type in Britain.

The Elvington museum opened in 1985 and had only a hand­ful of air­craft to dis­play. In those early years, volun­teers were con­cen­trat­ing on refur­bish­ing the cent­ral build­ings of the ori­ginal war­time site as well as focus­ing on restor­ing an ori­ginal Halifax bomber. The French vet­er­ans who, 40 years after the war, were still very active, were anxious to help and to ensure that their own his­tory within RAF Bomber Command was not for­got­ten.


Dr Rod Amos, a retired con­sult­ant rheum­at­o­lo­gist at the Royal Hallamshire and Sheffield Children’s Hospital who last spoke to us in January 2014 on Changing Concepts of Medicine (from Sorcery to Science), returned with a fas­cin­at­ing account of the almost total erad­ic­a­tion of polio­my­el­itis.

Specifically, his talk centred on the involve­ment in fun­drais­ing of Franklin D Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, who was him­self struck down with a para­lytic ill­ness (there is some debate as to whether it was actu­ally polio)  in 1921, at the age of 39.

Roosevelt, who would sub­sequently be elec­ted to the first of his record four terms as pres­id­ent in November 1932, was the only child of a rich and polit­ical family, and was at his hol­i­day home at Campobello Island, a pop­u­lar summer retreat for wealthy Canadians and Americans, when he was taken ill with exhaus­tion, deep muscle aching and fever­ish­ness. Within a day he was show­ing signs of para­lysis which even­tu­ally left him unable to walk or even stand without some kind of sup­port.

President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1944

He was crippled, as Rod poin­ted out, at a time when such a dis­ab­il­ity was a major prob­lem to someone who wanted to be prom­in­ent in public life. He labor­i­ously taught him­self to walk very short dis­tances while wear­ing cum­ber­some iron braces on his hips and legs by swiv­el­ling his torso and sup­port­ing him­self with a cane, and he was care­ful never to be seen using his wheel­chair in public.

Although his ill­ness was gen­er­ally known, the extent of his para­lysis was kept from public view, helpedby a gentlemen’s agree­ment with the Press that there would be no pho­to­graphs or cari­ca­tures reveal­ing his dis­ab­il­ity, and he would often stand for two or three hours while making speeches at public meet­ings, his leg irons and hip brace locked in pos­i­tion but con­cealed by a spe­cially con­struc­ted three-sided podium.

A rare pho­to­graph of FDR in a wheel­chair, 1941

Roosevelt tried a wide range of rem­ed­ies, and par­tic­u­larly favoured hydro­ther­apy. He believed that swim­ming in the warm, buoy­ant min­eral water of the Warms Springs resort in Georgia was bene­fi­cial. “Franklin Roosevelt will swim to health,” pro­claimed one news­pa­per head­line of the day. He became obsessed with it, to the extent that in 1926 he bought Warm Springs and turned it from a resort to an insti­tute for polio rehab­il­it­a­tion, set­ting up a non-profit organ­isa­tion able to bene­fit from tax-free gifts and char­it­able dona­tions.

The Georgia Warm Springs Foundation was renamed the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1927 and Keith Morgan, a suc­cess­ful insur­ance sales­man, was brought in to sell the idea to pro­spect­ive wealthy pat­rons, a busi­ness plan which fell victim to the Wall Street crash of 1929. Carl Byoir, a PR expert, was hired to raise the foundation’s pro­file and sug­ges­ted a nation­wide party to cel­eb­rate FDR’s birth­day in 1934, organ­ising 3,000 ‘birth­day balls’ around the coun­try. This became an annual event from which 70 per cent of the profits were retained by local com­munit­ies to provide care for polio vic­tims and 30 per cent went to the found­a­tion.

The name March of Dimes – a play on the title of a con­tem­por­ary American radio and news­reel series, The March of Time – was coined by Eddie Cantor, who was a radio show host as well as a pop­u­lar singer, comedian and screen star. The found­a­tion had decided at Byoir’s sug­ges­tion on a nation­wide fun­drais­ing cam­paign which would encour­age large num­bers of small dona­tions rather than a few large bequests, and Cantor inspired a fun­drais­ing cam­paign in the week before President Roosevelt’s birth­day on January 30, 1938.

Lapel pins were sold at ten cents (a dime) each, and thou­sands of people mailed cards and let­ters, each con­tain­ing a dime, to the White House. On the first day 30,000 dimes were received, on the second day 50,000 and on the third day 150,000. Along with the pro­ceeds from spe­cial events held by nightclubs and cab­arets, and spe­cial fea­tures pro­duced by motion pic­ture stu­dios and the radio industry, Cantor’s appeal raised more than $85,000 in what the Press called ‘a silver tide which actu­ally swamped the White House.’ Over the years, half a bil­lion dol­lars would be raised in the fight against polio.

The word polio­my­el­itis comes from the Greek words polios, mean­ing grey, and meulos or myelós, mean­ing marrow or spinal cord. It would often cause res­pir­at­ory para­lysis and Rod, who was born in 1948, struck a note with many in the audi­ence when he said: “In my early child­hood, when polio was men­tioned, the image which came into my mind was the iron lung.”

An iron lung ward in an American hos­pital

The big break­through in the erad­ic­a­tion of polio came in the period 1951 to 1953 when Dr Jonas Salk, a med­ical researcher and vir­o­lo­gist, was given more than $1 mil­lion in fund­ing by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in his quest to find a cure, and the Salk Vaccine was intro­duced in 1955. Salk’s ‘killed’ vac­cine was effect­ive in elim­in­at­ing most of the com­plic­a­tions of polio, but did not pre­vent the ini­tial intest­inal infec­tion.

But in late 1954, Salk’s rival Dr Albert Sabin had tested his ‘live’ atten­u­ated oral vac­cine, and between 1955 and 1961 the oral ver­sion was tri­alled on at least 100 mil­lion people in the USSR and other coun­tries. This provided the impetus for large-scale clin­ical trials of the oral vac­cine in the US, in the face of con­sid­er­able oppos­i­tion from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

Dr Jonas Salk (1914–1995)

Salk and Sabin hated each other,” Rod revealed. “There was a lot of rivalry. Many sci­ent­ists had long thought that a live, oral ver­sion made more logical sense, but the National Foundation wouldn’t sup­port the cost of another massive vac­cin­a­tion pro­ject before the Salk vac­cine was up and run­ning,”

However, from 1962 onwards the USA and much of the world switched to the Sabin ver­sion.


Are You Sitting Comfortably? – Dr Murray Wilson – 24th April 2017

This was the first time that I had heard our own member Murray Wilson give a talk, and as I took my seat I wondered whether we would be learn­ing about the long-running BBC children’s radio pro­gramme Listen With Mother (“Are you sit­ting com­fort­ably? Then I’ll begin”), the 1969 single recor­ded by the Moody Blues or the 1989 album by the rock band IQ.

I was wrong on all three counts, and I was quickly reminded of the huge depth of know­ledge and exper­i­ence within our own mem­ber­ship, often undis­covered and unac­know­ledged.

Murray, a med­ical prac­tioner and an anaes­thet­ist by pro­fes­sion, has also had a lifelong interest in trans­port of all types, and for 16 years served as a med­ical con­sult­ant to the Air Transport Users’ Council which now comes under the wing (excuse the pun) of the Civil Aviation Authority.

He has a par­tic­u­lar interest in pas­sen­ger air­craft seat­ing — thus the title of his present­a­tion — and talked us through the his­tory of air trans­port, from the earli­est days when air­craft had just a few wicker chairs and tables in sur­round­ings more akin to a cock­tail lounge, to today’s sardine tin jumbo jets, or alu­minium tubes as Murray described them, cap­able of car­ry­ing well over 500 pas­sen­gers in cramped con­di­tions (unless you can afford Business Class).

From this …

                                                                                                        … to this

The double-decker Airbus A380-800 is cer­ti­fied for up to 853 pas­sen­gers (538 on the main deck and 315 on the upper), achiev­able with a one-class con­fig­ur­a­tion, although Airbus them­selves refer in their mar­ket­ing mater­ial to a “com­fort­able three-class” 544-passenger con­fig­ur­a­tion. However, the Emirates air­line have squeezed in a fur­ther 71 seats to carry 615 pas­sen­gers in two classes.

By com­par­ison, the Boeing 247, pro­duced from 1933 and regarded as the first modern air­liner, car­ried just ten pas­sen­gers and a flight attend­ant. Even the early de Haviland Comet 1 air­craft, the world’s first com­mer­cial jet­liner which came into ser­vice in 1952, car­ried only 43 pas­sen­gers,

Today it is, as Murray explained, a huge global busi­ness with around 5,000 air­craft car­ry­ing a stag­ger­ing 700,000 pas­sen­gers in the skies around the world at any one time. It is all about bums on seats, quite lit­er­ally, and between 2018 and 2020 Boeing and Airbus between them are expec­ted to pur­chase 3.4 mil­lion seats for new air­craft coming off the pro­duc­tion line.

And from this (the last air­worthy Boeing 247) …






                                                                … to this (BA Airbus A380-800)

It is also a one-sided money making oper­a­tion. As Murray said when he gave evid­ence to the House of Lords report on Air Travel and Health in 2002: “The pas­sen­ger approaches the check-in desk more as a sup­plic­ant, rather than as a part­ner to an equal-sided con­tract.”

On the same theme, he told us: “Airlines want to pack as many people in as pos­sible. The more people they can get on the air­craft, the more money they make, and by pro­du­cing seats for the latest A380s which are 30 per cent lighter, they can save two tons in weight and thus make big sav­ings on fuel.”

But seats also have to be built to a required safety stand­ard and must be able to with­stand 16 g (grav­it­a­tional force) hori­zont­ally and ver­tic­ally, which would have the effect of con­vert­ing a weight of 10 stones into one ton.

There are also strict rules imposed by the CAA on the spa­cing of seats, with a min­imum of 26 inches of knee to but­tock length (British Airways cur­rently allow 29 inches in Economy Class) and seven inches between the seat squab and the back of the seat in front.

There is no min­imum width, though even a rel­at­ively gen­er­ous size can have prob­lems in these days of mount­ing obesity among pas­sen­gers. Virgin Atlantic agreed a £13,000 set­tle­ment with a lady pas­sen­ger who claimed she had been crushed and injured by an obese pas­sen­ger in the adja­cent seat.

Samoa has one of the world’s highest obesity rates at 74.6 per cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion, and Murray explained how their national air­line, Samoa Air, became the first to charge pas­sen­gers by weight, intro­du­cing an XL class — and a row of wider seats — for pas­sen­gers weigh­ing more than 20.4 stones.

A ques­tion and answer ses­sion at the end of the present­a­tion brought the inev­it­able ques­tion: “Where is the safest place to sit on a plane?” Murray’s dry humour revealed itself when he replied: “There is no simple answer to that. But air­craft don’t usu­ally back into things.”

I’ll remem­ber that next time I am check­ing in.


Sheffield Hospitals in World War I — Dr Michael Collins — 6th March 2017

Much of Sheffield’s part in win­ning the First World War, such as the man­u­fac­ture of arma­ments and the sac­ri­fices made by the city’s own sol­diers on the front line, has been well doc­u­mented.

Less well known, per­haps, is the huge con­tri­bu­tion made during the con­flict by the city’s numer­ous hos­pit­als in treat­ing no fewer than 70,000 wounded sol­diers from all over Britain — as well as coun­tries such as Belgium, America and Canada — who were trans­por­ted from the bat­tle­fields of France and Belgium by train to Sheffield’s Midland Station.

Dr Mike Collins, who stud­ied medi­cine at Galway University in his native Ireland but whose career was as a con­sult­ant radi­olo­gist in Sheffield until his retire­ment four years ago, is a member of the Sheffield Hospitals History Group, and he gave us a fas­cin­at­ing present­a­tion entitled The Treatment of Soldiers in Sheffield Hospitals During World War I – A story of chal­lenges and bene­fits.

Having listened to his thought-provoking present­a­tion, what for me was the sig­ni­fic­ant word in that title was ‘chal­lenges.’ They were huge – logist­ical and fin­an­cial, as well as med­ical .

The fig­ures are mind bog­gling. For the dur­a­tion of the war (and in fact until 1920), Sheffield became home to the 3rd Northern General Hospital, not as in the Northern General Hospital we know today, but as one of the main centres of treat­ment for wounded sol­diers in the north of England (Leeds, for example, formed the 2nd Northern General Hospital).

The ‘base’ hos­pital was what had been a teacher train­ing col­lege in Collegiate Crescent, better known today as the Collegiate Campus of Sheffield Hallam University, which was fitted out with oper­at­ing theatres and wards.

The base hos­pital, still very recog­nis­able today, at Ecclesall Road/Collegiate Crescent

Fir Vale Infirmary, which 50 years later would become today’s Northern General, was the biggest of the city’s exist­ing hos­pit­als — with 500 beds — to be used for the treat­ment of wounded sol­diers. Ecclesall Infirmary, later known as Nether Edge Hospital, had 150 beds, the Royal Hospital on West Street had 140, the Royal Infirmary on Infirmary Road had 133 and Winter Street Hospital (St George’s) had 120 .

But by far the biggest centre for the treat­ment and recu­per­a­tion of sol­diers, with no fewer than 2,000 beds, was the former Wadsley Lunatic Asylum at Middlewood which became known as the Wharncliffe Hospital. It opened as a war hos­pital in May 1915 and oper­ated until July 1920, lat­terly as a dis­persal centre, by which time there had been 36,665 admis­sions.

Staffing these centres of treat­ment, as Britain struggled to cope with the repat­ri­ation of two and a half mil­lion sol­diers, were officers from the Royal Army Medical Corps based at what is now the Yorkshire Regiment reserve centre in Glossop Road, exist­ing doc­tors and nurses from the vari­ous hos­pit­als, local GPs, uni­ver­sity staff and nurses from vol­un­tary organ­isa­tions such as the Red Cross.

The base hos­pital at Collegiate Crescent also con­trolled con­vales­cent homes in an area stretch­ing as far afield as Derby, with local centres such as Greystones School and Bramall Lane cricket pavil­ion (150 beds each), Lydgate Lane School (130 beds) and Carterknowle School (115 beds).

Commanding Officer of the whole set-up was Lt Col Arthur M. Connell, later pro­fessor of sur­gery, whose por­trait hangs in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital to this day.

Dr Collins accom­pan­ied his talk with slides of ori­ginal pho­to­graphs and excerpts from such items as house sur­geons’ day books from the vari­ous hos­pit­als, which he had gleaned from the Sheffield City Council Archives in Shoreham Street. Mike praised Sheffield as being one of the best cities in the coun­try for keep­ing his­tor­ical records. “The archives form a won­der­ful resource,” he said.

Photographs of wounded sol­diers arriv­ing in Sheffield are rel­at­ively rare, for the simple reason that the author­it­ies knew that the arrival of thou­sands of war wounded into the city would be bad for the morale of the local civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, so the move­ments were often car­ried out under cover of dark­ness.

A bus car­ry­ing wounded Belgian sol­diers from Sheffield Midland Station enters Collegiate Crescent from Ecclesall Road

Most of the arrivals would be at night,” Mike explained. “The cas­u­al­ties were trans­por­ted by train from the south­ern ports to the Midland Station, and from there taken to one of the hos­pit­als in either open-topped buses, in the case of the walk­ing wounded, or in four-person ambu­lances in the case of the more badly injured.”

Typical entries in the sur­geons’ reports were: “Today we received 20 sol­diers who have just been on active ser­vice in Belgium, some of them extremely ser­i­ously injured… We have received 400 sick and ter­ribly wounded sol­diers in four days… Because of the short­age of res­id­ent officers, ward sis­ters are to be trained to admin­is­ter anaes­thetic…”

Somewhat bizar­rely, a report from May 1915 com­plained: “We have the almost intol­er­able situ­ation of people coming into the hos­pital and hos­pital grounds, who have no busi­ness to be there but want to see the sol­diers.”

They would get their chance later when sol­diers — who might be suf­fer­ing from head injur­ies, burns or ampu­ta­tions — had recovered suf­fi­ciently to be allowed out to walk around Sheffield prior to their trans­fer to one of the recu­per­a­tion centres or, in less severe cases, back to fight­ing in the war.

While the city’s hos­pit­als were in danger of being over­whelmed by the influx of cas­u­al­ties, the situ­ation also brought fin­an­cial prob­lems, par­tic­u­larly for the Royal Hospital and Royal Infirmary which were both run by char­it­able bodies funded by dona­tions from the public. They were forced to appeal to cent­ral gov­ern­ment for help.

The situ­ation also had a major impact on the local pop­u­la­tion, who were unable to get into hos­pital for routine treat­ment. At Wharncliffe, the former lun­atic asylum, more than 1,600 inmates had to be trans­ferred out into the wider soci­ety, although just a dozen were retained to tend the hos­pital farm. More than 130 staff from the asylum were given med­ical train­ing at the Royal Infirmary over a period of just two weeks to pre­pare them for the influx of wounded sol­diers.

Perhaps it was more than coin­cid­ence that Wharncliffe’s spe­ci­al­it­ies included treat­ment — in what became known as the ‘mental block’ — for shell shock, or post-traumatic stress dis­order as we call it today, and other psy­chi­at­ric con­di­tions. Sheffield’s hos­pit­als and their staff played a cru­cial role in help­ing to heal the ter­rible wounds, both phys­ical and psy­cho­lo­gical, of what was optim­ist­ic­ally called the war to end all wars.