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Anne Logie, Historic Environment Volunteer, writes:

On 10 September 1915 the following notice appeared in the Hendon & Finchley Times:-

“The Red Cross Hospital at Hanworth Park, organised by the County of Middlesex, is now ready for the reception of sick and wounded, and will be open for inspection during next week, September 5th to 11th, from 3 to 5 pm each day.  The President, Mrs Leopold de Rothschild, and the committee will welcome any visitors who are interested in the undertaking.  Cards of admission may be obtained on application to the hon. secretary.  The hospital is about ten minutes’ walk from Feltham Station, and arrangements will be made to meet trains upon hearing the time visitors may be expected.”

The said hon. secretary was Mr Edward Young, and the Administrative Committee was formed of Mrs Leopold de Rothschild, the Countess Percy, and Lady Hillingdon.  Mr Young had written to the Editor of the Hendon & Finchley Times on 2 September asking for this information to be published in the next issue, but his letter appears to have arrived too late for inclusion in the 3 September edition.

On 11 September, under a heading “A Sylvan Retreat For Tommy” the Middlesex Chronicle published a full and glowing report of its reporter’s tour of the hospital.  Hanworth House had been the residence of Mr A Lafone, JP, who had died in 1911.  It had now “passed into the hands of the Middlesex branch of the British Red Cross Society”.  The house had been considerably altered from “stately mansion” to its new purpose as a hospital for wounded soldiers.

The report says “Having first passed through the spacious court at the rear, and having gained the entrance to the house, the tour of inspection commenced.” The reporter described the various accommodations initially encountered, including the administrative and domestic offices, the kitchens, nurses’ dining room, etc.  It was noted with approval that all food preparation was kept separate from the hospital itself, which was upstairs.  There were lifts to take the food up to the patients.  This seems to suggest that entry to the hospital was at the back of the building, into what would otherwise be the basement, rather than through the original front door on the floor above. There is at least one lift shaft in Hanworth Park House now, but I don’t know whether it dates back to the hospital days.   Food could have been sent up in dumb waiter lifts.  The reporter noted that coal had largely been replaced by gas, a huge saving in labour, and there was electric light throughout, powered by the hospital’s own generator, as there was no electricity supply to the area.

The hospital had capacity for one hundred patients, and the newly redecorated rooms had varying numbers of beds ranging from sixteen in the largest ward to two in the smallest, and a single bedded room in case temporary seclusion were needed, e.g. in the case of a soldier having a nervous breakdown.  The rooms were light, airy, and modern in style and “from every window a view of the rare sylvan surrounding is obtained”.  The parkland setting of the hospital was particularly important as it was principally a place for recuperation.  The wounded would be taken from the battlefield to hospitals in London for initial surgery, and afterwards sent out of the metropolis to recover in the peace and fresh air of the suburbs.  Hanworth Park House had not only its park, but also large verandas where patients could sit or lie in the open air. Physical and emotional recovery were to be aided by the provision of games and entertainments.  A wooden floor had been laid in the conservatory to facilitate indoor games and a stage erected at one end.  It was hoped that a billiard table would be obtained soon.  Out across the “carpet-like lawn”, there were opportunities for sport – cricket, tennis, croquet, and bowls, the London Playing Field Society having provided the equipment, however the paper reported that “Mr. Young would still be grateful for the gift of a football, so here’s a chance for followers of the old winter game to help Tommy.”  Sport was held to be particularly good at bringing a man back to fighting form, ready to return to the front if possible.

The Hanworth Park Red Cross Military Hospital was attached to the King George V Red Cross Hospital near Waterloo Station, but had its own operating theatre for emergency use. The medical staff consisted of five doctors, drawn from Brentford, Feltham, Teddington, Hampton, and Hampton Court, two dentists, a matron and assistant matron, five nurses, and back up by volunteers from the Men’s Voluntary Aid Detachment from Teddington and Isleworth who acted as orderlies and ambulance drivers, and by “lady volunteers” who assisted the nurses.  An ambulance service had been arranged to bring the men from London.  One car had been presented by Mr Joynson-Hicks (MP for the Brentford Division), one by the Red Cross Society, two by Mrs de Rothschild, and one by Mr Tripp, “(a New Zealander, who has undertaken to drive it himself)”.  In later reports it becomes clear how hard the doctors worked, as they were also covering their own practices and those of their fellows who had joined the services.

Having dropped the hint about the billiard table, and directly appealed for a football, books, periodicals, and “illustrated publications”, the article moved on to set out the hospital’s financial position.  The War Office would make a fixed payment of a guinea a week for each bed occupied.  Obviously this would not cover the maintenance cost of unoccupied beds nor did it cover capital expenses.  The cost of the equipment and alterations had come to £2,500, and it was calculated that, after making allowance for the Government grant, the maintenance cost for one year would come to £1,300.  The first year’s costs would therefore total £3,800, of which approximately £2,850 had been subscribed, but the residents of Middlesex were “invited to assist in seeing that the balance is forthcoming”.  Assistance could be provided to the hospital by subscriptions or donations, and gifts in kind would be welcomed.

To me one of the most remarkable things about this hospital was its relationship to the community, and the commitment people made to supporting it and its patients, a pattern that was doubtless replicated throughout the country.  Both the Middlesex Chronicle and the Hendon & Finchley Times regularly carried notices and reports of fundraising activities at all levels.  Local schools paid regular weekly subscriptions, churches gave advance notice of services at which the collection would be for the benefit of the hospital, church flowers and Harvest Service produce were donated, there were concerts and sales of work, and donations of labour and goods.  The provision of entertainment was not one sided, as there were also regular reports of patients providing entertainment for the public.

Searching back through the excellent online British Newspaper Archive ( https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) the first glimmer of the Hanworth Red Cross Hospital appears to be a report in the Middlesex Chronicle of 20 February 1915 that a public meeting had been held at the Riding School, Syon House, for the purpose of forming a branch of the Red Cross Society in Brentford and Isleworth.  The Countess Percy had presided at the meeting, which was well attended.  On 6 March the paper published an open letter from Mr Edward Young, the Honorary Secretary of the Brentford and Isleworth Red Cross Society, reporting that following the public meeting the Brentford and Isleworth Committee of the Red Cross Society had decided on five branches of activity which would be the most useful for its members, the first on the list being the provision of an auxiliary hospital, and as the provision of a hospital able to meet the requirements of the Army Council would be too big an undertaking for any one division it was hoped that the various divisions of the Red Cross Society within Middlesex could work together to achieve this.  At the initial meeting Countess Percy had stressed that she did not wish the new Red Cross division to interfere with any other society, and from the various reports it appears that initially the Brentford and Isleworth division was working with other organisations including the St John’s Ambulance.  On 27 March the Middlesex Chronicle reported that the committee was in negotiation to acquire the Percy House Schools as the location of the Middlesex Red Cross Hospital, although a definite decision had not yet been made, but on 3 July it reported that the Percy Schools Hospital had been opened without Red Cross Society involvement.  The 27 March article is interesting for its illustration of the competitiveness between localities and organisations as they vied with one another to demonstrate the superiority of their patriotism and generosity.  Interesting too for the murmur of discontent from some that the government was not providing funding for a hospital which it required.

Clearly things were moving on apace as the next reference I picked up was in the 16 July 1915 edition of the Hendon & Finchley Times, which reported that a meeting had been held with the object of establishing a branch of the Red Cross Society in Mill Hill.  That meeting was attended by Colonel Broom Giles, Director of the City of London Red Cross, and Dr H Bott, medical officer at the Hanworth Park Hospital, and Honorary Colonel of the 8th Middlesex Regiment.  The paper reported that Dr Bott “pointed out the advantages to the soldiers in the Hanworth Military Hospital, recently acquired and equipped by the British Red Cross Society”.  Some of the people at the meeting asked whether it would not be better for them to be giving their funds to their local hospital in Hendon, and it was agreed that funds would be provided for both.

On 7 August 1915 the Middlesex Chronicle reported a meeting convened at Hillingdon Court under the presidency of Mrs Leopold de Rothschild, at which Countess Percy, Lady Hillingdon, and Mr Herbert Nield, KC MP were present.  The report of Mr Nield’s contribution is particularly interesting for its description of the psychological damage being suffered by soldiers in this war, the proportion suffering “nervous disease” being greater than ever known before.  Middlesex had given over its new asylum at Napsbury, together with its staff, to the War Office.  The fitting and equipping of the Hanworth Park hospital was nearly complete and he anticipated that it would be second to none in the Metropolitan area.  Lady Hillingdon had donated £100 to the funds, and had undertaken to provide twenty-four of the beds, and to find £5 per month towards the maintenance costs.

A brief item in the Sunday Pictorial of 12 September 1915 about the opening of the hospital mentioned that before the war King Manoel had thought of buying Hanworth Park but decided on Fulwell instead.  It also stated that Mrs Leopold de Rothschild was paying the rent, and that she was sharing maintenance costs over and above the grants and other voluntary contributions with Countess Percy and Lady Hillingdon.  The support from the Percys was considerable.  The 11 September Middlesex Chronicle report on the opening of the hospital had noted that the bed tables and dining room tables were made by the carpenters at Syon House, and on 26 November 1915 the Hendon & Finchley Times reported that the Hanworth Park Hospital beds had been filled within a fortnight of opening and a second hospital with thirty beds had had to be opened at Syon House.  On 24 December 1915 the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette reported that the Duke of Northumberland (the Countess Percy’s father-in-law) had recently taken and furnished a large house at Feltham to be used as a rest hostel for the nurses working at the Hanworth Park Hospital. (The council later voted to exempt the house from liability for rates.)

On 24 September 1915 the Hendon & Finchley Times was able to report that the Mill Hill Red Cross Branch had sent £25 to establish a bed in the name of Mill Hill.  The people of Feltham funded a bed in 1916, although the only reference I have found to it was in respect of continuance of funding for a second year in 1917.  Feltham raised sufficient money for the second year to cover not only the funding of the bed but also the purchase of fruit for the soldiers’ 1916 Christmas and additional money to be put towards a carrying chair for the hospital.

The Hanworth Red Cross Hospital was given a major publicity boost when Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother, visited towards the end of October.  Although the visit was reported in various publications throughout the nation only the Middlesex Chronicle (30 October 1915) mentioned that it was a surprise visit, and when the Queen arrived “a large number of the patients were out at the time roaming about the district”.  Her journey appears to have been somewhat ill-starred as her return to London was delayed by a thunderstorm.

The 30 October 1915 edition of the Middlesex Chronicle contains the first of what was to be many reports of social activities linked to the hospital.  Under the heading “Children and the Wounded Warriors – An Interesting Social Evening” the paper reported that “over fifty of the wounded from the Hanworth Park Red Cross Hospital were entertained to a tea and entertainment at the Schools by members and workers of the Children’s Guild, Kings Messengers, and Church Lads’ Brigade with the help of a few friends”.  The programme included performances by “several of the wounded”, violin solos by Mr Harry Dawson, and “patriotic songs and recitations by the children” as well as a drill performed by ten little boys “to the great amusement of the heroes”.  The soldiers cheered the children and the children cheered the soldiers and then everyone sang “God Save The King”.  It was also reported that “Mrs Fox entertained a party of wounded soldiers from the Red Cross Hospital in the park at her residence “Holland Lodge” . They enjoyed a substantial tea, and were afterwards treated to some musical numbers.”

Throughout the remainder of the life of the hospital social and fundraising events were regularly reported in the press in varying degrees of detail.  They are fascinating as a window on a lost world, both in content and in style.  The reporting in newspapers of the time was more leisurely, and with more information than today, which seems odd given that the labour and time required – shorthand notes, typed stories, hand assembled letterset print – was so much greater than today. Speeches were often included verbatim complete with insertions to record laughter or applause.  There are splendid details, such as the reporting in the 18 March Middlesex Chronicle that while Mrs Reid had  “entertained parties of the men to tea”, Miss Reid had been undertaking collections “in which she has been ably assisted by her handsome collie dog, who is becoming quite a well-known feature in the locality” and the listing in the Middlesex Chronicle of 26 March 1916 of gifts to the hospital in the previous week: “Mrs Haslip, vests: Miss Leader and Mrs Tusby, new-laid eggs; Dr and Mrs Newton, Miss Reid and Miss E Hogg, cigarettes; the War Hospital Workshop, Ealing, leg rests; All Saints’ Depot, Chiswick, useful garments; and Mrs Henry, tennis rackets and net.”

On 18 March 1916 the Middlesex Chronicle reported that one of the wards in the hospital was to be named the Isleworth and Brentford Ward, as those two districts were supporting thirteen beds.  Latest donations included a set of boxing gloves given by Mrs Neville Reid, of the Oaks, and foils given by Mrs Leopold de Rothschild.  Mr Alfred Lafone had presented a small boat which was in daily use on the river which ran through the grounds.  Indeed some of the patients found the boat a convenient way of “going out of bounds” without climbing the fence.  What with the boxing, the fencing, and the escapes by boat it is sometimes difficult to remember that this was a place occupied by men wounded in the Great War.

Boxing featured prominently in the 29 July report of a visit by the King and Queen. The royal party was on the balcony overlooking that “carpet-like” lawn when the hospital’s commander “threw out to the men several pairs of gloves, to all of which attached a history, and rushing to pick them up with all the eagerness of frolicking schoolboys, the convalescents “got into them” and were soon engaged in friendly though exciting tussles, at which the King and Queen were highly amused.”

On learning that competitions in various sports were regularly organised for the men, and that at the end of each month the man with the highest number of points in all games was awarded a medal, the King said that he would like to present the medal for the July champion.   The outdoor championships took place two days later, watched by local members of the public, and although the King was not present the silver medal (for the men) and the bronze medal (for the women) were each inscribed “Hanworth Park Hospital Sports, July 26th, 1916, King’s Medal”.  As the bronze medal was won by a Nurse Tatham I take it that the female hospital staff and volunteers were encouraged to participate in at least some of the sports.

The Middlesex Chronicle report of 12 August 1916 marks the beginning of a new era at the Park.  Mr J A Whitehead, an aerocraft manufacturer based in Richmond, had just bought the Park from the executors of the estate of Mr Alfred Lafone, from whom the Red Cross had presumably been renting the hospital building.  Whitehead planned to extend his business into the grounds of the Park, and plans had already been submitted to the Council for the erection of offices on the Feltham side of the Park.  Until the war ended and Hanworth Park House was no longer needed for use as a hospital he would be living at Elmwood in the Park.  I’m not sure where Elmwood was, but the Park used to extend across what is now Elmwood Avenue, and there appears to have once been a building of a reasonable size in the region of Sandalwood Road, which is a possibility.  The paper looked forward to the development of an aerodrome at the Park.  This sits rather oddly with the idea of rural peace and quiet for the wounded men in the hospital, but perhaps as aeroplanes were still new and exciting their presence would have been of some interest and distraction.  The proximity of the hospital was certainly to be an advantage to Whitehead, as it provided on the spot medical assistance, particularly useful when his principal test pilot, Herbert Sykes, crashed his plane in the summer of 1917, although it could do nothing for Walter Smith who was taken there on 20 January 1917 after collapsing whilst working on the excavations at the Whitehead Aircraft Works site on Victoria Road.

Whitehead seems to have been a great showman and self publicist, and the 12 August article gives a lengthy description of an event created by him called “Mother’s Day”, a day when everyone was to celebrate the mothers whose sons had gone off to war.  Over four hundred women were transported by brake and charabanc from London after a send-off by the Lord Mayor, and cheered by crowds along their route, out to Hanworth Park for a day of sport and entertainment in which residents of the hospital and members of the public from surrounding areas were participants.

During the course of the day Whitehead’s workers made a presentation to him “as a token of appreciation and respect from his seven hundred odd employees and the members of the staff” who had “always found him a sport and a gentleman”, to which Whitehead replied “Who would not be a friend to the men who had helped him to make his money? A man who would not be a friend to men who had helped him to make his money, would not be worthy of the name of a man.  I can tell all my men here now that I am theirs, and if they will follow me I will take them on to their goal of independence.  If you all knew what it is to me to have these presentations made to me today, you would realise how difficult it is to say what is in my heart.” I find it impossible to imagine any business owner or leader today being so blunt about the nature of the relationship between workers and owners.

On 5 October 1918 the Middlesex Chronicle reported that over eighty patients from the Hospital were taken for a day out on the river accompanied by thirty “stout-hearted ladies” from the Hanworth Park Works of the Whitehead Aircraft Company.  The men were transported from Hanworth to Sunbury in lorries “lined with comfortable chairs.  The party boarded the “Sunbury Belle just below Sunbury Lock and then travelled up to Old Windsor lock, where they went ashore for an hour before making the return trip, “the ladies shepherding them all the way”.

On 2 November 1918 the Middlesex Chronicle published a report of an evening concert given at the hospital by the Skylarks Concert Party of the A.C.S. Depot, R.A.F., Sunbury and that is the last report I have seen of the hospital.  I have seen one internet site reference to it having closed in January 1919, but no source reference was included.  If Mr Whitehead did move in to Hanworth Park House his stay was probably brief, as business dropped after the war, The Whitehead Aircraft Ltd went into liquidation, and in 1920 Mr J A Whitehead was declared bankrupt. (source “Coming In To Land” Tim Sherwood, Heritage Publications)

 The information in this article was, as mentioned before, drawn principally from the newspapers which have been digitised and included in The British Newspaper Archive online, all of which is copyright and may not be reproduced without consent.  I do recommend this archive to anyone with even the most idle interest in things past.  The digitisation, which is an ongoing project, is being done in conjunction with The British Library, and not all papers are included, but it is very easy to search.  It may be consulted free of charge at The British Library, otherwise after a limited free taster it is a subscription service.

Copyright Notices:

Middlesex Chronicle (c) Trinity Mirror,  image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD

Exeter & Plymouth Gazette (c) Trinity Mirror.  Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD

Hendon & Finchley Times (c) successor rights holder unknown

Sunday Mirror (Sunday Pictorial) (c) Trinity Mirror, image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD

*Photograph of County Of Middlesex Red Cross Hospital, Hanworth Park – not known.  This image appears to be taken from a magazine or other publication.  Although it appears in several places on the internet, with and without its caption, I have not been able to trace the original publication.  Any information about it would be welcomed

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