ELHAS Meeting Report - January 2012

Meeting Report January 2012

The meetings programme for 2012 got off to a flying start with a packed audience of 53 eager to hear Mrs Betty Smithson's talk about the history of Seacroft hospital. Betty, who is a Lancastrian, came to Leeds in 1948 at the very start of the National Health Service to begin her nurses training. She has been here ever since and has worked at all the Leeds hospitals. She ended her career as Assistant Director of Nurse Education at St James's Hospital. Since retiring Betty has maintained her links with the medical profession by doing voluntary work at all the hospitals and the Thackray Museum. She also holds the posts of president of the L.G.I. Nurses League and Chair of the National Health Service Retirement Fellowship.
Betty began her talk by describing the beginnings of health provision in the city when in 1802 the city fathers built a' House of Recovery' for patients who were too ill to work. This was replaced in 1846, at a cost of £7,000, with a hospital in Beckett Street which had 22 wards with bed space for six patients in each.

The land for Seacroft Infectious Diseases hospital was acquired by buying New Manston Hall estate, former home of the Waud family. The Waud family had been involved in mining in the district, but by this time had become bankrupt. The new buildings for the hospital opened in 1904 by which time the site was accessible by tram to Halton Dial. We were intrigued to hear that all the wards were built on stilts so that any work required to pipe work, electric cables etc, could be carried out without workmen entering the wards, thus reducing the possibility of infection. Equally interesting was the fact that the hospital only purchased its first motorised ambulance in 1919, before that all the ambulances were horse drawn. When the hospital opened it was mainly to nurse cases of scarlet fever, diphtheria and enteric fever. Betty illustrated the growth of the hospital over the years by quoting the figures for scarlet fever cases in the first year - 240, compared to a tenfold increase to 2674 in 1934 along with 2401 cases of diphtheria. In 1907 the hospital introduced a programme of training for fever nurses, but this was only recognised by the General Nursing Council in 1925. Seacroft played its part during both world wars, in WW1 serving as an infectious diseases hospital and in WW2 as a medical hospital. This was also the time when two of the wards housed German prisoners of war.

In 1957 it became a children's hospital and that decade saw it nursing the first of the poliomyelitis patients. This was the time when Betty began her career there. She regaled us with stories of nurses shinning up drainpipes into the nurse's home late at night and midnight parties when the drink of choice was lemonade. She also recalled that they frequently had travelling families camping in the grounds along with their livestock and told us it was not uncommon to find horses or even cows wandering the corridors. What came across very vividly during Betty's talk was how much she had loved working there and we were delighted to hear her descriptions of the lovely rural aspect of the hospital grounds and the camaraderie she had enjoyed with all the staff. Betty ended her talk by bringing us up to date with latest developments at the hospital, which amongst other things is the city's centre of excellence for infertility treatment and prosthetics fitting. After her talk Betty was engulfed by former colleagues who crowded round to share their memories and view the lovely selection of photos she had brought to show us.

The next meeting on Monday 27th February 2012 will be an illustrated talk by Louise Ann Hand from the local studies department of Leeds Central Library entitled 'A Pictorial History of Quarry Hill'.