Meeting Report January 2012
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'.