Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Dunham Massey WW1 Hospital

We were going to visit the Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill today but unfortunately, it was closed. I don't think we'll get there until spring now as the only tours over winter are at 2pm in the afternoon which is too late for us as we have to pick Thomas up from school. 

Instead we went to Dunham Massey where there was a WW1 exhibition on. Between April 1917-February 1919 Lady Stamford turned her house over to the Red Cross and it became Stamford Military Hospital. The exhibition has been on for 2 years and ends on 11th November so we were lucky to catch it. 

I've no idea why, but I always think that because it's in the week wherever I go will be really quiet. Not so, the car park was packed but the visits to the house were timed so we weren't all squashed in at once which meant there was plenty of space to move and have a good look around.

On the walk though the grounds to reach the house there are several posters used during the war reminding you of your obligations with a large dose of guilt and shame thrown in for good measure.
 A walk under the clock tower....
 ... brings you to the house which was built in the 1730's by George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington. 
 An important part of the history of the house was during WW1 when it was turned into a military hospital by Lady Stamford. In total over the 2 years it was open, 282 soldiers were treated here, including 9 Canadians. It was originally supposed to be an Officer's hospital, but for whatever reason, Lady Stamford changed her mind and the hospital treated regular soldiers or 'tommies'.

The ward, which was known as 'Bagdad', was set up in the huge dining room and soldiers were treated for different things, such as gas poisoning, amputations and brain injuries. It was interesting to see that each bed had the hospital chart of a real soldier who had been treated on the ward. As you can see Private Stewart was being treated for shrapnel wounds to his right thigh and part of his treatment was 'open air cure' which meant he spent his days outisde in a hut.

There weren't many things that you couldn't touch but this bedhead, bedding and screen were off limits as they were originals from the ward. 

The exhibition was brought to life by actors who took on the roles of soldiers and nurses. You weren't allowed to talk to them or ask any questions though, they were in WW1 mode and just going about their day to day business (with 30 people watching them). 

These two soldiers were obviously on the mend and while we were looking around a room casually wandered in on crutches chatting away between themselves, for a game of chess. 

All around the ward were original quotes from the soldiers and nurses which had been taken from their letters, diaries and medical records.
As well as the usual display boards, snippets of information and thoughts were written on socks, ties, plaster casts, cups, blankets, pillows and so on. Reading this one on the sock made me think that although we have 21st century medical knowledge in a lot of cases basic care and compassion is now sadly missing. I can't imagine any nurse rubbing somebody's feet for 15 minutes these days.
Although on the plus side, I don't suppose many people suffer from trench foot now and our supply cupboards are probably better stocked. 
And everything was meticulously written up in the ward book. Reading this was quite sad. 100 years later and we are still fighting wars and our soldiers are still being treated for similar injuries such as amputations. 
The view from the ward must have been heaven compared to the trenches the men had arrived from and one of the notices which made me smile said the first things they always asked for was a cup of tea and a cigarette. You'd definitely not get a ciggie these days no matter what you'd been through. 
One of the more major operations carried out at Stamford Military Hospital was the removal of two pieces of shrapnel from a soldier's head. Lady Jane Grey, the daughter of Lady Stamford assisted at the operation aged only 18 years old. Her job was to hold the torch so the surgeon could see what he was doing. Sadly although one piece was moved the soldier later died at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Other soldiers were more lucky, if you could call it that. Having had his foot amputated at a field hospital, Sgt Percy Chaplin arrived at Stamford with a badly infected wound which wouldn't heal so it had to be amputated further. He was Stamford's longest staying patient but did find love during his stay and ended up marrying one of the housemaids.
After another lovely National Trust lunch of casserole for Mark and spicy parsnip soup for me we went for a walk around the grounds.
Then popped into the kitchens to see what was going on. They were all set up for a school visit. In one room chefs hats were set out for a bit of bread making and in another room oranges, cloves and spices were laid out. The smell was lovely.

Then it was time to leave the 1900's and head back to 2015 for the school run.

It's a shame I didn't know this exhibition was on sooner. It's one of those things I could visit several times and still find fascinating. There were about 28 beds in the ward and I'd love to have read every one of the soldier's medical charts. 

Hopefully, now that things are nearing completion at Number 14 I'll be more switched on with what's happening and better prepared for future visits to NT properties. 



  1. what an amazing place. I'm glad you got to visit.
    Got to scoot, but wanted to stop by and say hello! x

    1. It was really interesting. The house and grounds are worth a visit on their own but it was definitely an added bonus to be able to see the exhibition. xx

  2. I'd really like to see the exhibition which looks so very interesting. My dad served in the Royal Army Medical Corps for 12 years, which included the Second World War, and so was based in military hospitals in various parts of the world. I loved his stories.

    1. It was really good, I'm glad we managed to catch it just before it ended. There were loads of little snippets to read that the soldiers and nurses had written and the ward charts made it really personal. I bet your Dad saw some sights in his 12 years, good and bad. My grandad was in Africa in WW2 but never really talked about it. xx

  3. Just WOW! What a bloody brilliant day out. I'm sad you didn't pop by and Spring me from school and take me with you! I am with you, I'd love to read all those charts.

  4. It was really good Rachel. Just the sort of social history I like. It's just a shame I didn't find out about it sooner, I'd definitely have gone back a couple more times to read those charts and there's always something you don't see the first time around as well. I promise to come by and get you when they do another exhibition. I'll even write you an absence note to the Head in return for your lunch money :) xx