Cottage Hospital , Jessie Roberts Remembers
Jessie's memories of working in the cottage hospital as a young girl of 16.
I left School at 15 and all I ever wanted to do was cook! I went to Watson's Bakers in Wilmslow to train. I got through into the improving stage and was doing very well but then got a skin condition which was irritated by the flour, so I had to leave.
Dad came home on Friday night and said "I've found just the job for you; they need an Assistant Cook at Alderley Edge Cottage Hospital." "I can't go there, what about the smell of anaesthetic?" Dad said "You won't smell the anaesthetic in the kitchen; you will be able to learn all about diets!" I very reluctantly went for the interview, taking my Mum with me. When we arrived Matron Moxon looked me up and down and said "You have good feet and teeth; I don't think you should be in the kitchen, I need a fourth Probationary Nurse and I think you will fit in very well." Matron Moxon was quite deaf so even if I had dared to answer back she probably wouldn't have heard me. When we got outside the door she called out "I'll see you on May 18t" (1947). I said to Mum, "She won't see me on May 1st" and Mum said, "Let's talk about it," which we did as we walked back to Mottram. "I can't take the job, I couldn't nurse anybody" I said to Mum. "I want you to just give it a try" said Mum.
On May 1st Dad took me down to Alderley Cottage and I was met at the door by Ida, Matron's maid. Ida was dressed in black and white looking like she had come out of Dickens; her appearance I found very scary. Ida wore green and white in the mornings, blue and white at lunchtimes and black and white in the evening. She took me upstairs to my room which I was to share with a girl I had been at school with, Mary Faulkner. She gave me my uniform, a Butterfly Cap, dress and apron. I said "I can't wear that, I am not a nurse!" "Yes you can, come down for supper at 8 o'clock." So I reluctantly put it on and went down for supper. "Sit at the top end of the table Nurse," said Matron. "The last Probationer always sits at the top end." There were 4 Probationer Nurses, 2 Staff Nurses, Staff Nurse Lee, Staff Nurse Preace and Sister Suffell and Matron at the top of the table. I could hardly eat anything because I was so frightened but Matron insisted that I must eat. After supper we went upstairs to bed and I said to Mary "I can't stop here." "You'll be alright in the morning." She said. That night I lay awake and heard the church clock strike every hour. In the morning I got up, put on my uniform and went down for breakfast, again Matron insisted that I ate something. After breakfast Matron said I was to go with Mary to the Female Ward. She gave me a long handled duster and said I was to dust the Ward. I walked into the Ward and the first two people I saw were from Mottram, my next door neighbour Mrs Batley who was in for a Mastectomy and Lily Burgess who was in for a hysterectomy. We cleaned the Ward and then I was shown the Sluice and how to clean the bed-pans and sputum mugs. I didn't know what the sputum mug was for until later.
The next thing I remember was the Monday morning and Sister Suffell calling me to meet Dr. Sankey the Anaesthetist. He was covered from head to toe in white, just his eyes and nose showing; I thought he looked like somebody from the Klu Klux Klan. I was to find out he was a very lovely, gentle soul but I was very scared of him at the time. He instructed me to stand at one end of the trolley and told me, "Just stand here little girl we are going into the Female Ward to see a lady (Mrs Timperley) who is going to have a hysterectomy and I want you to imagine what you would feel like in her shoes, I want you to reassure her."
Dr Sankey introduced me as Nurse Roberts. He showed me how to push the poles through the canvas, "You take the bottom end Nurse and I'll take the top." We lifted her onto the trolley and pushed her down to Theatre. I thought that was my job done but no, the Theatre was virtually next to the dining room, which was separated only by the anaesthetic room, which we hardly ever used. It was more like a storeroom. We would go straight into theatre and anesthetise there. "Now Nurse Roberts I want you to help Mrs Timperley to breath in and out, I will put a mask over her face." This was a metal mask lined with lint and he sprinkled ether on it. Mrs. Timperley and I breathed in and out, in and out, and I nearly fainted, the Theatre Sister saw the colour of me and suggested I leave and get a cup of tea. At lunch time Matron informed me that I was off duty from 1.00 until 4.30 and to go and have a lie down. I went to my room, got changed, left by the side door and virtually ran all the way back to Mottram.
I walked into the kitchen at home to Mum's surprise, "What on earth are you doing here?" "I'm off duty but I'm not going back!" "Yes you are," she said. “Go and have a sleep then you'll feel better!" I did sleep very well, perhaps it was the ether? Mum made me egg and tomatoes and said, "You will have to catch the 4.30 bus back to Alderley as Dad won't be back till 6 and even then you will be late back on duty" "Please don't send me back" I pleaded but she said I must and if I made up my mind not to stay I must tell Matron.
Matron was waiting at the front entrance for and asked me where I had been. When I told her I had been home she said, "You will not go home now for 2 weeks, you will stay here." I didn't dare answer her back so I went to my room and got ready to go back on duty. We assembled as usual for supper with Matron at the head. Nobody sat until Matron was seated. "Make sure Nurse Roberts has a good portion, she must eat!" The Cook was Ruth Mellor at the time and the food was very good.
One Sunday that sticks in my mind Sister Suffell said, "I want you to go and repair all the rubber gloves we use in theatre." "How do I do that?" I said. "It's just like mending a puncture, blow the gloves up and see where the air escapes and then put a patch on it. When there are no more holes, dust them with powder, which is in the cupboard and put them on lint, and put them in the drum. Fill the drum, close it and polish it with metal polish." Not knowing where the powder was kept I said to Betty who was cleaning the floor, (Betty came from Mary Dendy) "Can you tell me where the powder is kept?" "I don't know" she said "but those tins contain powder" and she pointed to the tins on the shelf. When the drums were all full I told Walton, the Porter, whose job was to stoke the boiler, and he said they would be sent to Macclesfield to be sterilised. On the Monday morning, which was "Tonsil morning" I was working in the sluice and suddenly I heard a voice, "Where is Nurse Roberts, where is Nurse Roberts?" It was Sister Suffell. When Sister was mithered she had a habit of pulling her floating cap down and sniffing! "What did you do those gloves with lovee," and I could hear people laughing in the theatre. "What did you do?" she asked again. "I did what you told me and Betty showed me which powder to use." I had used plaster of Paris powder and the gloves were all like rock. Mr Rigby was the E.N.T. Surgeon and he was here to remove tonsils that morning and Dr Sankey the Anaesthetist. Mr Rigby couldn't look at me for laughing and said "Nurse, we will have to delay the tonsil list this morning and send to Macclesfield for some more drums." That was an episode I was never to live down but Matron said, "You will never make that mistake again Nurse." No, I thought, because I'm not stopping.
Later that day I went into the Female Ward to ask what they would like for supper. Supper was spinach soup followed by sausage and mash. The two ladies on the Ward were Mrs Goodall and Miss Wigglesworth, both sat in bed with winceyette nighties fastened up to their chins. Miss Wigglesworth had a lisp. "Spinach soup and sausage and mash, I've never heard anything like it! Spinach soup with sausage and mash" she said. "Would you like one or both?" I asked. "I'll have sausage and mash but no condiments! I don't have condiments!" I asked Mrs. Goodall," What are condiments?" Salt and pepper was the reply.
Three times a day we had to treat all pressure areas with soap and water, bottoms dried and methylated spirits rubbed in and followed by talcum powder. Three times a day every patient had to be treated and of course a bath or bed bath every day.
One day the Committee from Macclesfield came to look around and inspect everything. This was before things were nationalised. The Committee walked into the Female Ward and in the first two beds were Mrs. Goodall and Miss Wigglesworth. Mr. Siggins, who was the Hospital Secretary for many years, said "Why are you here?" "What keeps you here?" Two very embarrassed ladies looked at him and Miss Wigglesworth said, "Female complaints." (She had a lisp.) Mr. Siggins turned to me, "What's that Nurse?"
"You will have to ask Matron" was my reply.
The time came when I had to go on night duty. This was 6 weeks of night duty, you never had a night off but one night a week you would go on duty at 11.00 instead of 8.00. At 16 years of age you can imagine I was very tired at the end of the 6 weeks. Nora Twigg, who lived on Elm Crescent, in Alderley Edge, was an S.E.N. on night duty and I liked it when she was on duty as she was so nice but when the other Night Sister, who was from Newcastle was on duty things were very different. She was horrible to me. I suffered from Night Nurses Paralysis. After we had taken round the evening drinks, changed sheets etc., and made people comfortable we would go and sit in the dining room until someone rang needing a drink or a bedpan. When the bell went I wouldn't be able to get off the chair and that is when Sister.... would shout at me to move and push me out of the chair. Nora Twigg would take a very different approach and talk to me very calmly and I would come out of it much quicker.
Another day that sticks in my mind was a lady from Henbury, Mrs Garside, she had had a cholecystectomy. In those days it was a very serious operation, there were a lot of risks with it and Mrs Garside in Ward 3, which was a Private Ward, had had her gall bladder removed and unfortunately died. The Night Sister from Newcastle said to me "I want you to go and lay her out." Well! I had never seen anybody dead before and I said to Sister “I don't know how to" and her reply was, "Take your Evelyn Pearce Nursing Book with you." I went and stood at the side of the bed and said a prayer. "Please Lord Help me!" and I carried on talking to her as if she was still alive. The book said to remove all dressings so I put a dressing towel (abdominal dressing) over her, this had a hole in the middle to go over the wound and I removed the old dressing. The drain shot out and the contents went everywhere. I shot under the bed (the beds were very high) and ran out to the Female Ward and Mrs. Batley, my next door neighbour said, "Are you alright Jessie?" "Yes, would you like a drink Mrs Batley?" "Are you alright?" she asked again. "Yes! Yes! I've just come to see if you want a drink?"
Suddenly a voice called down the corridor. "What are you doing in there Nurse?" "I'm just getting Mrs Batley a drink Sister." "You are not getting drinks, get back in there."
I went back to Mrs Garside, bathed here and put new dressings on and an operation gown on her. This took me a long time as I was reading from the book as I didn't know what I was doing. I gathered the sheets and took them to the sluice and put them in one of the baths filled with carbolic. I had to give up catering because of my skin condition and here I was putting my hands in a carbolic bath. I went out of the sluice and turned towards the cobbled yard, on the other side was the Mortuary and there stood a man complete with trilby hat knocking on the door. I was terrified; he gave me such a shock. "Yes, can I help you?" "I have come to see my daughter Mrs Garside." He had travelled by train from London and Sister hadn't told me that he was expected. I went to Sister and she told me to take him to the dining room and give him a cup of tea and carry on with my job. I closed the door on Ward 3 and didn't go back in even though I knew that I hadn't finished as the bed was still unmade. After the visitor left I was in big trouble. Sister came to me and told me what a terrible job I had done. My reply was that I had never done it before and I was unable to turn her on my own. The next morning when I met Staff Nurse Preace she asked me what was wrong? I told her what had happened and again said that I had never seen a dead body before. "You were made to lay her out on your own Nurse?" Later Staff Nurse Preace spoke to Matron and I was sent for. I thought I was in trouble. "What has happened?" asked Matron. I explained about Mrs Garside and Matron said "Leave it with me."
The next night I was very worried about going on night duty and I told the Staff Nurses. "Don't you worry, she has gone," they said.
On tonsil day the Male Ward was cleared for the 7 children, as they were only in overnight and after having their tonsils out the Probationary Nurse was left in charge of supervising these children, continually taking pulses and checking the temperatures to make sure they were alright. One lovely little boy, who I had admitted the day he arrived, I realised was not a good colour and on further investigation I realised he was not breathing. I picked him up by his feet and hung him upside down, as you would a baby, and slapped him on the back and a great clot came out. I rang the bell and Matron and the staff came to help. "Well done Nurse" said Matron, "We will take over now." In those days if you wanted your G.P. to operate on you they could and Dr. Walsh, particularly, from Wilmslow did operate quite a lot, particularly at night if it was an emergency. Sometimes he had had a drink and Matron would say that he operated better if he had had a drink! Some children still had their tonsils removed at home on the kitchen table.
The next day she sent for me and I thought this is it, I don't care if she sacks me but she said, "Nurse you must go and train, I have informed your father and he agrees and your parents want you to go to Manchester Royal but I would like you to go to Sheffield."
Unbeknown to me an interview was arranged at Manchester and I attended the interview with Mum. There were several girls there for interviews who had been at good hospitals and one girl that had even been to University but there was also a girl who had been at a cottage hospital in Congleton, probably Congleton War Memorial.
She said, "If you come out with a big envelope you have got in, just wait and see what happens." In the interview room there were 3 Matrons sat behind the large desk, Miss Duff-Grant, Head Matron, Miss Vaughan-Jones and Miss Combat-Hicks, Well was I scared, I had only just got used to Matron Moxon.
Dr. McKesick was the first Dr. at the Cottage followed by Dr. Alison, Dr. Wallace and Dr. Edwards. Dr. Alison was the first Dr. and he travelled around on his bike going up to the Edge to visit the Agnews and the Boddington families who lived in the big houses. Dr. Alison would return with a cheque which he gave to Matron. She would say "Well done Jock." She always called him by his first name. Eventually Dr. Alison was bought a car, Reg. CBU 243, possibly paid for by the people up the hill. When we saw him coming up the slope to the Cottage we would shout, 'Here comes CBU 243!' It was a big novelty in those days. Dr Alison was a lovely person, loved by all and later Dr. Wallace came and we loved him as much (he was Scottish) and then Dr. Edwards who could be a little daunting.
All the shopping for the Cottage was done in the village and if we ran out of bread the Probationer, usually me, was sent to the Royal Oak Pub across the road. Mrs. Clee worked there and she would invite me in. "Oh no I cannot come into a Pub" (I had been told by my Mum never to go into a Pub) and I would stand on the doorstep and wait. I would take the bread back to the Cook, Ruth Mellor and she would look down the list and send me off to Wood's the Butchers with a list of meat she wanted. I would visit Cumberbirchs the Chemist with prescriptions and to Fitchetts for the vegetables.
On entering the Cottage through the front door all patients were registered at the large desk. The Female Ward of 7 beds was to the left, 1 Amenity Ward and 1 Private Ward. To the right was the 7 bed Male Ward and 2 further Private Rooms. At the side of each ward was a sluice complete with bath.
The people of Alderley Edge really bought the Cottage and that is why it was so sad when it was sold. Patients were always very happy to come into the Cottage if they had to have an operation; people just loved the Cottage Hospital.
As each day passed I became more comfortable with my work, still very nervous but started to enjoy my time in this very beautiful hospital. I started my training at Manchester Royal in 1950 and then Altrincham General Hospital. After Altrincham I went to the Duchess of York Hospital and then to Macclesfield. Eventually I became a Sister sometimes working nights and in theatre. After my marriage and the birth of my two sons I returned to work at Alderley Edge Cottage Hospital.