The Leigh Nursing Association was set up after the First World War, largely to help the disabled from the War but, over the years, it became a fund which helped with all sorts of medical and caring problems in the village.
Mrs Rosemary Magnus lived in Porcupine House – then called The Gatehouse – with her husband, Hilary from 1953 until 1979. She was the Secretary to the Invalid Comfort Fund Committee in its last years and she has recently unearthed the Minute Books for both the Nursing Association and The Comfort Fund from 1933-1964 and has donated them to the Historical Society.
It is clear from the Minutes that by 1933 the Funds two primary tasks were to hire out items to help ill people at home in the village and to support the much respected village nurse, Nurse Christian. The Committee during the 1930’s consisted primarily of the splendid ladies – mainly but certainly not exclusively upper middle class ladies – who featured in “We Had Everything …” Mrs Bickersteth, Mrs Russell, Mrs Burt, Mrs North, Miss Hicks, Mrs Vivian Phillipps, Mrs Heney, Mrs Crawford in particular, with Lady Hollenden as an active President. Tennis tournaments, whist drives, hop-picking bins and jumble sales were held to raise funds and occasionally, when extra funds were needed, a special dance was organized. The Crandalls Trust was also a regular donor to the Fund over many years.
However, in spite of all these efforts money was still a problem for the Committee. Their principal expense was to help pay Nurse Christian’s wages which in 1933 were £120 a year. They also had to help provide accommodation and in 1933 an unsatisfactory cottage rented from Lord de L’Isle was replaced by one rented from Miss Peto for £32 a year. (Could anyone say which cottage it was?) The Committee also felt that it would be useful for Nurse Christian to have a car and they started a special car fund. After five years it had reached £111. However, by this time the question of a pension for Nurse Christian had arisen and donors to the Car Fund were asked whether they would allow half to be spent on providing the lump sum for a decent pension. In any case, by this time the Second World War had broken out and extra cars were the last thing on people’s minds. Indeed, the problem was more where to hold the ‘sale of works’ now that the ARP (the Air Raid Wardens) and the evacuees had taken over the Village Halls.
By 1944 the village was being pressed by the KCC – not for the first time – to have a nurse who was shared with other villages, particularly as Nurse Christian was about to retire. (It was ironic that she had a attended a record number of births in the previous year). It was clear that the days of Leigh having its own district nurse combined with midwife, school nurse and general carer for everyone in the village were numbered and in 1945 amalgamation with other villages had to be accepted.
With the start of the National Health Service, the Leigh Nursing Association was disbanded, although due to the energetic lobbying of Leigh people, the N.H.S. nurse for the whole area continued to live in Miss Peto’s bungalow for a number of years. She was Nurse Ogden and after serving the village excellently from 1946 until 1964, she retired to the newly built Saxby Wood.
Meanwhile, the Invalid Comfort Fund continued to hire out equipment cheaply to people who were ill in the village. It had been merged with the Nursing Association in 1940 and the Minutes show a first payment to Mrs Draper of ten shillings a year. Mrs Draper, who lived at East Lodge and who was the mother of Harry and Jack Lucas, looked after the equipment, a marvellous service she gave the village for over twenty five years. Harry remembers distributing the various pieces of equipment, including urinals, around the village when he was a child.
At this time the rules stated that “the medical appliances shall be hired out at the nominal charge of 3d a week” and “were not to be lent to others with a penalty of 1/- a day.” The only part of the rules which are perhaps not clear to a modern reader is “The Maternity box will be loaned out for a period of up to four weeks”. What exactly was the Maternity box?
Mrs Rosemary Magnus at Porcupine House was Secretary for many years. Here is her account of the meetings and the eventual end of the Fund. “After passing the minutes of the previous meeting, Mrs Draper used to be called in to give her report on any equipment that needed renewal and an account of her finances”. (The hirings amounted to £3-8-10 in 1950). “The equipment was kept in a top attic room in East Lodge and consisted of crutches, bed rests, bed cradles, mackintosh sheets, as well as ordinary bed linen, bedpans, inhalers, kidney dishes and rubber cushions. There were also three very ancient and rusty invalid bath chairs which were housed in the Gate House garage – although I never remember them being hired out. Mrs Draper had to chase people up if they had not paid and make sure the equipment was safely returned when no longer needed.”
By 1964, it had become clear that patients could borrow medical equipment from the NHS hospitals (free of charge) and the Committee voted to terminate the Comforts Fund. “The remaining funds were not very large, so it was voted that we spent the major amount on a new, modern wheel chair – to be kept in the Vicarage – and a retirement present for Nurse Ogden who had provided such outstanding service to the village. We agreed that the equipment should either be sold or given to those still in need. The old invalid chairs were in such a bad state of repair that they were disposed of and, on my suggestion several things were given to the Tunbridge Wells Museum, including a very handsome Maws blue and white inhaler – which can still be seen in the Museum”.
Parish Magazine Articles: Jan/Feb 2002: by Chris Rowley