Convalescing in Colwyn Bay

Queen’s Lodge and the Mary Bamber Convalescent Centre

With so many suffering from Long Covid, the idea of a period of convalescence after an illness has become relevant again. We had become used to a quick recovery, to being sent home from hospital as soon as we can manage the stairs, and all is functioning as it should. But in the not-so-distant past a period of convalescence was to be expected.

Postcard of Queen’s Lodge Convalescent Home, Colwyn Bay, Wales, from about 1980

Convalescent homes were once numerous in Britain, particularly in coastal resorts. A period of convalescence by the sea or in the countryside was an important part of the recovery process. In the nineteenth century, charitable voluntary hospitals found that patients discharged after surgery or an illness often had to be re-admitted soon afterwards, having relapsed through not being able to convalesce at home. Wage-earners returned to work too soon, while wives and mothers went back to the heavy work in the home and taking care of their children. Sometimes neither the home nor the family’s income were adequate for someone in need of rest, nourishing food and fresh air. From the mid-nineteenth century increasing numbers of voluntary hospitals started to establish convalescent homes, where their patients could be moved, thus freeing up beds in the main hospital. Early convalescent homes tended to look very much like the parent hospital. The former Atkinson Morley Hospital in South London is a prime example.

Atkinson Morley Hospital, London Borough of Merton, photographed in November 1992 © H. Richardson
Floor plan of the Atkinson Morley Convalescent Home, published in 1898, showing the nightingale-style large wards.

In the later nineteenth century, convalescent homes developed to provide more home-like settings, with rooms where the patients could sit or dine, and gardens in which to sit out. Private homes were also set up for those who could afford to pay. Some were little more than boarding houses, with next-to-no medical attendance. Others, like the Rustington Convalescent Home in West Sussex were purpose built and offered a high degree of home comfort. The Rustington was built in 1897 to designs by Frederick Wheeler. It was founded and endowed by Sir Henry Harben, Chairman of the Prudential Assurance Society. It was particularly luxurious, charging a ‘moderate’ fee for accommodation, mostly in single rooms but with some twin and a few with four beds. After Sir Henry’s death the home was entrusted to the Worshipful Company of Carpenters of London.

The Rustington Convalescent Home, West Sussex. Photographed in June 1992 © H. Richardson

Alongside these individual bequests, some homes were established through contributory schemes, where workers contributed a part of their wages towards health care – effectively a form of health insurance. These schemes were important for more than funding a patient’s convalescence. Penny-in-the-pound schemes typically levied a portion of the workers’ wages: one penny per pound, or two to three pence weekly. After the First World war such schemes expanded, becoming vital as a reliable source of income for voluntary hospitals that were facing rising costs. The contributions to the hospitals were exchanged for the right of members to treatment, without recourse to means testing. Some schemes were linked to just one hospital, others to multiple hospitals in a given area. The latter type were more common in large cities, and were operated as independent organisations to which local businesses paid their workers’ contributions. The Merseyside Hospitals Council was one of these, formed in Liverpool in the late 1920s.

Liverpool Royal Infirmary, administration block, photographed in 2017 (Rodhullandemu, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Merseyside Hospitals Council secured the agreement of 23 voluntary medical institutions in the area to co-operate with their penny-in-the-pound contributory scheme that secured free vouchers for workers and their dependents that would be recognised by the participating hospitals. By November 1928 the scheme had 134,000 contributors, and though only founded in 1927-8 its income already stood at £52,000. The vast majority of that was distributed to the local hospitals (88.7%), the remainder paid for the administration of the scheme (7.8%) and ancillary services. These last included ambulances. In July 1929 Liverpool’s Guild of Undergraduates gifted a cream and red ambulance to the Merseyside Hospitals’ Council for the use of the contributors’ fund. Local companies that participated in the scheme included the Birkenhead shipyard, Cammell Laird, with 6,000 workers contributing. The local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo reported that for the first time in their history many of the Merseyside voluntary hospitals were working free from the anxiety of financial embarrassment due to the success of the penny in the pound fund. It assured an annual income, helping with their working expenses and, the Echo hoped, would in time enable them to ‘enlarge their accommodation, purchase new equipment and replenish their stocks generally.’ [Liverpool Echo, 6 Nov. 1928; 13 Feb 1929, p.7; 11 July 1929.]

Liverpool Southern Hospital, tinted lithograph, 1867, after Culshaw and Sumners.Wellcome Collection.

In 1929 the Royal Infirmary of Liverpool received the largest sum from the fund (£3,540), with the Royal Southern Hospital, the David Lewis Northern Hospital and Birkenhead General Hospital each also receiving over £2,000. Smaller institutions received comparably smaller sums: £25 each for the Heart Hospital and the Netherfield Road Dispensaries, and just £1 to the Neston Cottage Hospital. [Liverpool Echo, 13 Feb 1929, p.7.]

Extract from the OS map, from the National Library of Scotland

The Fund also established its own convalescent homes. In 1946 Queens Lodge, a large house on the edge of Colwyn Bay, was purchased at auction for £15,200. This late-nineteenth century house was built for a Warrington wire manufacturer and was subsequently the home of Lord Colwyn. The architect of Queen’s Lodge is not know for certain, but it has been attributed to William Owen. RCAHMW gives some information on the site.[Edward Hubbard, The Buildings of Wales: Clwyd, p. 140.] The Merseyside Hospitals Council converted the house into a convalescent home for men, and it was officially opened in May 1947 by the Chairman of the Council, W. Sutclliffe Rhodes. The previous year the Council had opened its first home at Windermere, which was for women, and were planning to establish a third home at Ulverston for boys.[Liverpool Echo, 17 May 1947, p..3]

Merseyside Hospitals Council continued to provide for convalescents after the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. In 1949 the Council purchased another large house near Queen’s Lodge: Plas Euryn, on Tan-y-Bryn Road, Rhos-on-Sea. This was the former home of the late Sir Harold and Lady Elverston, and stood in about three and a half acres laid out as lawns, shrubbery, flower and vegetable gardens. It had latterly been in use as a private hotel. After conversion, it was opened in May 1950 by the managing director of Littlewoods, John Moores, and was named the Mary Bamber Home, in memory of a former chairman of the Council’s convalescent and after-care committee from 1934 until her death in 1938. Mrs Bamber had been one of the first to urge the council to establish its own comprehensive convalescent service. Mary Bamber’s daughter, Elizabeth M. Braddock, had followed her example, becoming an MP and later also became chairman of the Council’s convalescent committee. Elizabeth Braddock also attended the opening ceremony of the new home, which provided accommodation for 38 women. This was the fifth home owned and run by the Council, two for women, one for men, one for boys and one for the elderly (this last at Southport). [North Wales Weekly News, 11 May 1950.]

Postcard of the Mary Bamber Centre, opened 1968. Convalescent home for women, built in the grounds of Queen’s Lodge to replace an earlier home of the same name.

In 1964 Queen’s Lodge was renamed after John Braddock, a former chairman of the Hospital Council, who had died the previous year. Then in 1965 the Council decided to close their two homes for women at Brock Hall, Windermere and the Mary Bamber Home at Rhos-on-Sea, and consolidate their operations at the Queen’s Lodge site by building a new home for women there. The new home took the name ‘Mary Bamber Home’ and was designed to provide 60 beds in one or two-bedroomed units. It was to be ‘the last word in comfort and elegance’. The Council’s officers planned to show the plans of the new home to the Health Minister, Kenneth Robinson, when he visited Liverpool for the annual conference of the Association of Voluntary Hospital Contributors, being held at Southport. [Liverpool Echo and Evening Express, 23 Oct. 1965.]

Detail of the postcard, showing the semi-circular lounge

Although the home was not owned by the National Health Service it was officially opened by Kenneth Robinson, in May 1968. The home had cost around £130,000. Building work had been completed in December 1967 and the first patients admitted the following February. The home provided 12 single and 24 double bedrooms, with built-in wardrobes, dressing tables and wash-hand basins. The patients’ bedrooms were on the ground, first and second floors, each floor having an ironing and drying room. On the lower ground floor were staff bedrooms, a staff rest room, and the patients’ recreation room. The most striking feature of the home was the semi-circular lounge, looking out on to the lawns. It was furnished with easy chairs and window seats, ‘sumptuously’ carpeted. There was also a dining room, a writing room, and a roof terrace from which views of the sea and the grounds could be enjoyed.

The convalescent home closed in 2008, and was purchased for redevelopment in about 2018.

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