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.

Brooksby House, Largs. From Yachting Residence to Seaside Convalescent Home.

For many decades, Brooksby House was the convalescent home for Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary. The Governors of the Infirmary purchased this substantial villa by the sea-front at Largs in 1896 and it opened the following year with accommodation for 24 patients.

Postcard of Brooksby House, postmarked 1910. Reproduced by permission of H. Martin

Convalescent Homes were a common aspect of health care for about a century. They first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in an attempt to solve the problem of patients discharged from hospital who did not fully recuperate, either from having to return to work too soon, poor sanitary conditions in the home, or inadequate nourishment. In the late-eighteenth century some general hospitals began to provide convalescent wards and a few of the more enlightened workhouse infirmaries had convalescent wards around the mid-nineteenth century.

The former Metropolitan Convalescent Institution, later Ellesmere Hospital, Walton-on-Thames. Photographed in 1993 © H. Richardson. The hospital closed in 1989, and some time after 1998 was converted into private flats.

The first convalescent home in England seems to have been the Metropolitan Convalescent Institution. It grew from an ad hoc  arrangement between Theodore Monro, a medical student at Barts Hospital in the City of London and his brother, a vicar in Harrow Weald, whereby patients discharged from the hospital were lodged with families in the Harrow Weald to recuperate. Monro wanted to provide an asylum in the country, where pure air, rest and nutritious diet would speed recovery. In 1842  a vacant workhouse in Carshalton provided a more formal home for the nascent institution, but a purpose-built home was erected in 1852-4 near Walton-on-Thames, designed by Joseph Clarke in a handsome Italianate style (later renamed Ellesmere Hospital).

Despite its success, and increasing awareness of the usefulness of convalescent homes, there was a lapse of some years before any more homes were built. This changed during the 1860s, with homes built in Bournemouth (the Herbert Memorial), Wimbledon (the Atkinson Morley), Whitley Bay (Prudhoe Memorial), and various other locations. The first in Scotland was established at Dunoon in 1869 (the Dunoon Homes).

The Prudhoe Memorial Convalescent Home, Whitley Bay, reproduced from the Wellcome Collection, CC BY

The earliest purpose-built homes were designed on hospital-like lines with large nightingale-style wards. Florence Nightingale herself commended a more domestic scale and appearance, and published an ideal plan in 1863 for a convalescent hospital arranged as three cottages, linked by covered ways.

Florence Nightingale’s ideal convalescent home, plan and elevation, from Notes on Hospitals, London, 1863

Like Brooksby House, many convalescent homes were established in converted houses. Brooksby was originally built around 1837-40 as a yachting residence for a Glasgow merchant, Matthew Perston. It is attributed to the architect David Hamilton, or his son James, under the partnership they formed of D & J Hamilton. Designed in a fashionable though restrained Italian Renaissance style, the main elevation faces west, towards the sea, with a verandah, now missing its canopy, in front of the central projecting three bays. The main entrance was on the south side, with a grand porch sheltering the doorway. The house had particularly fine interiors, with plaster ceilings, chimney-pieces and a painted armorial ceiling in the rooms on the ground floor.

Brooksby House, photographed in June 2018 by Ian Rainey. © Copyright Ian Rainey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Perston already had a house in Largs by 1836, when he was the owner of the Yacht ‘Wave’, though his address is not give as Brooksby in the newspapers until 1845. In 1839 he had won a challenge cup with Wave and he had been elected a steward of the Royal Northern Yacht Club by 1844. The Club’s Regatta was held in Largs in that year. In 1846 he was listed as a shareholder of the Glasgow, Largs and Milport Steam-boat Company, but his main business was the Bothwell Street Spinning Company, Glasgow. Perston was bankrupted in 1847, and had to put Brooksby House up for sale or to let. A buyer proved hard to find, and a sale of his wines, port, madeira, sherry etc along with much of his household furniture was held in June 1848. The following year, in October 1849, the house was advertised for sale again, at the reduced price of £3,700, despite having cost £10,000 to build. It was described as a splendid marine residence. It had three reception rooms, seven bedrooms, as well as a bathroom and hot and cold water.

Extract from the 1st edition OS map, surveyed in 1855. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

By the 1850s Brooksby had become the home of Robert Graham, a Justice of the Peace for Ayrshire. Graham senior had died by the mid-1860s, but his daughter, Gertrude Schuyler Ramsay, wife of George Gilbert Ramsay, Professor of Humanity at the University of Glasgow, and his son, R. C. Graham and his wife, retained the house. In 1897 Brooksby  was acquired by the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow. The Grahams offered to sell for £4,000, but the Infirmary Governors did not wish to pay more than £3,500. After some haggling, they agreed to meet half way. The acquisition of a convalescent home fulfilled the wishes of the Infirmary’s benefactor, Robert Couper, who had left £40,000 in his will to establish both the infirmary and an associated convalescent home.  It was hoped that the home would allow patients to be discharged earlier, and thus help to lessen the waiting list.

Ceiling in one of the ground-floor rooms, photographed by RHCME in 2012

Brooksby House was attractive because of its seaside location, easy distance from Glasgow, and because the service buildings to the rear, including coach-house and stables, could easily be rented out and provide an income without interfering with the amenity of the home. After a swift refurbishment, the home was formally opened on 26 June 1897 by Lady Watson, wife of the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Sir Henry Watson. Accommodation was provided for 24 patients, later raised to 30.

Painted ceiling in ground-floor room of Brooksby House, photographed in 2012 by RCHME

Under the National Health Service Brooksby initially remained under the same Board of Management as the Victoria Infirmary. Latterly it was mostly used to provide a fortnight’s holiday for long-stay psychiatric patients from Leverndale Hospital, Glasgow. In 1983 it was transferred to Ayrshire and Arran Health Board. It provided continuing care beds until around 2006 and since 2009, has been used as the North West Ayrshire Resource Centre by the NHS.


The Scotsman, 8 Sept 1847, p.4: Glasgow Herald, 18 April 1845, p.2; 6 March 1846, p.4; 25 Feb 1848 p.3; 29 May 1848, p.3: Greenock Advertiser, 14 December 1852 p.2: Morning Advertiser, 11 Aug 1865, p.8: Largs & Millport Weekly, 3 July 1897: NHS, Greater Glasgow & Clyde Archives, Victoria Infirmary Annual Reports: S. D. Slater & D. A. Dow, The Victoria Infirmary of Glasgow 1890 -1990, 1990, pp.245-7.

Charnwood Forest Convalescent Homes

As convalescent homes were not strictly speaking medical buildings, and most of the patients sent to convalescence were able to get up during the day, many were established in private houses which required little alteration to fit them to their purpose. If they proved popular and were well supported, they might be replaced by a purpose-built establishment. Location was important, somewhere where the patients could benefit from clean air away from the cities or towns where they were likely to have been living. Many general hospitals set up convalescent homes in the surrounding countryside or by the sea. Others were independent, but both types were run as charitable ventures, supported by donations, subscriptions and fund-raising events.

Old postcard of the Charnwood Forest Convalescent Home. © H. Martin

Charnwood Lodge, near Loughborough, is now a residential home for people with autism and complex behaviour run by Priory Adult Care, but it was originally built as a convalescent home. The foundation stone of was laid on 2 August 1893 by the Duchess of Rutland, and the home was designed by local Loughborough architect, George H. Barrowcliff.  A convalescent home for Loughborough patients had first been established in rented rooms in a cottage at Woodhouse Eaves in 1875. Its success led to the opening of a second convalescent home in 1879, intended for Leicester patients. The two homes were merged in 1883 from which time they were officially known as Charnwood Forest Convalescent Homes.

Extract from the 25-inch OS map revised in 1901. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The new building, pictured in the postcard and marked on the map above, was described in the Nottingham Evening Post when the foundation stone was laid in 1893:

The building is situated on the west side of the Buck Hill road, in the heart of Charnwood Forest, being midway between Nanpantan and Woodhouse, … It is sheltered by the Outwoods from the east, by the rough rising rocks known as Easom’s Piece from the west, and by the rising ground at the rear on the north. This site, selected by the committee after most careful consideration, contains an area of four acres, a part of which is covered by a spinney, and it is proposed that the remainder shall be laid out as ornamental grounds. The building, which is of a domestic character, is being erected of the local forest stone, and faced with red sand faced bricks to the doors, windows and corners, and with a brick lining on the inner side, all the external walls to the main building being erected with a two-inch cavity between the stonework and the inner lining. On the front of the building a verandah 7ft 6in wide runs the entire length. This is partly covered with glass, so as not to diminish the light in the rooms. The building will consist of ground, first and second floors, with a spacious corridor running the entire length of each. The entrance hall is approached from the centre of the verandah, and will be available as a committee-room or for the patients to receive their friends, and is divided from the men’s and women’s corridors by swing doors. The remainder of the front consists of three sitting rooms … and a matron’s room 16ft by 13ft. The back portion of the main building ground floor consists of dining hall, … capable of seating 56 persons; sitting room, … china and store rooms. Main staircases at either end lead to the men’s and women’s bedrooms. At the rear are kitchen … scullery, larder, and other offices opening into large paved yard, at the side of which a coach-house is being erected. Suitable lavatory accommodation, lined with white glazed bricks, and isolated from the main buildings, is provided for both sexes at either end of the building. The ventilation and sanitary arrangements are as perfect as can be attained. … The house is designed for 45 patients, and for the entire separation of the sexes except when taking meals, when they will meet in the common dining hall. The sitting and bedrooms will be heated by open fire grates, and the corridors and dining hall by hot water. … The architect after careful consideration has selected the Brindle tile for the roofs from Mr J. Peake, Tunstall bricks for facings from Messrs Tucker and Son of Loughborough, the stone from Messrs. Brabble & Co. Farley Darley Dale quarry. The cost of the structure complete including purchase of land, water supply furnishing etc will be about £6, 000, and the contract is being carried out by Messrs W. Moss & Son of Loughborough, under the direction of the architect, Mr George H. Barrowcliff, of Loughborough.

The home was formally opened by the Duke of Rutland in 1894, and in 1896 a lodge was added to accommodate the gardener who also acted as caretaker to the home while it was closed over the winter.

Detail of the postcard, showing a group of convalescents posing in front of the building. 

Although the bedrooms of the men and women were separated in the home, they were able to mix at meal times. Patients were allowed to entertain visitors, and musical entertainments were sometimes put on. There is a suggestion that early on some of the convalescents may have enjoyed their stay rather too much. At the annual meeting of the management committee one of the members, a Mrs Edwin de Lisle, moved that the rules of the home be amended to exclude ‘persons of intemperate habits’. She thought patients ought to be prevented from getting more intoxicating liquors than was sometimes good for them.

Following the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899 the management committee offered the War Office the use of the home during the winter months for wounded soldiers, though whether the offer was taken up is not clear. Wounded soldiers were accommodated during the First World War, mostly transferred from larger war time hospitals – such as the 5th Northern Hospital at Leicester.

Extract from the 25-inch OS map revised in 1901. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

In 1900 a new building was erected as a children’s convalescent home to replace the small house in Maplewell Road at Woodhouse Eaves. This was entirely funded by the Revd W. H. Cooper of Burleigh Hall, Loughborough, in memory of his wife and was named the Cooper Memorial home for children. It was built on Brand Hill, at the upper corner of Hunger Hill Wood, at Woodhouse Eaves, a well wooded site with fine views on the estate of Mrs Perry Herrick.  The home, originally built to house 26 children, was designed by Barrowcliff and Allcock in conjunction with Alfred W. N. Burder. Moss & Sons of Loughborough were the building contractors, and the heating and ventilation were provided by Messenger & Co. Ltd. It provided two large day rooms, one a dining-room the other a play room, sitting rooms for the matron and nurses, and four wards upstairs for the children, one of which was arranged as an isolation ward with nurse’s bedroom attached. A brass memorial plaque was placed in the entrance hall commemorating the home’s benefactor and his late wife.

Both homes continued in use up until the 1950s, the independent charity continuing after the inception of the National Health Service. The Children’s home was sold to the Church of England Children’s  Society in 1987, and two years later was converted into a home for the elderly. It is now called Charnwood House, and has been converted into private flats.

[Sources: Leicester Chronicle, 26 April 1884 p.6; 16 Oct 1897, p.11; 24 March 1900, p.11; 27 Oct 1900, p.6: Nottingham Evening Post, 2 Aug 1893, p.4; 14 July 1894, p.2: Nottinghamshire Guardian, 24 Dec 1898, p.3: Nottingham Journal,  2 Dec 1899, p.8: Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News, 14 July 1910, p.8; 1 Oct 1914, p.5; 31 Dec 1914, p.5: Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office, contract files for Messenger and Co. Ltd. :]