Yesterday, thanks to Christina Konig and Girton College, I had an email from the author of this book, PHILOMENA GUILLEBAUD. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to bits.
She had this to add to what I said, on the subject of open wards:
I see that most of your correspondents were impressed by the open air aspect of the hospital, but as you will see in the book, this was only for the first two years, after which the War Office, for unspecified reasons, declared that 20 out of the 24 wards were to be enclosed, and this took place. When the war ended, there was no memory that the hospital had once been renowned for being an open-air hospital.
It was very remiss of me, also, not to mention where you can get hold of the book, if you wanted to buy it. The answer is from the publisher: FERN HOUSE PUBLISHING, Haddenham, Cambridgeshire, CB6 3XA
and also from Amazon.
It is a lovely book and well worth reading. It's good to have made the author's acquaintance on email
I live in a village just south of Cambridge. My house is the fourth on the left as you 'cross the border' (the sign saying Great Shelford) from Cambridge. Indeed I can see the sign saying 'Welcome to Cambridge' as I turn out of my drive. I vote in Great Shelford; I go to the Memorial Hall on a Wednesday for the WI market, and I meet my friends in the Deli. I wrote a post on this blog about the Church at the other end of the village.
We are very lucky to have a wonderful little library in Great Shelford: modern, well-stocked and run by very pleasant people. I often go in there to look around and the last time I did I found a book which I think must have been privately printed. I picked it up because I liked the name of the author: PHILOMENA GUILLEBAUD. The title looked fun too: From Bats to Beds to Books.
But I'm starting with a photo of Cambridge University Library which is in the public domain.
To my mind, it's not a building of great beauty, but it is a wonderful place in many ways and the history of the site on which it stands is astonishing....at least I found it so.
Here is the story I uncovered when I took Philomena Guillebaud's fascinating book out of the library.
Anyone who's been in a modern hospital knows that one thing you can depend on is an even temperature which strikes the visitor as MUCH TOO WARM. In Maternity Units, the excuse is that babies need warmth and that's fair enough. But even on medical wards, it has always struck me that hospitals tended towards the over warm rather than its opposite.
One of the driving forces behind the setting up of this new hospital was Colonel Joseph Griffiths. He was a doctor and he had very firm views about how hospitals ought to be. To read Guillebaud's account, it seems that the organisation was extraordinarily efficient. There was food on site. The site map shows a space for a cinema. The hospital was on this site till 1919. Till then, staffed by doctors and nurses from nearby Addenbrooke's hospital, as well as many volunteers, VADs and others, it did good work in curing and tending the sick and the wounded. And, here's the thing: IT WAS AN OPEN AIR HOSPITAL. Read that again. It was an open air hospital. Think about it, now that the frost is on the windows and the skies sometimes full of rain and snow. OPEN AIR. One side of the ward had no windows. Griffiths, a doctor who had treated TB very often, believed in the efficacy of fresh air.
My thought when I read this was: 'well, yes, fine in the summer, but in the winter?' I was, to put it mildly, gobsmacked. I thought of the nurses, on duty on a freezing night, who referred to conditions as 'chilly' and who were delighted when they were given permission to wear.....wait for it....A CARDIGAN to wear over their uniform! Clearly, folk were made of sterner stuff then. The patients at least had their blankets. They were sometimes allowed four of these, but still, their heads were above the blankets and (though Guillebaud doesn't mention this) they must have had to get up to go to the lavatories. How did that work? The winter of 1917 was fierce. The Cambridge winds are famous for their sharpness. It makes me shiver just to think of it. Also, of course, all the nourishing food that the kitchens provided must have been ice cold by the time it got to the wards. Below are two photographs of an open ward, one of the interior of the ward and the other taken just outside. Everyone looks quite happy and relaxed and not a bit cold but of course the images are clearly taken in the summer.
The site after the end of the war became (again, very quickly indeed) housing for families who needed accommodation urgently. The colleges wanted their cricket pitches back. But the University was in discussions about using the land for a much-needed Library. By 1929, newspapers carried photographs of the homes on the site being vacated. The Cambridge University Library was on its way to being built.
The last photograph shows the operating theatre in the Hospital. I am thinking of those patients being wheeled along the corridor to a ward whose temperature doesn't bear thinking about. Still, no one died from cold, and most of the men who were treated there were cured. Colonel Griffiths believed passionately in the fresh air treatment. What's your opinion? I suspect that open air wards would be a common feature in hospitals today if being in one was really efficacious. I'm glad that Addenbrooke's, which is down the road from my house, is nice and warm but I admire and salute the men and women who served in the First Eastern General Hospital and I loved the book Philomena Guillebaud has written about it.