'Conscientious and promising nurse' to 'Appeared to lack brain and interest': Comments found in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Nurses’ Registers (1900-1928)

Nurses’ Registers can be a useful historical source for those researching their family history or nursing training. They can also provide a fascinating insight into the lives and personalities of the people who worked there.

Nurse Training

In the early twentieth century, the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital (NNH) was one of many hospitals offering training in return for free nursing care. It ran a three year certificated course and introduced a four year course in 1904. Dora Mary Bryant was the first nurse at the NNH to join under the 4 years system (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1).

Nurses’ Registers

The first national professional register was introduced in 1919 but training hospitals kept their own records. Volumes 1-3 of the NNH registers cover the period 1900 – 1928 (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1-3)

At the most basic level the NNH registers record name, age, address and training details. What elevates these records into a fascinating insight into the lives and personalities of many of the women who worked there are the comments of the two Matrons covering this period. Florence Cann was Matron from 1900 to 1926 and Edith Jackson from 1926 to 1939. An additional bonus are photos of many of those who went on to qualify.

Qualified Nurses

Of those who qualified many initially stayed on at the hospital. Some became Sisters and Matrons, others became District Nurses, School Nurses or Midwives. Reference is made to the Sisters’ Registers but these are not held at the NRO. A few chose to work abroad; both Rose Norton (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1) from Wymondham and Bessie Fry (NRO Ref, NNH 114/2) from Norwich went to nurse in Canada. A very small number were already qualified and only stayed at the hospital for a short time.

Helen Breton (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1) qualified in 1908 and worked at the NNH until 1925, leaving to take up her sister’s Corner Tea House in Norwich. Cann noted that Breton and her assistants had given up their tips to the hospital for many years amounting to £20 – £30 a year.

Photo 1 H Breton (002)
Helen May Breton. Norfolk Record Office, NNH 114/1.

International Students

Evidence suggests that the NNH must have had a good reputation because it attracted trainees from all parts of the UK, from Ireland and from other parts of the world.

Alice Dowson (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1) came from New Zealand. She later worked at the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar and the Bowden Red Cross hospital in Melton Mowbray.

Photo 2 A Dowson
Alice Maud Dowson. Norfolk Record Office, NNH 114/1.

A trainee from Denmark was less successful and we are left wondering at Cann’s comments; she was a Dane and very tall, at least 6 foot and quite unsuitable for nursing male patients.

Sisters
It was not uncommon for women from the same family to train as nurses. Following in sister’s footsteps did not always lead to the same outcome.

Dorothy and Gertrude Gort (NRO Ref, NNH 114/2) came from Walton near Woodbridge. Gertrude completed her training but Dorothy left for health reasons.

However both of the Palmer sisters were successful. They trained at the same time and both returned in 1926, a year after qualifying, as Staff Nurses on a salary of £50pa.

Betty and Muriel Palmer

World War One
The first two Nurses’ Registers for the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital cover the period when nurses may have served in the war while the third includes those who had had some nursing experience, often as VADs, during the war and then decided to train subsequently.

Red Cross
Ellen Goodman and Ida Wiley were both from Salhouse (NRO Ref, NNH 114/3). They had worked at the Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital at Woodbastwick. Ellen later became the first district midwife to be attached to the hospital.

 
The Associate Royal Red Cross (ARRC) was awarded to those nursing the wounded. Cann herself was one such recipient as were Muriel Dagmar Coles, Beatrice Gates, Annie Gratton (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1), Mary Miller and Ellen Rosalind Ward (NRO Ref, NNH 114/2).

Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS)
Elizabeth Jarrett from Biggleswade became a Sister in the QAIMNS reserve. She worked at Tidworth Military Hospital then went on to Egypt and Palestine. She returned to the NNH in 1919 (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1).

 
Margaret Dodson (NRO Ref, NNH 114/2) from Methwold joined the QAIMNS and served in Salonika and Constantinople.

Other Army Nursing Services
Agnes Lyons (NRO Ref, NNH 114/3) from Belfast served 21 months in military hospitals before she started her training. She later became a Sister at the NNH.

Mabel Beatrice Simonds (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1) from Islington joined the Territoral Force Nursing Service (TFNS) and served in France.

Photo 5 A Lyons (002)
Agnes Lyons. Norfolk Record Office, NNH 114/3.

Roll of Honour of Norfolk Women
Most of the Norfolk women in uniformed service who died in or as a consequence of the First World War were nurses and their stories are told on the Norfolk in the First World War: Somme to Armistice project website. Four such names are linked to the registers; Jessie Wakefield, Lilian Silver Duffen, Alice Long and Beris Burton -Fanning (NRO Ref, NNH 114/1).
Jessie and Lilian trained at the NNH before the war. Beris was the daughter of Dr Burton-Fanning whose name appears as an examiner on many of the registers’ pages. Beris worked as a VAD in Cambridge and died in tragic circumstances. The Beris Burton-Fanning Memorial Fund was set up in her memory. Josephine Pegg (NRO Ref, NNH 114/3) had her midwifery training fees paid by this fund.

Alice Long was a Sister at the NNH between 1900 and 1901. The post war registers make reference to the Alice Long Memorial Medal. Maud Howard was one such recipient.

Photo 6 M Howard
Maud Howard. Norfolk Record Office, NNH 114/3.

Training Not Completed

The rigours of nursing must have come as quite a shock for some and many did not complete their training. Consequently, a trial period benefitted both the trainee and the hospital. Ironically we often have a better picture of these women because Cann in particular often gave a forthright account explaining their early departure.

Genuine Reasons for Leaving

Some had genuine reasons for leaving; usually health problems or family circumstances. Others left to get married, during the war years there was an urgency to bring forward the occasion.

Unsuitable

Many of those who left are simply recorded as “unsuitable”. However, one has to question the selection process when several women left because of physical characteristics that should have been evident at the outset. These are some of Cann’s comments:
• Willing but deaf.
• Too short.
• Appeared to lack brain and interest.
• Too noisy.

Inappropriate Behaviour

Not all trainees were well behaved. Reasons for their dismissal included:
• Refused to give patients bedpans at 6.45am. (This had not been her first offence).
• Ran away and was traced through having been seen walking with the husband of a patient whom she nursed in Ward V.
• Being too familiar with patients.
• Behaving like a spoilt child.
• Being childishly naughty.
• Over confident the first week and ran away after 9pm on the 18th day.

Norwich – A Fine but unsuitable city

Despite the initial appeal of Norwich, the city did not suit everyone. Homesickness struck and two trainees left because their doctors thought Norwich was too bleak for them. Coming from Norwich was also seen as a disadvantage when the close proximity of friends clashed with the demands of the job. She will be better away from Norwich. Too near her friends.

Death

Sadly three women died during their training, their names are all in Volume 2. Maud Timothy from Great Yarmouth and Sabina Moncel died from influenza and Mabel Lewsley from Gorleston died of typhoid fever. Cann wrote that Timothy was one of the most promising probationers we have had and that Moncel was a conscientious and promising nurse, a general favourite.

Health Records at the Norfolk Record Office

Many other health records are held at the NRO including the registers for the Jenny Lind Hospital for Sick Children (NNH 110).

Researched and compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger

This entry was posted in NRO Research Bloggers, Snapshots from the Archive and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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