Brian Rope Photography

Brian Rope Photography

Words in Focus

The Mothers' Hospital

As my Starting Point blog on 1 April 2014 noted, I was born at Willersley Castle. This blog explains why I was born in a castle.


The Mothers' Hospital traces its origins to the work for unmarried mothers begun in the earliest days of the Salvation Army. 'Refuge Homes' for poor and destitute women were provided in private houses in various parts of London. As part of this scheme the Salvation Army established a home at Ivy House, Mare Street, Hackney in 1884. Many of the women seeking shelter there were pregnant, and in 1888 the Salvation Army decided to dedicate Ivy House to the confinement of unmarried mothers. Although maternity hospitals had existed in this country since the eighteenth century, these were almost entirely reserved for married mothers only. This was the first time that maternity hospital facilities had been combined with a 'Home of Refuge'.


The hospital trained its first student midwife in 1889 and more than 250 pupil midwives graduated from the school during its eighteen year existence at Ivy House. During this period, the hospital continued to expand and more buildings were bought. One of the later developments was a mother-and-baby home called Cotland, based at 11 Springfield Road, Upper Clapton. It existed between 1912 and 1920, and many of the women mentioned in the records of the Mothers' Hospital gave Cotland as an address. Finally, the Salvation Army purchased land in Lower Clapton Road, London E5 in order to build a hospital dedicated to unmarried mothers. In 1912, the foundation stone for the new Mothers' Hospital was laid by Princess Louise, daughter to Queen Victoria, and the Hospital was officially opened in 1913. Designed for 600 births per year, it soon outgrew its facilities and various extensions were made over the years. The new Hospital continued to uphold the teaching tradition of Ivy House and midwives were trained to the standards of the London Obstetrical Society and of the Central Midwives Board (CMB). Pupils attended classes for Parts I and II of the examinations of the CMB and gained experience both on the wards and in District work.


The First World War meant that the Hospital opened its doors to both married and unmarried women. Soldiers could not always send sufficient money to their families and the loss of many lives often caused acute poverty. Therefore, it was decided that the Hospital would be allowed to admit married women whose husbands were in the Army or Navy, or had been killed. Since that time the Hospital accepted both married and unmarried mothers. Between the two World Wars, many improvements and additions were made. In 1921, the new Nurses' Home and Theatre were opened by Queen Mary. By the 1930s, the number of births had risen to 2,000 per annum. The Hospital suffered damage during the Second World War, but fortunately there was no great loss of life. Arrangements were made for evacuation to Willersley Castle in Matlock, Derbyshire and to Bragborough Hall, Northamptonshire. My mum was one of the mothers evacuated to Willersley Castle to give birth when I was due to enter this world.




Despite those evacuation arrangements, the Hospital remained in service throughout the war for those who did not leave London. In all, 6,587 babies were born there between September 1939 and August 1945.


Research and innovation were always encouraged at the Mothers' Hospital. One interesting experiment which foreshadowed modern techniques of nursing was dictated by wartime conditions. In defiance of the then current practice, patients were made ambulant on the second day after delivery. The purpose of this carefully controlled experiment was to facilitate the orderly transfer of patients to the air-raid shelter and make more shelter space available. Margaret Basden, consultant obstetrician in residence during the War, recorded 'from personal experience how smoothly the scheme works, how well the patients stand it, and how striking has been the absence of any confusion or panic'.


With the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, the Hospital was given over to the Minister for Health and was later administered as part of the Hackney Group of Hospitals. However, Health Service Authorities agreed that a proportion of the staff should be members of the Salvation Army and thus the Hospital was able to maintain its individuality. In 1952, Lorne House was acquired opposite the Hospital and used as a training centre and home for 24 nurses. There was also a visiting service provided for mothers giving birth in their own homes. Between 1948 and 1974, the Mothers' Hospital belonged to the Hackney Group Hospital Management Committee and on 1 April 1974, the Group became part of the City and Hackney Health District. The Mothers' Hospital was closed in 1986, and all obstetric services were transferred to the Homerton Hospital.

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